Rally, Sons of Notre Dame!

Brian Kelly said it best in the cramped locker room at the Los Angeles Coliseum late in the evening of November 24.

“We won this game the way we’ve won every game this season,” he shouted to the victorious Irish crowded around him. “With our will, our determination, our want and our desire.”

Singing the alma mater after the big win in Norman after beating OU.

Singing the alma mater after the big win in Norman after beating OU.

Football analysts have spent the past six weeks dissecting all the personnel, matchups, schemes and strategies. Most of them predict an Alabama victory. The Tide, they argue, is too strong, too experienced to be derailed in its quest for dynasty status. Alabama will benefit from playing in its third BCS Championship Game in four seasons, they reason.  Nick Saban’s troops are used to the national stage (implying Notre Dame isn’t).

And that’s where Notre Dame fans need to say, ‘Not so fast.’

Notre Dame football, in and of itself, is a national stage. No team is scrutinized as heavily and consistently as the Fighting Irish. None is followed as passionately, for or against.

It’s been ever thus.  From the day nearly a century ago, when the 1913 team from a largely unknown Midwestern men’s college boarded a train to West Point to take on mighty Army. In the ensuing years, as Knute Rockne advanced from team captain to assistant coach to head coach starting in 1918, the “Ramblers” became known for playing anyone, anywhere, any time.

In 1924, the Four Horsemen, the Seven Mules and the Shock Troops became the first football team of any kind to play games in New York City, Chicago and southern California in the same season, completing a 10-0 year with a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.

And this season alone has seen the Irish travel to Dublin, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles. And, oh yes, there was a stop in Norman, Oklahoma, where the home squad had won 79 of its previous 83 games. Everywhere the Irish travel, they are big news. A far-flung fan base is always expecting excellence.

The 2012 Irish have delivered. Any stumble along the way, and the BCS Championship wouldn’t be happening. So you can argue that each of the previous 12 games was as important as tonight’s finale. How can the pressure be any stronger?

The Irish will be ready. Focused. Disciplined. It’s who they are, as a team with tremendous leadership from captains Manti Te’o, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Tyler Eifert and Zack Martin. They have a tight bond. They care for one another.

Above all, they are fearless. Nothing about tonight’s game is going to scare them. Not Alabama’s speed, strength or savvy. And not the stage or the stakes.

One of the team’s mottos is perfect:  Follow Me.

I’ve got your back. I trust you, as you trust me. We’ve worked hard for this. You get what you deserve. Let’s go do this.

Picture success.

The Fighting Irish…lifting the crystal football.

It has to be.