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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Alabama Crimson Tide - 1975 Orange Bowl

Ara’s Final Game

University of Alabama Crimson Tide vs University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish Photo by Notre Dame/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

Well, we made it through Christmas and now it’s time to look ahead to Notre Dame’s bowl game appearance against Iowa State on Saturday. In honor of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish traveling south to Florida to play a bowl game this year, I’m going to Throwback to Notre Dame’s Orange Bowl appearance vs. Alabama in 1975: Ara’s Final Game.

Notre Dame and Alabama met and clashed in a defensive showdown in the 1975 Orange Bowl. Alabama was hoping to capture the consensus national title with a win over the Irish, but Notre Dame had other plans.

The Alabama Crimson Tide was ranked No. 2 that year in the AP poll, behind Oklahoma, and No. 1 in the UPI poll. The Sooners were under NCAA sanctions (which had been handed down the previous year due to recruiting violations) that included a bowl and TV ban, and also included being ineligible for the UPI championship.

That left the door open for the only other undefeated team in the nation, Alabama, who had their eyes set on a national title. And with a win over Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, Alabama would conceivably be launched past the Sooners in the AP poll and confirm their spot in the UPI (coaches) poll. But things didn’t play out the way Alabama had hoped.

(Here’s some irony for you ... 1974 was the first year the UPI poll was conducted after the conclusion of the bowl games partially due to the chaos that happened the year before when the title had gone to Alabama who then fell to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.)

It was head coach Ara Parseghian’s final game, which had been quite a shock for everyone. Days after the regular season ended, Parseghian dropped a bomb on the college football world when he announced he would step down as the head coach of the Fighting Irish after they played the Orange Bowl game. After 11 years as head coach, Parseghian said the mounting pressures of the job had left him “physically exhausted and emotionally drained.” The effect on his health had become impossible to ignore, he said. “I found myself taking blood pressure pills, sometimes tranquilizers and even sleeping pills on occasion,” Parseghian said. “I stepped back and I said that’s just not right.”

But despite his impending departure, Parseghian had his men prepared for the Crimson Tide. The first two scores of the games were by the Irish, touchdown runs by Wayne Bullock (ND’75) and Mark McLane (ND’77), which put Notre Dame up 13-0.

The first score happened midway through the first quarter. Crimson Tide return man, Willie Shelby, fumbled a fair catch of a Notre Dame punt which gave the Fighting Irish the ball on the Alabama 16-yard-line. Five plays later, Notre Dame fullback Wayne Bullock bulldozed through the goal line to put the Irish ahead 7-0.

On the next Notre Dame possession, the Irish offense took more than seven minutes off the clock on a 77-yard drive which culminated in the Irish adding six more points to the scoreboard (the extra point was no good).

The Crimson Tide finally had a stroke of good luck when Notre Dame fumbled on their own 32-yard-line late in the second quarter. But Alabama’s drive stalled at the eight yard line and the Crimson Tide had to settle for a field goal. The score at halftime was 13 Notre Dame, Alabama 3.

In the second half, Alabama could not get their running game going and so they turned their focus toward their passing game, alternating quarterbacks Richard Todd and Gary Rutledge every other series. With this change in strategy Alabama began making progress moving the ball down the field, but still produced no points. While the Tide quarterbacks would end up passing for a total of 223 yards on the day, they would only complete just slightly more than half of their combined 29 pass attempts.

Alabama’s first drive of the fourth quarter was stopped short when Todd’s pass was intercepted at the 10-yard line, but they found success on the next possession. Todd connected with Russ Schamun for a 48-yard touchdown. Following a successful a two-point conversion, Alabama cut Notre Dame’s lead to just two points with 3:13 remaining in the game.

The Alabama defense went to work and forced Notre Dame to punt. The Crimson Tide got the ball back and took to the air in an effort to win the game. This time, however, it did not work. On second-and-two at the Irish 38-yard line, Todd rolled out and threw an ill-advised pass that was easily picked off by Notre Dame’s Reggie Barnett.

”I had visions of tucking that ball under my arm and sailing downfield for a touchdown,” Barnett said afterward. “But when I saw those crimson shirts coming my way I was glad to step out of bounds.”

The additional touchdown Barnett hoped for turned out to be unnecessary. Notre Dame ran out the final minute on the clock and claimed a second win over the Alabama, 13-11. The victory wrapped up Parseghian’s coaching career on a high note. He finished his 11 years in South Bend with a 95-17-4 (.836) record and a career record of 170-58-6 (.739).

Alabama ended up being ranked No. 5 in the nation and the University of Southern California, who had beaten third-ranked Ohio State 18-17 in the Rose Bowl, claimed the AP title. The Orange Bowl loss was the eighth straight year Alabama had been unable to claim a victory in the post season.

Here are some highlights from 1975 Orange Bowl TV broadcast with Jim Simpson & John Brodie on the call:

So what are your predictions for the Notre Dame - Iowa State game on Saturday? Will Notre Dame win big, or will the game be a close one?

Cheers & GO IRISH!