Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: Fighting Irish (page 1 of 2)

Boston College vs Notre Dame – Irish fight off the fumbles in frigid Fenway…

Growing up a native Bay Stater and ardent Red Sox fan, Fenway Park has always held a nostalgic mystique for me. My earliest sports memories involve wading through the crowds on Yawkey Way, clutching my father’s hand, the smell of roasted peanuts and cheap cigar smoke hanging in the air like a fog. We’d press into the arched brick façade, squeeze through the old mechanical turnstiles with a satisfying clunk, before the days of laser tag scanner beeps. Once inside, we’d buy a couple hot dogs for a buck fifty apiece, coating them with a few shiny foil packets of Gulden’s Mustard.

From cramped wooden slatted seats we’d watch Sox greats like Wade Boggs slap the ball around, while Jim Rice patrolled the iconic left field wall in the twilight of his career. My father would school me on the finer points of the game while I groveled for a Hood “Sports Bar” ice cream from the barkers climbing up the steps. Afterwards, we’d camp out on Van Ness Street near the player exit, hoping to land a few autographs before the freshly showered big leaguers sped off in shiny new sports cars. The same spot where I once snagged Mark McGwire’s signature during his 49 home run rookie campaign in 1987.

Despite the cliché, the ballpark felt more authentic then. There were still a handful of the old, “golden era” parks around the league at that time (Yankee, Tiger, Comiskey, Wrigley, etc.), and Fenway hadn’t yet become the self-celebratory theme park it has evolved into today. It was grimy and rusty, signs were faded (not just painted to look faded), the amenities were spartan, and the crowd was rough and haggard. The very bricks themselves seemed to ooze the yeasty aroma of eons of cheap, stale beer, popcorn and sweat. While today the skeleton remains the same, the park has undergone a considerable facelift in the past decade as part of the “family friendly” marketing strategy the Red Sox have employed. A strategy that has paid off with a decade long sell-out streak, and grandstands overflowing with pink baseball caps and Vineyard Vines polo shirts.

Unsatisfied with mere sellouts, as part of the indefatigable chase for revenue (a necessary evil within the arms race of modern baseball), the Red Sox management has opened up the gates to the park for any kind of cross promotional event imaginable, all in an effort to extract every possible nickel from the “lyric little bandbox”. Everything from Rolling Stones concerts to NHL games have been played here of late, and a 4-H pony show can’t be too far away.

In similar fashion, the University of Notre Dame has shown recent exuberance for extracting every last drop of revenue from the withering historic pulp of their football program. The tackily branded “Shamrock Series” contests have featured “neutral site” games in locations of puzzling geographic nexus for the opponents. The contracts, however, are lopsided to favor the Irish who get to claim to an outsized portion of the ensuing gate and TV windfalls. In the past decade, Irish fans have been treated to what might otherwise be interesting matchups, were it not for the peculiar locations. In lieu of simple home and home arrangements, fans have been treated to games like Notre Dame vs Washington State in San Antonio, Notre Dame vs Miami (FL) in Chicago, and Notre Dame vs Arizona State in Dallas; to name a few. Clearly, for the revenue obsessed top brass at both Notre Dame and the Boston Red Sox, an Irish football game in Fenway Park was a match made in revenue whoring heaven. Ka-Ching….

Throw in a flunky opponent, the floundering Boston College program would do quite nicely, and you had all the components for a late November college football cash grab. Too add even further humiliation to the Eagles, despite their campus being only 3.9 miles away from Fenway Park, *Boston* College had agreed to be the VISITING team for this little boondoggle. As if that weren’t insult enough, given the tight confines of the Fenway Park visitor locker room, the Eagles would actually have to dress in Chestnut Hill and then bus over to the stadium like a high school JV squad. Fredo indeed.

Yet it was precisely here, at this eccentric event, on a cold November night, that I found myself. As a lifelong fan of both the Irish and the Red Sox, there was a certain magnetic pull towards this contest that trumped my revenue mongering protestations towards it. And, as an ardent sojourner of the sport, I felt a certain obligation to investigate first hand these oddball collaborations that seem to be gaining popularity throughout the college ranks. Next year, for instance, Tennessee will play Virginia Tech on the infield of Bristol Motor Speedway, and Cal will be opening their season versus Hawaii in Sydney, Australia.

But like all things Boston and Fighting Irish related, my intrigue came with a hefty price. I’d forked over $175 per person for the pleasure, which may be the highest face value, regular season, college football ticket in history. On the secondary market, tickets were starting at nearly $1,000 each and ranged considerably higher from there. I can only imagine the field day the legendary Boston scalping racket had for this event. With a stated capacity of only 38,686, less than half a typical Irish home game, the limited confines of Fenway Park would make this the least attended, and, hence, most exclusive Irish “home” game in decades.

My father had agreed to tag along for the spectacle, making his annual pilgrimage on the PigskinPursuit. We meet up on Newbury Street, the heavily trafficked, outdoor, upscale shopping district of Boston after I drop my car in a parking garage for thirty five bucks. With a hankering for a long overdue, classic American cheeseburger, we huddle into Shake Shack for a few quick burgers and beers before making the hike up to Fenway. When Dad inquires about our seats, I show him our tickets for the event, gingerly pulling them out of my zippered coat pocket like a winning lottery ticket. His eyes grow wide when he sees the face value printed on the front, audibly gasping, nearly choking on a mouthful of cheeseburger. In between bites he yammers something about footing the bill for a large portion of my college education, and how I can surely pony up for a few football tickets for the old man. Add this to the list of baby boomer generation entitlements I’ll have to foot the bill for, I suppose….

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While Boston itself is a decidedly mediocre college football town, overshadowed by the fanatical professional options in town, the streets are surprisingly alive on a brisk Saturday night. We begin our stadium journey down Boylston Street, the sidewalks flush with Irish fans, a shuffling mass of green sweatshirts. Boston College fans are far scarcer. With the Eagles 3-7 record, most of them smartly opted for the NBC broadcast at home. As we cross over the Mass Pike and turn onto Landsdowne Street, the spine of the Green Monster, the party is in full swing. Revelers pile out of the dingy bars on both sides of the street, and lines are stacked thirty heads deep outside waiting to get in. The entire street is cordoned off by police, its width swarmed with fans in a giant, roiling din. The aroma of browning onions wafts from sausage carts, the vendors rolling a few plump links across a hot grill, while the sound of souvenir barkers fills the air with thick Boston brogues. It’s not your typical college football tailgate, but close enough.

We enter through Gate C on Landsdowne Street, taking our seats in section 38 near the deepest part of centerfield, known in Red Sox lore as the “triangle”. The football field is laid out parallel to the first base line in Fenway Park, extending into the deep part of right field, the end zones nearly touching the padded walls of the relief pitching bullpens. The sight lines are a bit odd, as one would expect in a ballpark, and a broad swath of outfield grass separates the stands from the sidelines. For as small a park as Fenway is, the game action feels “distant”.

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As the pregame clock winds down, and a few of the glitzy Notre Dame promotional videos finish playing on the video screen in centerfield, the Irish storm the field. They emerge, almost single file, from the first base (home) dugout while a cascade of green fireworks erupts into the night sky high above the home plate press box. Sporting bright, Kelly green, “Green Monster” inspired uniforms, the Under Armour creations are nearly solid green from head to toe, accented only with the infamous gold helmets. While in years past some of these “Shamrock Series” uniforms have been nauseating abominations (thankfully Adidas has since been kicked to the curb), this particular vintage looks quite sharp under the phosphorescent glow of the Fenway lights.

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Although the uniforms might look sharp, despite the heritage of the billing and venue, on the hallowed fescue of Fenway Park the game proves to be one of the sloppiest fiascos I’ve ever witnessed. With a lofty #4 ranking entering the contest and college football playoff hopes on the horizon, the Irish do their best to Charlie Brown themselves out of the playoff picture on primetime national television. They turn the ball over an infuriating five times, three of those turnovers occurring inside the Boston College three yard line. The ball slips in and out of hands like a Harlem Globetrotters circus stunt, and the plucky Eagles refuse to go quietly into the frosty New England night.

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Sophomore Irish quarterback Deshone Kizer leads the turmoil. He wastes no time firing his first interception of the night, a bullet into the chest of the BC defender in the Boston College endzone on the opening drive of the contest. The meltdown caps off an otherwise impressive 60 yard march for the Irish. Kizer would add another pair of pickoffs during the game (one more of them of the soul crushing variety at the three yard line) to finish with three interceptions on the evening. Not to be outdone, Irish running back C.J. Prosise fumbles twice (one of which is luckily recovered by center Nick Martin) and, for fear of being left out, freshman backup  tailback Josh Adams gets in on the action with a fumble of his own. Even the sure hands of speedster wide receiver Will Fuller are greased, as he drops a few cupcake catches after darting behind the BC secondary. By the end of the night, the Irish would rack up 447 yards of total offense, but only manage two meager touchdowns to show for the effort.

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Self-flagellating notwithstanding, Notre Dame manages to slink away with a narrow 19-16 win, but not until after a dramatic dive onto the on-side kick to end the game. Although still technically a win, the Irish are sure to find themselves a few notches lower in the polls after this particularly lackluster effort.

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In the end, I’m torn about the Irish experience at Fenway Park. On one hand, there’s an undeniable nostalgia for witnessing the intersection of two of the cornerstones of my youth sports passion – Notre Dame Football and Red Sox baseball. And, of course, sharing an evening at Fenway Park with my father conjures enough maudlin, Kevin Costneresque sentiments to make the night a memorable one. But there is still something unshakably artificial and contrived about all of it. A lingering, glossy, commercialism that divulges the thinly veiled financial motive. The entire production feels heavily produced and cunningly marketed to feel authentic, but in a Disneyfied way that feels artificial, plastic.

But I suppose it could be worse. They could have played another game at Yankee Stadium…

Special thanks to my father for making the haul to Boston, it’s always special to spend an evening at Fenway Park with your Dad, and I look forward to another annual trip together next year!

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Notre Dame vs Texas – Irish thrash the Longhorns…

I generally don’t write much about Notre Dame at this point, because I’ve spent so many weekends there that I don’t have much to add to the site.  This trip was a fortuitous one, to witness the Irish host the Longhorns in a rare matchup between two of the most historic programs in the sport.  Despite the heavy billing of the contest, the Longhorns are in the midst down cycle in their program, and didn’t put up much of fight on this day.  The Irish easily handled the sputtering Longhorn squad on this day, running away with a lopsided 38-3 blowout.  I earnestly hope the Texas program bounce back to it’s historical dominance, and the game next year in Austin can live up to the hype of these two legendary programs.

Nevertheless, it’s always a treat to be back in South Bend for the weekend, touring the magnificent campus, and downing a few meatball subs from Polito’s.  With a few marquee names coming to South Bend in the future like Georgia and Ohio State, I look forward to more of these powerhouse games in the House that Rock Built.

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Special thanks to my friends Bryce and Geoff for meeting up, providing lodging, and an overall excellent weekend.  Look forward to seeing you at the next big Irish game!

Full Clickthrough Gallery Below:

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Notre Dame vs Arizona State: Irish shock the Sun Devils in Dallas…

Having lived in Dallas for several years and attending a handful of games at the soaring monstrosity of new Cowboy Stadium, the trip to the Big D was more about catching up with friends than exploring a new corner of the college football world.  With Notre Dame playing Arizona State in one of their annual “Shamrock Series” neutral site contests, a special event that grants leeway for the crack design team at Adidas to make some deplorable changes to the traditional Fighting Irish uniforms, this trip was a great opportunity to reconnect with a few of my Irish cohorts that were also making the journey into town.  But with #22 Arizona State fresh off a blowout victory over the USC Trojans, this game would be anything but a walk in the park for the decidedly pedestrian Irish squad thus far this year.   Of course the allure of some proper Texas barbecue would offset any anxieties that I shared about the tenuous Irish matchup…(See my review of Pecan Lodge from last year here)

Saturday morning we rise early and load up Bryce’s truck with a payload of tailgating provisions.  Coolers are stuffed to the gills with refreshment, and shopping bags ripple with snacks.  We rendezvous with a handful of friends in the parking lot of a Bone Daddy’s restaurant in Grapevine, a Hooters restaurant clone known for their, ahem, “alluring” fare.  From there we convoy south into Arlington with surprising ease, and then enter the asphalt expanse surrounding the new Cowboy Stadium.  We have a hangtag parking pass for Lot 12, a privilege that Jerry Jones charges $50 apiece for.  Judging by the wide open swaths of parking that never fill up, the contest will be far from a sellout.

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As our tailgate is unfurled in the cool overcast morning air, our numbers swell as visitors stop by and meet up.  Bryce sets up a slick Beats By Dre portable radio with some Texas Country pumping, while Kate lays out an impressive spread on a foldout table. I take this opportunity to crack into my first Shiner of the day.  My friends Larry and Luke had followed us in and parked alongside.  Both friends from my Notre Dame years, they were in town for a doubleheader of the Irish contest on Saturday, and then an NFL Cowboys game the next day.   Seasoned tailgating veterans in South Bend, they were both familiar with my tailgating antics, and we spend the morning working our way through an impressive list of microbrews that Bryce toted along.  As always, a few hours tailgating with great friends flies by like seconds, and as the sun starts to dip into the horizon, it signals the end of our festivities.  We stuff our pockets with a few walking beers and head towards the giant alien spacecraft that is Jerryworld.

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Walking towards the stadium, tickets are for sale everywhere.  People stand on corners with fistfuls of them in hand, asking as low as $5 apiece for the tickets which the university had the gall to put a $110 face value price tag on.  There simply isn’t enough demand for what amounts to a neutral site game between two lackluster teams that are each nearly 1,000 miles from their respective campuses.  Security procedures as we enter the giant dome include a metal detector and possible pat down.  If it’s one thing I always appreciate – it’s invasive, superfluous and ineffective security procedures that cause a choke point to enter the stadium and offer little more than an illusion of safety.  Fortunately, the “security” goons aren’t wise enough for my ruse, and I breeze through with a full can of Shiner Bock cleverly concealed by years of experience (send me an email if you want the technique)…

For those that haven’t been, Cowboy Stadium (recently redubbed “AT&T Stadium”, which I will ignore) is an impressive space, a befitting monument to football in the Lonestar State.  It’s sparkling new and clean, has generously wide concourses that are easy to navigate and a plethora of concessions that sport everything from nachos to sushi.  The retractable roof soars nearly 300 feet over the field, supported by a pair of massive 35’ deep box trusses that span the entire 1200’ length of the stadium.  The gaudy centerpiece of the structure is the infamous Mitsubishi Jumbotron, a 160’ high definition TV screen that continuously flashes replays and advertisements, the largest of its kind in the world.  Stretching from one 25 yard line to the other, the epilepsy inducing behemoth is so obtrusive, that you find yourself accidentally watching the game on the screen instead of the actual action on the field.

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While it’s impossible not to be impressed by the sheer size and spectacle of the structure, and it’s a fine venue for the climate controlled, banal professionalism of the NFL; I find Jerryworld completely unfit for a college football game.  College football is quite simply meant to be played outdoors, under the elements, in the splendor of a fervent college campus bursting with foliage on a crisp fall afternoon.

But despite my purist protestations, beer flows freely at the concession stands, and Larry, Luke and I intend to take advantage of this break from typical NCAA Puritanism.  Given the frustrating play of the Irish thus far this season, we’ll clearly need it, and we alternate a few rounds while the countdown clock winds down.  Although billed as a neutral site contest, looking around the audience is anything but an even split.  The Irish fan base probably outnumbers the Sun Devils 3:1, and the massive jumbotron plays exclusively Irish promotional videos and messages.  After a few pre game announcements, the contest kicks off with as much roar as the 2/3 capacity crowd can muster as helmets begin popping on the artificial turf below.

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After a scoreless first quarter, what follows is a surprisingly competitive, seesaw battle that delivers for all four quarters.  Irish running back and Texas native Cam McDaniel batters the ASU defense on the ground, while QB Tommy Rees has a serviceable day in the air with three touchdowns against one (albeit costly) interception.  After trading a few quick touchdowns in the second quarter, the score at halftime is 14-13 in favor of the Irish.

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In the third frame, as Rees finds some rhythm, the Irish jump out to a comfortable 24-13 lead after successful touchdown drive and impressive 53 yard field goal boot by place kicker Kyle Brindza.  But the explosive Sun Devil squad will not be pinned down in the 4th quarter, as they return a Tommy Rees gaffe for a six point interception, and later punch in a touchdown with eight minutes remaining to knot the score at 27.  After an ensuing Irish field goal drive (30-27), the key play of the game occurs as Arizona State assumes the ball deep in their own territory with 1:16 remaining.  Skilled ASU QB Taylor Kelly, facing a 4th and 13 conversion to keep his teams hopes alive, fires an interception into the outstretched arms of ND linebacker Dan Fox.  Fox returns the interception for a touchdown, effectively icing the game as the Irish assume a 37-27 lead with only a minute remaining.  Final score ND 37 ASU 34.

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Special thanks to my friends Bryce and Kate for their incredible Texas hospitality as always, and can’t wait to see what games we meet up for next year!

Thanks to my friends Larry and Luke, it was awesome to catch up with you guys in Dallas, and lets lock down ASU in Arizona next year!!!

 

Full clickable gallery below:

 

 

 

 

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The Irish Defend the Alamo

I’ll begin this post by stating that I do not agree with, nor support the idea of the Notre Dame “barnstorming” concept, or the scheduling of neutral site games.The background for this concept dates back to the 1920’s when Knute Rockne used Notre Dame’s independence to schedule “barnstorming” games, where ND would play opponents anywhere, anytime.This brash, pioneering concept was among the reasons that Notre Dame was able to rise to national prominence and become the national powerhouse that it is today.
Recently, the Notre Dame administration felt the unprompted need to resurrect this concept, not with the idea of scheduling premier opponents, but rather to simply maximize revenues.The “barnstorming” game effectively becomes another home game for Notre Dame (and thusly the associated TV contract), and because it does not offer a return game for the opponent (one and done), the only opposition that would agree to such lopsided terms are the bottom feeders of the NCAA.Simply put, there is no nexus between Notre Dame, San Antonioand WashingtonStatethat make this a compelling draw. Nor does it propagate the mystique and reputation of a football team predicated upon consistently playing one of the toughest schedules in the country.We would be well served to reconsider this botched idea, and schedule a simple home and home with a premier Big 12 or SEC opponent the likes of Texasor Alabama.

Despite my political opposition to the game, given the chance to spend a weekend in sunnySan Antoniowith a handful of friends and see my beloved Irish play, I put my political differences aside and we made the journey.
The atmosphere around the game and in stadium more closely resembled a bowl game than a typical home or away game.Predictably, Notre Dame fans vastly outnumberedWashingtonStatefans by about 48,000 to 5,000.It was also my first experience at an Irish game with empty seats.The Alamodome has a stated capacity of over 60,000 seats, and the “recorded” attendance was a mere 53,000 (and judging by the expanse of vacant seats in the upper tier, presumably even lower than that).I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the noise level in the dome.The Irish fans on hand were quite spirited despite the neutral site, and the crowd noise was further augmented by the dome acoustics to create an unexpectedly loud in stadium atmosphere.

On the field, the game was a mismatch from the start.While ordinarilyWashingtonStatemight be a mildly competitive opponent, this has been an off year for them, and they are ranked among the lowest teams in the country.Watching the explosive Irish offense carving apart the Cougars on the Alamodome carpet was a sight to behold.I believe we averaged nearly 8 yards per play in the first half, which was capped off by one of the most spectacular touchdown catches that I have ever witnessed (by standout ND receiver Golden Tate).

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With the second half already a foregone conclusion, we saw the Notre Dame offense work in their second and third stringers during the third and fourth quarters, giving us a glimpse into the Irish future.In all the day was a solid win for the Irish, and hopefully a benefit to ourTexasrecruiting credibility.

Final Score: Notre Dame 40WashingtonState14
Go Irish!!!

It was great hanging out with Julia and Andrew for the second weekend in a row, they are starting to become regulars! Special thanks to Bryce, Kate, Alan and the animated Grace for touring us around San Antonio and joining us on all our barbecue adventures.

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