Richard Todd is hoping to gain a little revenge Monday night.
The former Alabama quarterback will be in Miami for Monday’s BCS Championship Game as his alma mater faces No. 1 Notre Dame.
It’s not surprising that Todd has more than a passing interest in the game. As a player he faced Notre Dame twice, losing in heartbreaking fashion each time.
“I admit that I’m not a Notre Dame fan, said Todd, a Mobile native who now lives in Florence. “As a fan I’m really hyped for this matchup. I can’t wait until Monday.”
Todd first played against the Fighting Irish in the Sugar Bowl on Dec. 31, 1973, with Notre Dame beating the Crimson Tide 24-23. Alabama came into the game undefeated and ranked No. 1, while Notre Dame also was undefeated and ranked No. 3. Although this was many years before the BCS, it was clear that the winner would win the national championship.
“There was no ESPN then, so there wasn’t quite the buildup there is today,” Todd said.
“But it was a big deal because it was the North against the South and the Catholics against the Baptists. We were excited to be playing Notre Dame.”
Todd was a sophomore and the backup to Gary Rutledge, although the two usually played about the same number of snaps.
“We had such a great team that year,” he said. “We played so many people, and everyone could play. That game was really the first time we were tested all season.”
The game was a classic as the lead changed hands several times. Notre Dame took an early 6-0 lead before a touchdown by Randy Billingsley put the Tide up 7-6. Freshman Al Hunter then returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown to put the Irish up 14-7. A field goal by Alabama’s Bill Davis cut the margin to 14-10 at halftime.
Each team scored a touchdown in the third quarter, and Notre Dame took a 21-17 lead into the final quarter. The Tide needed a big play and they got it from Todd, who hauled in a halfback pass from Mike Stock for a 25-yard touchdown play.
“Mike Stock was my roommate my freshman year, and he was a great athlete,” Todd said. “It was a great call, and we caught them in the right defense.
“Notre Dame blitzed on the play and Mike did a great job getting the pass off. He threw a beautiful pass and it went for a touchdown. That play really swung the momentum our way.”
The only problem with the touchdown was that Davis missed the extra point. Notre Dame came back with a field goal with 4:12 remaining to take a 24-23 lead.
Alabama was forced to punt on its next possession and the ball rolled dead at the Norte Dame one with just over three minutes left. It appeared the Tide would get the ball back in great field position when the Irish gained just four yards on their first two plays.
But on third-and-six, Notre Dame quarterback Tom Clements hit Robin Weber for a 33-yard gain. The Irish were then able to run out the clock to win 24-23 and claim the national championship.
“That was only time I cried after a college game,” Todd said. “It was more a case of being mad because I felt, and still feel, that we had the better team and should have won the game. But it was a heck of a game.”
Todd and his teammates got another shot at Notre Dame the next season when the two teams met in the Orange Bowl. While Alabama entered the game unbeaten and with a shot at the national championship, Notre Dame had two losses.
“I definitely remember the Sugar Bowl game more than the Orange Bowl,” Todd said. “The Orange Bowl was still a big game for us, but it just didn’t seem to have the magnitude of the 1973 game.”
Notre Dame surprised Alabama, jumping out to a 13-3 halftime lead. Alabama rallied in the fourth quarter, trimming the lead to 13-11 with just over three minutes remaining after Todd hit Russ Schamun for a 48-yard touchdown pass and the Tide made a 2-point conversion.
After forcing a Notre Dame punt, Todd led Alabama into Irish territory. The comeback ended, however, when Todd was intercepted by Notre Dame’s Reggie Barnett. The Irish again ruined Alabama’s hopes for a national championship with the 13-11 victory in Ara Parseghian’s final game as Notre Dame’s head coach.
Todd said one of memorable parts of the Orange Bowl was a comment coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant made about him the following night.
“Back then the banquet was the night after the game,” he said. “Of course we didn’t want to be there because we had lost and Coach Bryant was not in a good mood.
“Coach Bryant was giving out our commemorative watches and he would introduce each player as he gave him the watch. He introduced me as ‘Richard Todd, who was Notre Dame’s most valuable player.’ I guess I couldn’t say he was wrong.
“I know I gave that watch away not long after that. I wanted to give it away the moment I got it.”
Todd went on to lead Alabama to a Sugar Bowl victory over Penn State in his senior year. He was later selected in the first round of the NFL Draft by the New York Jets and enjoyed a 10-year pro career.
While an Alabama victory Monday would not erase all the bad memories of the two losses to Notre Dame, Todd said it would help.
“Notre Dame is a good football team, and I would love to beat them,” he said. “Beating Notre Dame would certainly heal some cuts on me.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.