The first time two college football teams played a game in Ireland came in 1988. It was such a novelty for countrymen more accustomed to hurling, Gaelic football and bowing at the little leprechaun feet of Rory McIlroy that few understood the significance of the event when Boston College held a practice at St. Stephen’s Green in downtown Dublin.
“People were standing and watching the practice because it was a public place,” said Reid Oslin, the school’s sports historian and the sports information director at the time. “Then all of a sudden, a group of pre-school kids just walked right onto the field, right through the middle of practice. To them, we were just playing a game in a park.”
I have a feeling Nick Saban will never agree to coach a game in Ireland.
There have been six college games featuring FBS schools held in Dublin since 1988, beginning with the Boston College-Army game. The seventh will be Saturday when Georgia Tech plays B.C.
Opening a season against a conference opponent 4,000 miles and five time zones away might not seem ideal. As coach Paul Johnson said, “You’d like to have more of a rehearsal game.”
But over the past several months, Georgia Tech athletics has seen its football team tumble to one of its worst seasons in history, its basketball coach fired and its athletic director bolt for another job, leaving behind a disenchanted department.
So when you think about it, what better time to leave the country?
The Jackets, coming off a 3-9 season, have a chance to get well in a foreign land and Johnson probably won’t have to field any questions from nuisance Irish sportswriters about his offense.
If you’ve ever watched a YouTube tutorial of Gaelic football (a cross between soccer, basketball and rugby) or hurling (a cross between lacrosse, baseball and hockey), it’s really not that much different than the option.
Johnson was the offensive coordinator at Navy when the Midshipmen played Notre Dame in Dublin in 1996.
“All of the fans in Ireland thought Notre Dame was a major underdog,” he said. “They couldn’t understand how a tiny school like Notre Dame was going to play the entire U.S. Navy.”
He is trying to keep this as normal of a week as possible. The Jackets aren’t leaving Atlanta until Wednesday night following their practice, a day after Boston College travels. Tech arrives early Thursday morning after a 7½ hour flight, will go straight to the hotel, have lunch, then bus to Aviva Stadium for practice. What players and coaches gain in potentially one less interrupted practice, they’ll lose in time to acclimate to their surroundings and the time change.
“I’ve gone over several times to play golf in Scotland,” Johnson said. “Usually I’m alright by the second day.”
There you go. So wake up and stop you’re whining.
“The (older) guys who’ve played a lot, you’re not concerned about because they kind of know what it is,” he said. “Some of the other guys will look around with big eyes. We’ve got about 80 guys who’ve never left the country.”
The first time Ireland sports fans were exposed to college football in 1988, they had a greater appreciation for the marching bands and cheerleaders than football. They had watched some taped and condensed games on television, edited down to an hour-plus by eliminating time between plays. Some had no idea live games took three-plus hours, interrupted by strategy meetings (known as huddles).
“They thought football games were continuous like rugby or hurling,” Oslin said.
Fans were taken aback by the size of players.
“People would come up to our team in the hotel and say ‘My God you must be 20 stone,’” he said. (Note: one English stone equals 14 pounds.). “One of our players kept getting requests from people to hold up their children.’”
Told that, Johnson laughed.
“That’s true. But our players aren’t very big. They’ll all be asking the Boston College players.”
B.C. defeated the entire U.S. Army 38-24.
The winner of the game was to receive a Waterford Crystal trophy in the shape of a football. But the president of the Irish Rugby Football Union, Paddy Madigan, who also owned a chain of pubs, asked if he could display his trophy in one of his Dublin watering holes. The Eagles said yes.
“We never saw that trophy again,” Oslin said. “When he brought it back, it had a big crack in it. Nobody ever said what happened.”
Boston College was later sent a smaller replica trophy. The Jackets don’t need a trophy this week. Just an ACC win in Ireland, which would equal what they did in the U.S. last season.
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