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Dublin, South Bend buzz with pregame spirit

Sam Stryker | Friday, August 31, 2012

DUBLIN – While Fighting Irish fans may be looking forward to the kickoff of the Notre Dame’s football season Saturday in the Irish capital, the Emerald Isle Classic is more than just a game – it is a display of the University on an international stage.

John Heisler, senior associate athletic director, said Saturday’s game – and the events surrounding it – is a celebration of Notre Dame for a new set of viewers.

“Overall, it’s a great opportunity to showcase the entire University to a new audience,” he said. “[If you] see the list of events we released … you can see there’s much more involved than just a football game.”

Indeed, with a pep rally at the O2 Arena, tailgate in the Temple Bar District, Mass at Dublin Castle and numerous other affiliated events, Dublin is seemingly an extension of the University, if only for this weekend.

University Spokesman Dennis Brown said in a statement to The Observer the football team has always been an important part of celebrating Notre Dame’s mission.

“Our football program provides numerous positives to the University, including the overall high quality athletic entertainment, an esprit de corps on campus, and millions of dollars in revenue that support our academic mission, and in particular financial aid,” he stated. “One other positive is the ability to use football as a way to introduce people to other aspects of Notre Dame.”

Brown stated Notre Dame’s recent pattern of “home-away-from-home” games is not merely about hosting athletic events around the country, but a series of opportunities to expose important components of the University nationwide.

While this Saturday’s game may technically be a Navy home game, Brown stated the Emerald Isle Classic is part of that trend – only now, the exposure is international.

“We are sponsoring educational, intellectual, faith and cultural events throughout the city as a means to share these important aspects of Notre Dame,” Brown stated. “It’s especially significant that this is in an international setting.

“Expanding Notre Dame’s presence globally is one of [University president] Fr. Jenkins’ highest priorities, and this week’s activities are one very important component of that ongoing effort.”

This custom of travel and exposure is an inherent characteristic of the football team, Brown stated.

“Taking our team across the country, and now even around the world, is a long tradition at Notre Dame,” he stated. “In fact, before we were the Fighting Irish, one of our nicknames was the Ramblers, because we traveled anywhere and everywhere. That’s one reason why Notre Dame became so well known.”

Playing Navy is also a program tradition. Saturday’s game marks the 86th installment of the Notre Dame-Navy series, the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in college football. While squaring off in Ireland won’t be new to the teams – the two programs played a game in Dublin in 1996 – this game further displays the respect between the Midshipmen and the Fighting Irish.
Navy agreed to play one of its “home” games in a ten-game series with the Irish in Dublin, Heisler said. This also allowed the Naval Academy the opportunity to spread its message in Ireland like Notre Dame is, Navy associate athletic director Scott Strasemeier said.

“It was a request from Notre Dame and one we honored due to our longtime relationship,” he said. “It also made sense as the Navy brand is international in scope and gives us a chance to tell our story on an international stage.”

The event was no small feat for Navy to organize – it took three to four years to plan, and 1,000 midshipmen made the trip across the Atlantic for Saturday’s game.

Heisler said the football program at Notre Dame has also been preparing for the logistics of Saturday’s event for several years. One of the biggest concerns for the team, he said, is “the seven-hour flight and five-hour time difference and the potential for those to affect our players this weekend and potentially in the weeks to come.”

This marks the third international game for the Irish – there was a 1979 game against the University of Miami in Japan and the previous game in Ireland. According to Heisler, fans may be traveling back to Asia soon to cheer on the Irish, as there have been discussions to play the Stanford in Beijing.