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“An absolutely crucial element is winning,” Sperber said.

Few programs have won like Notre Dame. Alabama is one of them.

The Tide made a similar breakthrough in the 1920s under coach Wallace Wade. The Tide’s big victory against the Ivy League came in 1922 against Penn.

“Back in those days, Alabama beating Penn was as surprising as if Penn were to beat Alabama today,” said Kirk McNair, who worked as sports information director for Alabama during the 1970s and now runs Bama Magazine.

“It started to put southern football on the map,” he said.

Trips to the Rose Bowl marked the next step for both schools.

The Fighting Irish went to the Rose Bowl in 1925 to play Stanford. The team traveled by train and, as Sperber said, “at every stop there is a public parade.”

Notre Dame beat Pop Warner’s Stanford team, 27-10, and the trip from South Bend was “like a pilgrimage there and back,” Sperber said.

After the 1925 season, Alabama was invited to make the trek from Tuscaloosa, Ala., to Pasadena, Calif., for the Rose Bowl _ a decision that was met with derision by some in the media and around college football, McNair said.

Regional pride ran high in those days, when the Civil War was still within memory for some, and there were hard feelings on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.

In the Northeast, people “felt like there was just going to be a bunch of ragamuffins coming out there,” McNair said.

“In those days southern football was not quite so mean and nasty as it is today, and Alabama was carrying the banner for the entire South.”

Alabama won the 1926 Rose Bowl, 20-19 against Washington, went back to California in 1927 and tied Stanford 7-7. The Tide then won three more Rose Bowls from 1931-46, losing one.

When Wade left Alabama, he was replaced by Frank Thomas, a former Notre Dame quarterback who played for Rockne. “That was pretty big to get a guy from Notre Dame even then,” McNair said.

Alabama hit hard times in the mid-1950s, but fixed its problems by bringing home one of its own. Bear Bryant played for Thomas in the 1930s and became a coaching star at Kentucky and Texas A&M. Under the Bear, Alabama dominated the Southeastern Conference and won six national championships between 1961-79.

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