Monday, July 20, 2009

Coming Soon to a Subway Near You

When I said in the previous post that I was still treating the leaked 2010 schedule as a hypothetical document, citing its lack of a source (or any other attribution whatsoever) I wasn't trying to pull a Buzz Bissinger and question the manhood of bloggers. That would be the ultimate pot-meeting-kettle. It's not like I think "We Is ND" posted the info after stumbling home from an all-night bender. It's just that later this very same day a press conference was held that put a bullet through one of the supposed "final" dates on the schedule.

In that version of 2010, Notre Dame was set to renew acquaintances with Army on Nov. 6th at Yankee Stadium while the Irish would host Tulsa on November 20th. But at today's press conference in the Bronx, it was formally announced (after being confirmed days ago by numerous sources) that the Irish would play the Black Knights of the Hudson on the 20th before they wrap up the season on November 27th against USC. It could be simply that he had the dates wrong. It also could mean the schedule is not final. I highly suspect it's the former but again, that's just me with my open mind.

The return of college football to the new Yankee Stadium, the $1.5 billion palace that can buy everything except more than 50% capacity for the seats right behind home plate (maybe they should've done what the Louisiana Superdome did, and purposely paint the seats a neutral, alternating color so it would appear on television as if people were sitting in them; they could do what game shows do and bring in human blow-up dolls to occupy the seats, either one) was first hinted at during a May New York Times interview with Irish AD Jack Swarbrick. From the first public mention of the idea it seemed that Swarbrick was intent on having the Irish involved, preferably with the cadets from West Point as an homage to some of the great foundational games in college football. The Notre Dame-Army series gave us the "Rockne invents the forward pass game" in 1913, the 1924 Notre Dame win which inspired the creation of The Four Horseman, and the 1946 edition of The Game of the Century, an epic 0-0 tie between the Irish under Johnny Lujack and the Army powerhouse led by Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis. During a number of springtime speaking appearances, Swarbrick made repeated references to The Game That Changed Football, a recent book chronicling the 1913 meeting, and also pointed out that in commemorative books celebrating old Yankee Stadium, dozens of pages were dedicated to the presence of college football, specifically Notre Dame, at the House That Ruth Built.

Alas, since those heady days of Rock asking the team to "Win One for the Gipper" against Army in the same locker room where Ruth and Gehrig once stood, it hasn't exactly been instant classic material - a one-sided affair between the two schools where Army's last win came in 1958 by the odd score of 14-2, and the only moment of drama in the 13 Irish victories since occurred as Ivory Covington made "The $8 Million Tackle" on a two-point conversion in 1995. Notre Dame leads the series overall 37-8-4.

What those great meetings of the past share, however, is that they were played in the thriving metropolis of New York City, not far from the grounds of the USMA and smack in the middle of Irish-Catholic immigrant territory. To first the Polo Grounds, and Ebbets Field, and then Yankee Stadium and even Shea Stadium they would flock to see the little Catholic school from the Midwest that they only heard about on the radio or read about in Grantland Rice columns. The preferred method of transit (the clackety-clack trains of the Metropolitan Transit Authority) gave rise to the moniker of "subway alumni", a tradition that continues to this day.

So from a lot of vantage points this makes sense. There's a lot of Irish fans who probably wouldn't be willing - or able - to shell out the small fortune necessary to make the round-trip to South Bend. But in the middle of the largest city in America, in a stadium accessible to millions with a simple $4.50 Metro Card, to say nothing of an even bigger sample of fans who are a modest train ride away on Amtrak or the North Shore? It won't be difficult to fill the estimated 47,000 seats, unless we see another "It's Yankee Stadium!!" price scale where face value on the nosebleeds is $50...which, come to think of it, we probably will. Put "affordability" in the maybe column. Anyway, the TV partners go home happy as NBC gets a prime-time college football game for its schedule featuring a brand name and a built-in curiosity factor on the same lines of what's driven viewership for the NHL Winter Classic. Then you factor in the historical significance of the series, the devoted following of veterans and the close proximity to West Point, and this is the kind of sensible solution that includes something for everybody when mapping out a "neutral site game". It makes the 7-4-1 scheduling model almost tolerable...almost. There are plenty of issues with that and we don't need to hash over all of them just now, but for something so rife with problems I have to tentatively say this is the most logical yet of the "in-season bowl games" envisioned by the athletic department.

For those who want to size up any possible "home field advantage", the Irish have an overall record of 15-6-3 at The Stadium, with all but two of those meetings against the Black Knights (the exceptions: 1949 against North Carolina, and 1963 against Syracuse).

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