It was Dec. 31, 1973.

Richard Nixon was president, a gallon of gas cost about 40 cents and Notre Dame was playing Alabama for the national title.

Flash forward nearly four decades.

Barack Obama is in the White House, a gallon of gas has "plummeted" to about $3.35 and Notre Dame is playing Alabama for the national title.

Sometimes, everything old is new again.

Mark Brenneman knows that better than anyone.

The 1970 West York High School graduate was a standout lineman for the Bulldogs in the late 1960s. Two of his West York teams finished unbeaten and untied.

Playing for Parseghian: Brenneman's gridiron talents caught the eye of legendary Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian, who offered him a scholarship to play for the Fighting Irish. It didn't take Brenneman long to accept. Brenneman said Parseghian was -- and still is -- a "tremendous man."

"It was just the place for me -- the Golden Dome is a very special place," Brenneman said. "It was a small school with a great tradition where you could get a great education."

A serious back injury slowed his Notre Dame career early on, but by 1973 the 6-foot, 4-inch, 240-pound Brenneman had earned the starting center job with the Irish.

It turned out to be a magical year for Notre Dame.

The Irish were coming off an 8-3 campaign in 1972 -- a relatively pedestrian record for the powerhouse Irish program in those days. Notre Dame was ranked No. 8 in the 1973 preseason, but wasn't considered a prime national title contender.

Brenneman and his teammates had other ideas, however, going 10-0 in the regular season, with their signature victory being a 23-14 win over Southern Cal, which started the season ranked No. 1.

"Game of the Century:" That earned the third-ranked Irish a berth in the Sugar Bowl opposite No. 1 Alabama and its iconic head coach, Bear Bryant.

The contest pitted two storied programs, two fabled head coaches and two unbeaten, untied teams.

It was quickly billed as the "Game of the Century."

It lived up to the billing.

The underdog Irish outlasted the Crimson Tide 24-23 in a contest that is generally considered one of the most riveting games in college football history.

"By far in my career it was the most physical and intense athletic contest that I ever played in," Brenneman said. "You just strapped it on and went full tilt. There wasn't a lot of talking. Everyone just gave everything they had."

The Irish had just a little more than the Tide that night and won the national title.

Brenneman popped out his shoulder during the game, but after getting it popped back in, returned to the field.

"It was one of those games that you didn't want to miss," he said. "Everyone just played incredibly."

Beating the Tide again: Brenneman started for Notre Dame again in 1974, and the season ended the same way as the previous campaign, with Notre Dame beating No. 1 Alabama in a bowl game -- this time it was the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1975, and the final score was 13-11.

Notre Dame didn't win the national championship that year, but still finished 10-2 and No. 6 in the final rankings.

That game turned out to be the final one in Brenneman's career. He had broken his foot in the final game of the regular season vs. Southern Cal. He was fitted with a special shoe and still started vs. Alabama, but later tore a calf muscle against the Crimson Tide.

"That was kind of the end of me," Brenneman said. "I was frankly a bit of an overachiever, and with my injuries I thought there was a slim chance I'd get drafted. Besides, offensive linemen didn't make that much money back then and I had some other job offers."

He wasn't drafted and instead used his Notre Dame education to start on his business career. He's been living in Columbus, Ohio, for 29 years. He sells implantable pacemakers and defibrillators.

Living in Buckeye country: The 60-year-old Brenneman admits it's "tough" being a Notre Dame fan living in Buckeye country, but he's still managed to follow the Irish from afar. He's been impressed with what he's seen and believes they have a solid shot to upset the Tide.

"They've come a long, long way in two short years (under Coach Brian Kelly)," Brenneman said.

The fact that Notre Dame is an underdog doesn't bother him, either.

"I think it's better to be the underdog," he said. "We were both times against Alabama. It would be a very special victory."

Brenneman hasn't watched the Irish in person in a couple years and doesn't plan to attend the national title game.

"I would rather sit with my friends and family and watch it at home," he said. "That way I can pace if I want. And with old knees, sitting in stands isn't as comfortable as you'd want."

Rooting for the Irish: He may not be there in person, but Brenneman will still know exactly what the players are going through. He's experienced the crucible of a national championship game first hand.

It happened nearly 40 years ago. Presidents have come and gone and gas prices have soared, but the opponents are the same and the memories remain fresh. And there will be no doubt which team Brenneman will be rooting for.

"Go Irish," he said, emphatically.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dis patch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdis