Ryan Gee was the Notre Dame Fighting Irish mascot during the inaugural game.
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Then, at 9 a.m. (EDT) on Saturday, CBS will telecast the showcase game, billed as the Emerald Isle Classic, to early risers in the U.S. There will be pep rallies, marching bands, drill teams, academic conferences and a public Mass that morning. Three American Airlines charters will carry 1,000 Navy Midshipmen to Ireland for their traditional pregame march into the stadium. And, for the visiting fans, there will be sightseeing, golf, local cuisine and Celtic music.
John Anthony, whose Anthony Travel (headquartered in South Bend, Ind., and Dallas) caters to the traveling needs of 40-plus colleges and universities in the U.S., is offering tour packages for alumni and fans and says, “The whole thing has far exceeded everyone’s expectations. Five months before the game, all 35,000 tickets sent to the United States had been purchased, and hotels in Dublin are booked solid.” And, he notes, it is not just the Notre Dame–Navy game that has caught the attention of trans-Atlantic travelers. In the Dallas office of the company, 400 tours have been purchased by fans of Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas, which is scheduled to play Chicago’s Loyola Academy in one of the prep-school games.
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The 1996 Emerald Isle Classic drew more than 40,000 fans, roughly 10,000 of them from America.
“It will be the largest delegation of U.S. travelers to Ireland at one time in history,” says Jessica Alarcon, Anthony Travel’s director of event operations.
Traditionally, the two spotlight teams have traveled to various venues when Navy is the designated home team, as is the case this season. Since the Academy’s home field seats only 34,000, it has “hosted” Notre Dame in NFL stadiums in Landover, Md.; East Rutherford, N.J.; Chicago; New Orleans and Philadelphia in recent years.
This Dublin event has been three years in the making. Naval Academy Athletic Association associate athletic director Robb Dunn has made more than a half dozen visits to the game site, overseeing details that range from lodging and practice arrangements to media accommodations. “There have been a million little details to attend to,” he says. “For instance, the electrical system there is different from ours, so we had to be sure proper conversions were made so the CBS broadcast could go off without problems.”
And, of course, the locals have played their part. When, for instance, plans were OK’d for the $500 million Aviva Stadium (which serves as the home venue for the Irish Rugby Football Union) back in 2007, among its features were anchoring stations for football goalposts, which were added to the blueprints in anticipation of the Americans’ visit.
Enthusiasm for the unique traditions of the American fans has caught on, too, says Dublin’s Kevin Moore, head of sports marketing for Fleishman-Hillard International Communications. “One of the things the local media brought back from its visits to the U.S. was the concept of the tailgate party before games. That was new to Irish fans, who are traditionally late arrivals for sporting events, remaining in the pubs until shortly before a game gets under way. This time, they’ll be attending a huge tailgate party that will get under way at 10 a.m. on the day of the Notre Dame–Navy game.”