Bragging rights on the line for Rayam brothers, who played Notre Dame and Alabama

Growing up, Thomas Rayam wanted to be like his older brother, Hardy.

Hardy Rayam was 1,200 miles away in South Bend at the University of Notre Dame, where he was playing defensive end for the Fighting Irish under Dan Devine. It's where he would go on to win a national championship in 1977.

Thomas would roam the hallways of his middle school in Orlando, decked out in his brother's Notre Dame apparel.

"I wore all Notre Dame stuff," Thomas said. "All his socks, all his jackets. I was a Notre Dame fan."

His fascination with his brother and the Fighting Irish grew to such a point that he earned a nickname from his fellow students: Little Hardy. It was a nickname that followed him to Jones High where, like his brother, he would join the football team and play defensive tackle.

However, it was a piece of motherly advice that sent Thomas on a different direction than his older sibling, one that would help him grow up to be his own man.

"My mother was big on go your own way and make your own way," said Thomas, 45, who was highly-recruited coming out of high school, drawing the interest from several schools including Notre Dame.

It was his mother Minnie's words that eventually led Thomas to decide to forgo his childhood dreams of playing at Notre Dame and instead play football at the University of Alabama.

"I wanted to stay in the South," Thomas said about his decision to go to Alabama. "I was grits and gravy so I went to Alabama."

That's not to say that Notre Dame didn't continue to cross his path.

During his freshman and sophomore seasons, Thomas and Crimson Tide played Notre Dame twice, once in Birmingham and the second time in South Bend. It was there that Thomas remembers his big brother Hardy watching him play from the sidelines – the Notre Dame sidelines.

"He was happy to see me play, but he was all for Notre Dame," said Thomas.

Now years removed from the gridiron, the two brothers still support their alma maters with as much passion as they did during their playing days.

It's that passion that has blown into a full-blown sibling rivalry on the eve of Notre Dame and Alabama squaring off in the BCS national championship game in Miami.

"I call him Doubting Thomas right now," the 55-year-old Hardy says with a laugh. "Doubting Thomas believes the game is going to be a wipeout."

The two siblings have been going back-and-forth ever since it became apparent that the two schools could meet here in Florida.

The brothers were back in Orlando a few weeks ago with their respective families and even then, the rivalry was front and center. The two donned football jersey's – Hardy in the familiar blue of Notre Dame and Thomas the crimson of Alabama and posed for a family photo. On the backs were the familiar Rayam name.

Over the weeks, between the phone calls, e-mails and texts, the two brothers have pointed out the reasons why each team will tonight's game.

"I think Notre Dame has one of the best defensive lines in the country," said Hardy, whose daughter goes to Notre Dame. "I was quite impressed with the way they played this year."

Thomas disagrees.

 

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