BYU, Notre Dame have similarities, differences

Published: Saturday, June 11 2011 8:00 p.m. MDT

Footballs and a portrait honor Knute Rockne at Notre Dame. Fans and tourists visit the campus of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, Friday, Nov. 12, 2010.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

PROVO — The phrase "win one for the Gipper," was immortalized by a 1940 movie called "Knute Rockne, All American."

Knute Rockne was the coach at Notre Dame, and his star player, George Gipp, died of strep throat not long after he played his final game.

The young actor who portrayed Gipp in that film, Ronald Reagan, ended up becoming president of the United States. While running for the highest office in the land, Reagan was nicknamed "The Gipper" and he used "win one for the Gipper" as a political slogan.

As the story goes, when Gipp fell ill, he told Rockne to promise that when things were going badly for the Fighting Irish, he should inspire the players by asking them to "win one for the Gipper." Eight years after Gipp's death, Rockne told his struggling team, which was trailing a favored Army squad, 6-0, at halftime, about Gipp and his request to win the game for him.

Notre Dame rallied for a 12-6 triumph. The story is true, as unbelievable as it seems.

Then again, almost everything about the Fighting Irish's football history seems hard to believe. In many ways, Notre Dame epitomizes college football.

You want proof? The College Football Hall of Fame is located not far from the campus in South Bend, Ind.

You want history? The Fighting Irish have produced 96 All-Americans. They have 11 national championships, seven Heisman Trophy winners and the Four Horsemen.

You want a following? Notre Dame has enjoyed its own broadcast agreement with NBC since 1991.

You want aura and tradition? The Irish play at 80,795-seat Notre Dame Stadium and their fight song is iconic. Their mascot is a leprechaun. Painted shamrocks adorn the faces of cheerleaders on game day. The Golden Dome, which tops the administration building, is symbolized by the gold helmets worn by the Irish football team. The paint for the helmets is mixed with actual gold dust and applied by student managers prior to every game.

Notre Dame is also one of the few football programs in the country that operates as an independent, along with Army and Navy.

And this fall, that trio will be joined by BYU.

Ever since BYU announced it was going independent, many observers have examined the similarities and differences between BYU and Notre Dame. Some have mocked the Cougars for being audacious enough to try to brand themselves as "The Notre Dame of the West." They point out that BYU's football history pales in comparison to Notre Dame, noting the Cougars' one national championship and one Heisman Trophy winner.

Yet the two schools do have a lot in common. Both are religious-affiliated, both boast a national following, and both have signed their own national television contracts (BYU has an eight-year deal with ESPN). While Notre Dame's teams, besides football, compete in the Big East, the majority of BYU's other sports will play in the West Coast Conference.

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe has acknowledged some of the similarities, and downplayed some of the comparisons.

When it comes to the Bowl Championship Series, Notre Dame can earn an automatic berth to the BCS if it finishes among the BCS's top eight. Meanwhile, BYU, Army and Navy are eligible for at-large selections to a BCS bowl if they win at least nine games and are ranked among the top 14 in the BCS standings.

The Cougars would love to achieve Notre Dame-like status in the BCS at some point, but realize it will take time. "We're not saying we should be like Notre Dame," Holmoe said. "They came in with an established record. We're trying to make small steps."

Truth is, Notre Dame football has fallen on hard times lately. The Irish's last national championship came in 1988. Notre Dame has had four different head coaches in the last decade. The Irish are counting on second-year coach Brian Kelly to bring them back to glory.

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