They threw oranges, and not just because it was easier than throwing cotton. The fans in Notre Dame's stands expressed their bowl-game preference Saturday by flinging fruit at the field every time the Fighting Irish scored--which was early and often, in a wham-bam, 37-6 slam of Alabama.
Coach Lou Holtz threw in his two cents' worth, too, after the game, acknowledging on television that if the Irish had their druthers, yes, definitely, "We'd like to go to the Orange Bowl" to play the Big Eight champion.
Yet, as Holtz emphasized later, there are no guarantees when your football schedule takes you to Penn State and Miami, Fla., for the final two games of the regular season. Seventh-ranked Notre Dame, sitting pretty right now with a record of 8-1 and with bowl scouts panting after them, has no assurances that it won't end this so-far splendid season with a record of 8-4.
Of course, it will be impossible to convince Alabama Coach Bill Curry of this, after what he saw here Saturday. His 11th-ranked Crimson Tide (7-3) was so thoroughly wiped out, Curry came into the interview room afterward and said that even if his team had done its best, he doubted it would have been enough to beat this Notre Dame team.
"There's only one thing to say after a game like that," Curry said. "We were whipped by a vastly superior football team."
Holtz tried to comfort Curry by telling him during their postgame handshake: "Bill, you just picked the wrong day to be playing us here in South Bend."
This, see, was the last home date of the season for Notre Dame's 76th consecutive sellout crowd, many of whom obviously spent the morning in the fruit section of the supermarket. The fans even got penalized for their actions after one touchdown.
"Our seniors really wanted to walk out of that tunnel for the last time as winners," Holtz said. "What can I say? Even our student body gets penalized here. I've never seen a place like this."
One of the seniors making his last appearance here was Tim Brown, whose name might as well be changed by the school publicity department to Tim Breisman, as in Heisman, because that trophy is all but his. Brown was beautiful, catching four passes for 114 yards, racking up all-purpose yardage of 225 and making eye-popping moves.
Brown broke one 34-yard punt return that had touchdown written all over it--with three blockers and only one tackler to beat--but pulled a Chevy Chase and tripped over his own feet. It was the only way the defense had of stopping him.
As if Alabama didn't have enough problems, junior tailback Mark Green, from Riverside, had the best day of his college life, carrying 18 times for 149 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. The longest scoring run by a Notre Dame player in five years, it was topped eight minutes later by freshman tailback Ricky Watters, who went 75 yards with a pitchout for another touchdown.
"I'm gone. I'm gonna leave this place. They don't need me anymore," Tim Brown joked after the game.
Notre Dame's offense rolled up 465 net yards of total offense to Alabama's 185. The Crimson Tide tried everything, including three quarterbacks, but couldn't do much of anything right, converting, for example, on 2 of 16 third-down situations.
"The fact that our players weren't ready for this experience is not an excuse, it's a fact," Curry said. "Even had we responded at our very best, I doubt seriously we would have beaten this Notre Dame team. Tenseness was a reality on our sideline today."
The Irish were "far and away the best team that we've played," Curry said.
No wonder the big bowls want them. And, after all, this is Notre Dame we're talking about here. Marquee value.
A problem, though: The Orange Bowl people also appear to be interested in Miami as an opponent for the Big Eight champion. And although Notre Dame ends its regular season Nov. 28 against Miami, the bowl selections will be made next Saturday--a week before the Irish-Hurricane showdown.
Maybe that's why some CBS-TV types already were speculating that Notre Dame was Cotton Bowl-bound. The bids go out so early, the bowls don't always have control over their own fates. They take what they can get.
Notre Dame offensive tackle Tom Rehder said: "I don't see why they have to send the bowl bids out so early. But if they have to, I don't see anybody more deserving than us. We aren't out there playing Miami of Ohio."
This was a little dig at Miami of Florida , which last week defeated its Ohio namesake, 54-3.
The Fighting Irish players are justifiably proud of their schedule, which already has included victories over Michigan, Michigan State, USC and Alabama, with two wicked opponents still ahead of them. Their loss was a 30-22 setback at Pittsburgh.
Some people say they are surprised by Notre Dame's success, but not Brown, who said: "We honestly thought that if we could beat Michigan in the opener, we could be 8-0 going into this game. We stumbled at Pitt, but aside from that, we think we can go all the way now."
Alabama scored first Saturday, but never did make it as far as the end zone in this game. Behind tailback Bobby Humphrey, who rushed for 94 yards on the day, and helped by an unsportsmanlike conduct call against a Notre Dame player after the Irish defense had stopped the Tide on third down, Alabama managed a 34-yard field goal by Phillip Doyle for a 3-0 lead.
Notre Dame matched it, then went ahead, 10-3, in the second period on sophomore quarterback Tony Rice's twisting, 12-yard touchdown run.
Hogging the ball most of the period, Notre Dame drove again and scored again, under rather funny circumstances. On fourth down from the Alabama six, the Irish lined up for a field goal. The Tide went offsides. Now, with fourth-and-two from the three, Holtz decided to go for the touchdown. But just as his offense was about to, a TV-timeout official threw down his headphones and came running desperately up the field, pleading for play to be held up, because CBS-TV was still into a commercial.
Once the play finally got called, Rice hit tight end Andy Heck with a two-yard touchdown pass. It was the quarterback's first scoring pass at Notre Dame.
Brown broke loose with a punt on the next possession and had the field all to himself, with escorts, until he got tangled in his own cleats. He did go 34 yards to the Alabama 31, though, and Ted Gradel kicked the second of his three field goals for a 20-3 lead.
At halftime it was 20-6, but the third quarter was a disaster for the Crimson Tide. They did not get a first down in the period. They got 12 yards rushing. They were overpowered by what their coach, Curry, called "the biggest team I've ever seen in my life."
Although it was 23-6 after three periods and technically still a contest, that was taken care of when Green took a pitch, reversed his field and cut back to the left sideline for a 74-yard run. Replays appeared to show him stepping out of bounds around the Alabama 12, but it wasn't called. As if the Crimson Tide didn't have enough problems with Brown and oranges, now there was Green.
By this time, Alabama was using its third quarterback, Billy Ray--no, that's not his first and middle name; that's his first and last name--what with starter Jeff Dunn sidelined by a first-half injury and second-stringer Vince Sutton failing to complete a pass.
Ray was not able to find the end zone, either, but he did pass for 33 yards, which was nearly twice as much as either of the other two guys did.
Watters, with four minutes remaining, took a pitch, tiptoed down the sideline and outran the secondary for a 75-yard touchdown run, making it 37-6.
It was a rout, one that ought to give the guys from Penn State and Miami something to think about.
And we don't mean Miami of Ohio.