That Game is miles behind them now, a dwindling bloodstain in their mirrors. Brian Kelly says its history, and – even at Notre Dame, where history is something you can breathe like air – that means its as dead as disco.
2012 and the personality of that team is gone, Kelly said Tuesday in his kickoff news conference for spring football, as winter fought a stubborn rearguard action outside. It now starts to begin with a new group of players, a new football team.
And yet the paradox is clear, as those words exit Kellys larynx: If 2012 is truly gone, it also informs everything going forward from it, or at least from Jan. 7, 2013, the last true day of 2012. And not just because this is Notre Dame, where the past is prologue like nowhere else.
Its because Jan. 7, the day of the BCS championship, is when Notre Dame discovered what it means to be truly elite. And just how near, and at the same time how far, it was from getting there.
That was the night of That Game, of course – Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14 – and even 2 1/2 months later, every detail is etched in acid. The defense everyone raved about all year was brutally strip-mined, two Bama running backs gouging it for more than 100 yards, the Crimson Tide burying it beneath 529 total yards. It was no contest from the moment Bama drove 82 yards in five plays on its first possession, cruelly exposing Notre Dames proud 12-0 record as something as counterfeit as a Confederate dollar.
And yet in that exposing, there was this, too: A revelation that will serve the Irish well from here on out.
I think after that game, we learned a lot about where we want to go moving forward, Kelly said Tuesday. Thats the benefit of playing in that game, that even though we lost the football game, I think we learned a lot from it.
Well, you can start with the fact that Kelly spent an inordinate amount of time Tuesday talking about how much bigger and stronger his players were, and how Job 1 now is to develop quality depth, the lack of which Alabama so brutally exposed. And, yes, that includes the quarterback position, where Everett Golson is an heir whos hardly apparent.
He ran for a score and threw for one in the national championship game, completing 21 of 36 passes for 270, yards. But Kelly made it clear Tuesday hell go to spring ball without an assigned seat as the starter.
I want (the other Notre Dame quarterbacks) to push to be on the field, Kelly says. I want them to go in knowing Everett Golson has experience, but thats all he has. Its your job to go out there and show us you can be the starting quarterback.
Its a mantra that runs through everything here now, because thats something else Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14 taught everyone.
If there was one thing that stood out for me in that game, we lacked depth at crucial positions, Kelly said Tuesday. The recruiting process, thats one answer, and then the second answer is just continue to build the strength of your football team.
We want competition. If youre program is in good shape, theres competition from within. So its going to be a competitive situation.
Jan. 7, 2013, everything it meant then and inspires now, demands no less.
When youre in that environment, you want to get back there, Kelly says. Theres no atmosphere like it. Its a great motivator for your football team.