FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) TJ Jones is the second player from his family to play for a national championship with Notre Dame.
He wishes the other one was still here to share the experience with him, as he and the top-ranked Fighting Irish prepare to play No. 2 Alabama for the BCS championship on Monday night in Miami.
Jones' father, Andre, was a defensive end on the last Fighting Irish team to win the national title in 1988. He died in June 2011 of a brain aneurysm. He was 42.
``I don't know if it's helped the healing process. There's a lot of things I wish I could have talked about (with him) to kind of figure out how to deal with things,'' TJ Jones said Friday. ``The mindset to take in certain situations. It's definitely helped me reminisce a lot about what we used to talk about and the times we used to have. But as far as healing, that's only time I guess.''
Andre Jones played for coach Lou Holtz from 1987-91. He played in 42 games and started four in `88, then a total of 18 in 1989 and `90.
He had a short professional football career. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and spent time with the Detroit Lions and in the Canadian Football League. Later, Jones was an executive for a sports management company in Atlanta. He left behind a wife, Michelle, and five children.
TJ, a junior receiver who is second on the team in catches and yards receiving, said his father wasn't one to display mementos of his football career.
``He had his Notre Dame stuff in his closet and in his bathroom,'' he said. ``He used to wear his rings around all the time. But he was more into art, so we had delicate painting on the walls and artsy stuff, rather than Notre Dame stuff.''
TJ and his father used to have long phone conversations. His father was his biggest fan and toughest critic. Not being able to share some of the highlights of this season with him have been especially tough for TJ.
``The game-winning catch against Stanford was definitely one of them,'' TJ said. ``We always talked about making a game-winning catch, having a game-winning catch in any game is what you grow up practicing, whether it's in the street or flag football.
``And definitely after we won the USC game knowing we were going to the national championship. That's something I wish I could have called him and just talked for hours about what we were going to do. How crazy it was that we were both going to be in the national championship. Really just celebrate those moments with him.''
He misses his father, for sure, but he said Andre Jones isn't totally gone.
``I feel he's here with me every day,'' TJ said. ``I feel he's watching over me. He's watching over Notre Dame and my family as well. I never feel lost. I don't feel like there's a void in my life. I know I miss him and I can't talk to him, but at the same time I don't have an empty feeling that he's gone.''
Some of his father's old teammates, Ricky Watters, Reggie Brooks, Pat Terrell and Rocket Ismail, TJ's godfather, have been sure to keep in touch with Jones
``All those guys who I have normally talked to, they've reached out just to kind of say, `What's up?' - give me a little advice about how to handle this game,'' he said.
Andre Jones taught his son many lessons, but TJ said what sticks with him most is to appreciate the gifts life gives you.
``Never to get too full of yourself,'' he said. ``To always give praise to the lord for the blessing you've been given. Because as soon as you've given them, they can be taken away. And you never know what tomorrow will bring. When you live in the present give praise and be thankful for what you have.''
WHAT'S IN A NAME? Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart shared a secret to the defense.
The Crimson Tide is known as a 3-4 team with three down linemen and big, versatile linebackers, but that label is partly about recruiting the type of players Alabama wants. Coach Nick Saban has said `Bama only lines up with a three-man front about 20 percent of the time.
So why stick with the label?
``We're not in 3-4 as much as people think, but that's what we recruit to,'' Smart said. ``We do that for a lot of reasons: It gives you ability to recruit more linebackers, more skilled players. We have to line up in both. In today's day and age, offenses force you to.''
He said it also allows the Tide to have outside linebackers big enough to grow into defensive linemen, where they often line up.
``It's more about that, and we still think it's the best defense to be in for two-back offenses,'' Smart said.
He pointed to NFL teams like the Texans, the Ravens and the Patriots who are 3-4 teams that play both.
Alabama has six linebackers as starters or second-teamers that are listed as 243-plus pounds, including the 6-foot-3, 262-pound Xzavier Dickson.
Two similarly huge linebackers - Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw - were among the NFL's top 35 draft picks last year.
GOOD SEATS: Yes, some tickets are still available to the Notre Dame-Alabama matchup that will decide the national championship on Monday night.
Available to the deep-pocketed, that is.
As of Friday afternoon, about 3,000 tickets to the BCS title game were available for purchase on the online site StubHub. None were cheaper than $899.
And that's in the upper deck of Sun Life Stadium - in the 30th row of the upper deck, to be precise. Nothing in the lower bowl was available for less than $1,000 per seat.
Want four seats, together, in the corner of the lower bowl? They can be yours for the low, low price of $40,000 (plus $15 processing, of course). And according to some South Florida tourism experts, more than 50,000 Notre Dame and Alabama fans will be in the South Florida area this weekend - just for the experience of being near the game, and with no chance of getting tickets.
``They've been traveling with us all year,'' Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin said. ``It's crazy to see.''
ANOTHER LONG SEASON: Say this much for Chuck Martin: When someone hires the Notre Dame offensive coordinator for a season, he tends to make that season last as long as possible.
When Martin was coaching at Division II's Grand Valley State - first as an assistant, then the head coach - he was part of six trips to the national title game in nine years, winning the crown in four of those seasons.
And now in his third season at Notre Dame, Martin is again coaching in the final game: The top-ranked Fighting Irish play No. 2 Alabama for the BCS national title on Monday night.
``It doesn't feel any different,'' Martin said. ``I know everybody says, `Well, it's a bigger stage,' and it's not. It's a football game and it's a national championship game, and fortunately for me it's seven times in 12 years we've gotten to go try to win it all. It's been a good time - more fun than we should be allowed to have, actually.''