The Sugar Bowl chess game was terrific, especially if you had an inkling beforehand what the teams were trying to do. Notre Dame, for example, uses so many different defensive alignments it took Alabama a full period to get sorted out. When it did the Tide took such complete command that it seemed Notre Dame would not only fall but be trampled to death. But in a game like this, with the stakes so high, the errors that decide it (errors decide every game whether the stakes are high or not) are often errors of omission. The first of two that beat Alabama came during that long period of dominance during the second and third periods. After pulling ahead 7-6, Alabama let Al Hunter return the kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. "Let" is a word advisedly used and not meant to detract from Hunter's feat (it was a feat, the only kick returned for a touchdown against Alabama all year), but Hunter seemed to be the only one in the park who knew what he was doing on the play. No great blocks were thrown. No wild, clawing pursuit made. Both sides seemed to be watching for just the right moment to spring into action. And since no one sprang, Hunter did.
But the most obvious Alabama gaffe was the 30-yard pass to Tight End Dave Casper that put Notre Dame in position for its final winning field goal. Casper was not only covered, he was boxed in at the Alabama 15, and Tom Clements' pass was a Roman candle. Either of Casper's two Alabama escorts—Ricky Davis or David McMakin—might well have made the interception. "Somebody should have been all over his neck," growled Bryant. But Davis, behind Casper to the Alabama side of the field, said he "knew David was in position to make the play," and held off. And McMakin got fooled by the chill wind buffeting the ball and "completely lost sight of it." All Casper did was step right up and have himself a reception.
At the finish Notre Dame, a team of immense poise, had regained the edge it held earlier and was in control. If it was a game either team deserved to win, then certainly Notre Dame deserved it, and now makes a handsome national champion. Because Oklahoma was on probation, and thus kept from showing its stuff in a bowl, and because Ohio State so dominated USC in the Rose, it will be bandied that a reasonable doubt was left. USC players and coaches opted for Ohio State and Oklahoma in post-bowl comments, but theirs is an objectivity worth questioning. An abiding animosity exists between USC and Notre Dame.
The Irish appear a better team than Ohio State if only because they are more well-rounded. Oklahoma comes closer to Notre Dame's completeness. Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Alabama were, in 1973, as lovely to look at as any teams who ever played the game, and the pleasure is just beginning, for all three are loaded with young stars. Indeed, the whole of college football is in glowing health, its fans alive and not kicking. The colleges drew record crowds for the 20th straight year, and in terms of producing the kind of drama that could even lure people—including George Blanda—from their New Year's Eve parties, they were an entertainment of consistently high order.