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Texas vs. Notre Dame: Though diminished, mystique still surrounds Fighting Irish

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Much like the light reflected by the golden helmets worn by Notre Dame, there's an unmistakable glow around the Notre Dame football program hard-earned through a history of success.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Almost 91 years ago, legendary sports writer Grantland Rice wrote one of the most famous passages in sports journalism and took some of the first steps in casting a mystical and mythological glow upon the Notre Dame Fighting Irish:

Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.

For those who enjoy classical references and elevated prose, Rice's lead for the Notre Dame-Army game in 1924 represents a pinnacle of the craft.  It also represented the arrival of the Fighting Irish on the national stage -- Notre Dame went on to win the school's first national championship that year before winning 12 more recognized by the NCAA. Seven Heisman winners have played in South Bend and the names of famous coaches, players, and moments still ring through the ages -- Knute Rockne, the Gipper, Paul Hornung, Ara Parseghian, Joe Montana.

And there are just as many iconic images associated with the football program. The golden helmets. Touchdown Jesus. The ancient edifice known as Notre Dame Stadium, which opened in 1930, didn't feature lights until 1997, and still doesn't have a video board, though that will change in 2017 when the $400-million Campus Crossroads project reaches completion.

While the glow of the Golden Domers diminished over the two decades since Notre Dame last competed for a national championship, Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong wanted to make sure that his players understood the history of the Notre Dame program before heading to South Bend.

"I've tried to prepare them because we're such a young team that last week I took a segment each and every day where we had a meeting and I showed them Notre Dame," Strong said. "We just took clips, where you just showed the big games. I always would show something about Texas. It gave them a feeling, so they don't walk in there for the first time with their eyes big because it'll be the first time walking in there. So they have seen the stadium, they have seen us coming down the tunnel."

As Strong mentioned, that decision was made in part because the Horns won't have a chance to do a walk-through on Friday -- when Texas takes the field on Saturday night, it will be the first time the players step foot on the Field Turt at Notre Dame Stadium.

"I just wanted to take them back so they could go back and just realize what they're stepping into and just how big this game is," Strong said. "A lot of times, you're right, when you're young you don't realize how big it is until you step on the field, and I didn't want when they hit the field for that -- all of a sudden for that to hit them, like, oh, my God, this is really something. I said, it's going to be special; it's under the lights, Saturday night in South Bend."

Making it more special is the fact that Texas has a chance to tie Notre Dame for second place in all-time victories with a win on Saturday night -- the Fighting Irish sit at 882 wins in program history, while the Horns have 881. With a 2-8 all-time record against Notre Dame, Texas also has a chance to end a four-game losing streak that includes a loss in the 1971 Cotton Bowl and a 38-10 destruction at the hands of the Fighting Irish that ended an unbeaten 1977 season and cost the Horns a national championship.

So though it doesn't feel like a revenge game on the surface, the game on Saturday night between two of the most prestigious teams in college football history represents an opportunity to decrease the sting of those high-profile losses four decades ago.

Then there's the fact that Texas hasn't opened with a true road game since 1995 -- seeing the Horns open the season in South Bend is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The mystique that once existed when the Irish were the only team fans around the country could watch on broadcast television every Saturdayis dimished now by increased accessbility to every other program and nearly two decades of struggles, but Notre Dame still casts a lengthy shadow across the college football landscape, as befitting a program that is still larger than life.