Both arrived to fanfare on Wednesday, but unlike the movie portrayals of a slow afoot, but not of mind player (Rudy) – and in the case of Alabama's Gump, just the opposite - neither team is hurting for a following or expectations.
“This is my first time in a national championship game (at the NCAA Division I level) and I don't know if this is commonplace, but with Notre Dame we have an incredible following just on a day-to-day basis, Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “I think when we pulled up, all of the people looking out the window were pretty much amazed to see the kind of draw that this game has.”
Notre Dame didn't carry much prestige in August when the Irish (12-0) weren't even ranked. But a dozen weeks of perfection and ascension to the No. 1 ranking will bring with it the weight of expectations of a national following like no other program can boast. However, Kelly is trying to balance enjoying potentially a once in a lifetime moment with the seriousness of not wasting an entire year's worth of work.
“We want to have fun while we're here too,” Kelly said. “It's a business trip. There's no question we're here to play the game, but I want our guys relaxed. They've done all the work, we've got some practices that we've got to take care of, but I want them relaxed and ready to play.”
The No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide (12-1) is just that, second, only in the polls at this point. The oddsmakers have the defending champs as a 10-point favorite, which
“I think each and every week they take it the same way and don't prepare any differently, Kelly said of being the underdog. “They've read all the papers but they don't think much about that. They just go to work and prepare the best they can.”
The Irish and Tide players and coaches both spoke of playing this game as any other, but hundreds don't greet teams at airports very often. Over the ensuing five days, the media scrutiny, pre-planned parties, and thousands of fans that have flocked to South Beach for football, not just fun, reeks of the uniqueness of this event in all of their careers.
“They're going to play a national championship game in Miami,” Kelly explained of his players' emotions. “It's not like any trip that they've had before; it's not like any trip that I've had before. So it was in the anticipation that when we got on the buses at the airport that they were really excited about this trip. It's something that you dream about when you play this game and when you coach this game.”