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January 6, 2013

BCS TITLE GAME: Local business owner looks back at 1973 Sugar Bowl as Bama-ND meet yet again

CULLMAN — Mike Eckenrod sits on his couch in a living room that would make any Alabama football fan jealous.

In the corner is a cardboard cutout of Nick Saban donning a Santa hat and only the slightest hint of a grin, staring straight ahead at a case full of priceless Tide memorabilia. Amidst the figurines, ornaments, glasses and other trinkets are three signed Alabama footballs. The most coveted is autographed by every member of the 1973 Tide team.

On the dining room table are two oversized scrapbooks packed with history. There are newspaper clippings, programs and pictures from Eckenrod’s college playing days, as well as newsletters and personal correspondence from legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

Roaming somewhere in the house are Eckenrod’s dogs — Ally (short for Alabama), Bryant (after Coach Bryant’s wife, Mary Harmon) and Bama. The trio misses their late pal, a pup cleverly named Jay Barker.

Just over Eckenrod’s shoulder is an authentic poster from the 1973 Sugar Bowl. On his left hand is a national championship ring from the same year. He wears it in place of a wedding band, telling his wife, Lisa, 31 years before he didn’t need a ring for anyone to know he was married.

Playing on the TV is a recording of the 1973 Sugar Bowl, the first-ever meeting between the tradition-rich programs of Alabama and Notre Dame. Both were undefeated. No. 1 versus No. 2. Winner take all.

It’s early in the first quarter, and the Fighting Irish are forced to punt. As the Tide’s special teams unit takes the field, Lisa giddily points out, “There he is, right there.”

He, of course, is Mike, or at least a version far younger, meaner and leaner than the president and owner of Cullman’s Eckenrod Ford Lincoln appears these days.

On the screen, Eckenrod is taking part in his very last college football game. On the couch, he’s taking a trip down memory lane.

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