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Alabama graduate Harwood Smith, left, and Notre Dame grad Dick Rupp will root for their universities' football teams to win the FCS championship, which is at 8 p.m. Monday. STEVE BEHR | WATAUGA DEMOCRAT

Originally published: 2013-01-05 17:26:05
Last modified: 2013-01-08 11:13:55

Neighbors' alma maters vie for title

by Steve Behr Sports Editor

Boone neighbors Dick Rupp and Harwood Smith have been friends since Smith moved into the house next to Rupp's in 1993.

In fact, Rupp's wife Mary was the real estate agent who handled the transaction. Rupp and Smith meet every Friday with a group of friends at a Boone restaurant and talk about everything from politics, current events and what's going on in their lives.

Lately, the subject has turned to college football.

Rupp and Smith have an extra interest in college football, especially the BCS national championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama. The game, being played in Miami, begins at 8 p.m. Monday.

It's the first time the teams have played since 1987, which Norte Dame won 37-6 in South Bend, Ind. Alabama (12-1), ranked No. 2 in the nation, is a 10-point favorite over No. 1 Notre Dame (13-0).
Smith did not have a prediction for the outcome. Rupp came up with a score, but not necessarily a winner.

"I think it will be a defensive game with the score being 21-17 -- either way," he said.

Rupp graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in English from Notre Dame in 1956 and received a master's the following year. An Indianapolis native, Rupp played clarinet in the Notre Dame marching band.

Notre Dame was an all-male university when Rupp attended, and did not admit women until 1972. He played b-flat clarinet in the marching band all four years of his time at Notre Dame.

"It was a small school, about 7,000 (students)," Rupp said. "I may be the only Notre Dame graduate in town, at least as far as I know. We're pretty close, the Notre Dame alumni."

Smith graduated from Alabama in 1959. Smith said he's not a major sports fan, but follows Alabama football, especially this season.

The two made a small bet -- the graduate of the team that loses buys lunch this Friday for the graduate whose team wins.

Rupp, who was raised Catholic in Indianapolis, said that he had a choice of Notre Dame and Indiana to attend. He chose Notre Dame.

"At the time, Notre Dame was an obvious choice for a Catholic high school graduate," Rupp said. "My father said that I could go to IU, which is where I got my Ph.D., or I could go to Notre Dame. So, I went to Notre Dame."

Smith grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., after his parents settled there during the Great Depression. Smith's father was from Alabama and his mother was originally from Wytheville, Va. Smith chose to go to Alabama, where he majored in radio and television broadcasting.

"I used to spend some of my summers in Birmingham with my family," Smith said. "I always knew I would go to the University of Alabama. I didn't even apply to another college when I graduated from high school."

Both men are aware of the traditions of their football programs. Notre Dame was the home of legendary coaches Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian. Alabama was the home of Paul "Bear" Bryant, who held the all-time record for coaching victories when he retired.

Both teams have won multiple national championships. Both teams have had Heisman Trophy winners.

Smith laughed when asked if Alabama fans substitute the phrase "Roll Tide" for the word "Amen" while in church. Smith, a radio and television broadcast major who changed his path and became a Lutheran minister after college, admits to not being a big sports fan.

He understands that Alabama football is important to millions of people, especially in the Southeastern part of the nation.

"I love my alma mater, but I'm not a real big sports fan," Smith said. "That's never been my in thing. But I love my alma mater. It was good to me."

Smith's roots to Alabama run deep. His great-grandmother attended the Girls' Normal school that was eventually taken in by the university. His cousin, who lived in Birmingham, also enrolled at Alabama the same time Smith did.

Alabama's football mythology was cemented when Bryant took over the program in 1958, which was Smith's junior year. Alabama was 2-7-1 in 1956 and 1957 before Bryant took over. Bryant's team went 5-4-1 in his first season and 7-2-2 in 1958, Smith's senior season.

Even with the losses, Smith attended the games while in college.

"Alabama had a long football history and lost its coach," Smith said. "They made the line coach (J.B.) Whitworth the coach simply because of the politics of the warring factions of the alumni. He was a good line coach and he went on to some professional team in Canada as a line coach, but our first two years there were not glorious years by any means. Then Bear Bryant came and in fact his first home that the boosters gave him was right around the corner from my wife's parents' house."

After graduation, Smith eventually moved to Philadelphia to attend seminary school. His wife, whose father was dean of the Alabama law school, moved with him to attend Drexel and get her master's degree.

Smith became a minister in 1962, and the Smiths settled in Gibsonville in 1962. They also lived in Troutman and Kings Mountain before eventually moving to Boone. Smith was the pastor at Bethany Lutheran in Green Valley for six years before retiring.

Notre Dame was a bit better during Rupp's first two years as an undergraduate. The Irish went 8-4 in Rupp's first two years, but Notre Dame hit harder times in the late 1950s. In Rupp's senior season, the Irish went 2-8, but quarterback Paul Horning won the Heisman Trophy.

Horning teamed with former Alabama quarterback Bart Starr to win five NFL championships with the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s.

Rupp was a professor at Appalachian State for 25 years before retiring. He has five children, but just one, his son Matthew, attended Notre Dame.

Matthew will be the only representative from the Rupp family who will attend the game. The family all chipped in to make sure he had the money to buy a ticket, which were priced at $300-$500 face value, but cost Matthew Rupp  $1,300.

Dick Rupp, who has the option to get two tickets to attend at least one game in South Bend, Ind., said helping send his son to the game was worth the expense.

"He's going to represent the family," Rupp said. "He's going to have a good time. He'll carry the flag for us, so to speak."

Notre Dame is 4-0 against Alabama. Two of those losses -- the 1973 Sugar Bowl and the 1975 Orange Bowl, cost Alabama national championships.

No matter what the result Monday night, Smith and Rupp will still be friends. But one will get a free lunch on Friday.

Correction: This story was updated on Jan. 7 to correct the spelling of Dick Rupp's name. Also, Notre Dame and Saint Marys did not merge. They are separate universities.