BCS game: Victory will put Notre Dame's Kelly in company of Irish's legendary coaches

Posted: January 04, 2013

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Leahy, Parseghian, Devine, Holtz. No first names necessary. Each of those coaches won a national title in their third season at Notre Dame. Now, someone named Kelly is 60 minutes away from turning it into a fivesome.

Soon, another Kelly could be moving up to the NFL, maybe even to Philadelphia, 1 year after he turned down a chance to go to Tampa Bay. No offense, but maybe the pros are going after the wrong Kelly.

The irony is that Brian, the Fighting Irish Kelly, would probably prefer to play more like Oregon's Chip, at least when his side has the ball. Yet he was realistic enough to figure out that his guys, who will play Alabama for the BCS title Monday night at Sun Life Stadium, weren't properly-equipped to get it done that way. So he decided to play to his strengths, which are mostly his defensive front seven. In other words, sort of what a bunch of SEC teams do. And since an SEC program has won the last six of these things, maybe that wasn't such a bad move.

You think?

The Irish haven't been in this spot in nearly a quarter-century. They're trying to become the first team to hoist the trophy after starting the season unranked in nearly three decades. They're trying to become the first to do so with a freshman quarterback in almost that long. So what else do you really have to know?

"I didn't believe nor did I want to use this year as a bridge year, a transition year," said Kelly, who led Cincinnati to an unbeaten regular season in 2009 before departing prior to a lopsided Orange Bowl loss to Florida. "I've just never played that way. I wanted to win this year.

"I have not done a good job my entire career listening to other people's expectations . . . We went about it that way."

And here they are. It wasn't always stylish. But they're the lone unbeaten left. Or at least the only one that was postseason eligible (sorry, Ohio State). They beat Purdue (Purdue?) by a field goal. At home. They beat Michigan, but not by nearly as much as Alabama did. They won a controversial overtimer against Stanford, again in South Bend. They had to rally to get past visiting BYU by three. Then, a week after an eye-opening 17-point win at Oklahoma, they scored 14 fourth-quarter points to force OT with visiting Pitt (Pitt?) and only survived because a makeable field goal missed by the width of a football. It happens. Yet at some point, it's really not about the how any more. Did we mention that they got to play a Matt Barkley-less USC in the finale. Then again, knowing what a dog USC had become, it likely didn't matter.

Now they're close to 10-point underdogs, sort of like what they were at Oklahoma.

If the Irish complete the implausible journey, and it's not like they're haven't been upsets on this stage before, Kelly's world will never be the same. He'll forever be ingrained in all that lore. Other than that, there's not much riding on this.

The rest of the food chain probably can't grasp exactly what finishing it off would mean to a fan base that's had to suffer through Bob Davie, George O'Leary (you thought we forgot?), the premature end of Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weiss. Who knew it might happen so quickly, after back-to-back 8-5 seasons that included starts of 1-3 in 2010 and 0-2 last season? It's why they toss the coin. And why they continue to dream even through the worst of times, especially under the Golden Dome.

And if it happens, one man will reap most of the spoils.

It's how this stuff works.

"You have to have the pulse of your football team," Kelly insisted. "There's no job like Notre Dame. And no amount of preparation gets you ready for it. It tends to distract you. This year, I got to spend more time with my team."

Priceless.

They're an ending away from closing a story that will be retold for as long as there's a Touchdown Jesus. What do you think that'll do for the old résumé?

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