The Fighting Irish are the most polarizing team in college football, and those feelings have only intensified during the program's recent resurgence.
"I think the people that hate Notre Dame hate us again and the people that love Notre Dame are happy," former Irish tight end Dave Casper said. "Notre Dame is going to be Notre Dame whether we're 0-12 or 12-0. But it's always nice when you're winning."
Casper is more familiar with the winning tradition. He capped his four-year career at Notre Dame in 1973 with a 24-23 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to secure the national championship.
Casper was in Manhattan Tuesday for a ceremony to recognize the 2012 College Football Hall of Fame class. He has been impressed by his alma mater's 12-0 season. "The team played so well this year and they played so hard," said Casper, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. "They've been very fortunate. No matter what happens in the final game, this season has been an unbelievable season for tight games and luck and the benefit of the Irish."
Notre Dame hasn't won the national title since 1988 and hasn't been a serious contender in two decades. Alabama is favored to win its third national championship in four years.
"It's going to scare me. I don't know if I'm going to be able to watch the game," Casper said. "They probably have a better team, but in 1973 they had a better team, too, and we snuck the game out."
Casper doesn't have many specific memories from the 1973 win. "I just remember being scared to death going into the game and worrying about what was going to happen," Casper said. "I just remember at the end saying, 'How'd we do this?' I don't know how we beat them, but we did."
Alabama senior offensive lineman Barrett Jones wasn't born when the teams last met in 1987. But Jones, who Tuesday was named recipient of the William V. Campbell Trophy as the nation's top scholar-athlete, understands the significance of the matchup.
"I feel the Notre Dame like / dislike more with our elderly fans because they certainly had some classic matchups with them back in the day," the All-American said. "It's great to see [Notre Dame] getting back to a level where they're competitive, just because college football is better when they're competitive."