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Updated: February 7, 2013 6:47AM
A lot of Chicagoans are going to be rooting for the Fighting Irish to come out on top in this Monday’s national championship matchup against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
But there are still plenty of alumni from Alabama here as well, including Naperville’s Hunter Byington, 60, and his son Will, 34, who each graduated from the SEC powerhouse.
The elder Byington said he attended the matchup of both teams 40 years ago when he was a student at Alabama from 1970-1975. Notre Dame won that game 24-23 to take the national title.
“I worked as a reporter on the school paper there that was called ‘The Crimson White’ and actually graduated with a degree in journalism and broadcasting,” Hunter said. “It was miserable when they played that day in the stadium with a chilly rain. A lot of people don’t remember that Coach (Bear) Bryant had a seven- or eight-game losing streak in bowl games heading into that one, and he lost again.”
Hunter said the biggest difference he sees in the game Monday and the one he witnessed nearly 40 years ago is the size of the players. Bryant liked small, fast players and swarming defenses, Hunter said, “whereas today if you did that, people would get crushed.”
“We had just started using the wishbone (offense) and had a good running attack that worked,” he said. “This year, I’m not sure Notre Dame’s defense is as strong as they’ve barely won a few close games. I think the offenses are about even.”
Hunter’s son Will said he will visit a Chicago Crimson Tide stronghold in Wrigleyville known as the Houndstooth Saloon for the big game. The other official Alabama alumni hangout in the Chicago area is Another Round bar in Downers Grove.
A graduate of Waubonsie Valley High School, Will said he went to Alabama “for the warm weather, the beautiful women, and the sports.”
“There is a huge Notre Dame fan base around here and there has been a lot of talk about this game,” he said. “Alabama travels well, too. They’re kind of like the Chicago Cubs of college football.”
He believes the Tide have a good chance to win the title.
“These are two legendary programs and I’m cautiously optimistic about what Coach (Nick) Saban and the guys will do, but Notre Dame loves that underdog role. They love those references to ‘Rudy’ and play to that.”