ATHENS — The modern college football player, specifically the one who plays where it just matters more, is about as plugged into the sacred Notre Dame tradition as he is to Gregorian chants of the 10th Century.
He doesn't know George Gipp from Boy George.
"No sir," said a quite mannerly Georgia guard, Cade Mays. "When I was growing up, I followed SEC football."
The modern Bulldog couldn't spell Knute Rockne if you spotted him all the k's and the n's.
The Four Horsemen? "That rings a little more of a bell,"
tight end Eli Wolf said.
"Nah, you got to tell me," safety J.R. Reed.
Odds are, they probably have seen the movie "Rudy." They likely didn't cry at the ending.
And most would believe in his heart of hearts that Rudy Ruettiger was offsides on the climactic play.
"I don't know, he probably was," Mays said, laughing.
It is the present that seems to command the attention of these young lords of the gridiron, which is good because none of Notre Dame's players will be riding into Sanford Stadium on horseback Saturday, outlined against a blue-gray September sky. By rule, none of the Irish will be wearing leather helmets at kickoff. History will not be on trial this weekend, but the immediate future very much is. And that is a time period more in the Bulldogs control.
Whenever Georgia plays Notre Dame, it's big. Like total eclipse big. And, to date, Georgia gets the better of the transaction.
At the dawn of 1981, the fellow whose name was added to the field here just a couple weeks ago beat the Irish in the Sugar Bowl and rounded out a national championship.
In 2017 at South Bend, Georgia fans overran Notre Dame Stadium like ants on a sugar cube. And Kirby Smart's Bulldogs got themselves a 20-19 victory that was a warning to all of college football that this second-year coach might be on to something. It was a springboard to a season that ended at the national championship game.
On Monday, Reed stepped out of the Bulldogs secondary to instruct us what that late afternoon meant.
"It showed everyone it's a new era, showed everyone was buying in to the new program and Coach Smart's way," he said. "The year before not everyone was bought in, we hit some bumps in the road (and finished 8-5).
"It showed if you do this a certain way, that's what the results are going to be."
And now Saturday, when third-ranked Georgia hosts the seventh-ranked Irish in the first top-10 non-conference match-up in Sanford Stadium since 1966. (Georgia beat No. 5 Georgia Tech in that long-ago meeting).
"You don't have a ton of top 10 match-ups the caliber of this one," Smart said.
Notre Dame should be very excited for the opportunity.
If this is college football blasphemy, so be it: As for what it means for the current image and perception of the two programs, Saturday is bigger for Notre Dame than for Georgia. The Irish here in 2019 are in more need of proving their relevance on the big stage.
Since their meeting two years ago, both teams have been to the college football playoffs, the Bulldogs eventually losing the championship game in overtime in 2017 and Notre Dame getting throttled by Clemson in the semis last year, 30-3.
In the last decade, Georgia is 9-13 against top 10 opponents (.409 winning percentage) while Notre Dame has been less successful and more lightly tested – 3-9 (.250). Membership in the SEC has a way of seasoning a team.
How little weight the legend and legacy of Notre Dame will hold come Saturday is a little bit odd to an older generation of sportswriter who bought so much of what the Irish were selling.
They are just not writing myths about the program of Frank Leahy and Lou Holtz, Joe Theismann and Joe Montana the way they used to.
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