DUBLIN, IRELAND -- My somewhat delayed, mid-afternoon Thursday arrival coincided with the Dublin airport's full marketing blitz for Saturday's American Football match between Navy and Notre Dame.
Post-customs travelers were greeted with scores of balloons in both teams' colors, a mini-gift space replete with Navy, Notre Dame, and Navy/Notre Dame paraphernalia available, and a noticeable influx of travelers with a common bond: to kick-off the 2012 football season.
Which reminds me…
The Going-to-be tough to beat exchange of the week
Opposite of a four-passport presentation Heathrow Airport (London) connection experience was a seamless seat-to-guest house trip in Dublin. One that included an amiable taxi driver who imparted the following gems on my 10-minute ride:
Driver: "Why do you Americans wear shoulder pads?"
Me:"Well, there's a lot of smashing into each other on every play - they don't really wear them for tackling as much as constant contact, big hits, protection…?
?Driver: "We don't wear pads and we hit each other (Gaelic Football)"?
Me: True, but trust me, if 300-pound men smashed into each other every play without pads, games wouldn't last long.?
Cabbie: "Pause...Are you sure they're not just sissies?"?
Me: "In a way, Brian Kelly asked that same question last October."?
Cabbie: "Is he Navy's coach?"
Apparently American football fever has yet to spread from Dublin's airport into the city.
Which leads me to the poorest expression of an otherwise valid point in recent history:
A Tale of Three Running Backs
A common saying during the early 80s in South Bend summarized Notre Dame's predictable, inefficient offense under head coach Gerry Faust: "Pinkett, Pinkett, Pass, Punt."
Allen Pinkett should have punted rather than elaborated in his most recent, and perhaps final radio interview. Notre Dame's all-time touchdown scorer and current color analyst for the Notre Dame IMG Sports Network offered the following of his alma mater's recent/intermittent -- and by "recent/intermittent" I mean 15 seasons -- struggles:
"I've always felt like, to have a successful team, you gotta have a few bad citizens on the team. I mean, that's how Ohio State used to win all the time. They would have two or three guys that were criminals. That just adds to the chemistry of the team. I think Notre Dame is growing because maybe they have some guys that are doing something worthy of a suspension, which creates edge on the football team. You can't have a football team full of choir boys. You get your butt kicked if you have a team full of choir boys. You gotta have a little bit of edge, but the coach has to be the dictator and ultimate ruler.”
Lost in Pinkett's head-shaking word choice and nonsensical comparisons contained within was an underlying point:
A successful football team needs a mixture of personalities, with varied approaches to their collective college years. Disparate on-field attitudes are not only ideal, but necessary for success.
In 1988, sophomore nose guard Chris Zorich (recruited by Lou Holtz) and 5th-year senior linebacker Wes Pritchett (recruited by the since-fired Gerry Faust) had an approach between the lines that was borderline hostile -- and they were on the other side of the border, if you catch my drift.
In 1989, Notre Dame lost three starters from its '88 title team to off-field incidents, and/or classroom failure: Michael Stonebreaker, Tony Brooks, and George Williams. Each returned in 1990 and stared for a team that challenged for the national title until the season's final minute. Along the way, the team won 33 games and lost just four, with or without them.
For the record, none of the players referenced above represented a criminal element. Each however had an undeniable edge about him that set him apart from the average college student. And in the long history of disparate brothers, Tony and his younger sibling Reggie, now Notre Dame's manager for Monogram/Football Alumni Relations, and perhaps the best single-season rusher in program history (1992), sit atop the list.
Tony had the "edge," once noting to South Bend's local CBS affiliate WSBT-TV, "I know they supposed to have a good team (Michigan, ranked #3 in the nation), but it don't gotta be close. If we play our game…we'll put 'em under."
Reggie conversely, had the type of demeanor modern media relations would choose for post or pre-game press conferences. Yet both ran with abandon, Tony in a violent but still fluid manner; Reggie with reckless endangerment for his body in an effort to gain every inch humanly possible on every run. I have no idea what their respective grade point averages were, because in truth, that only matters to 95 percent of the team's fans when they don't win.
Both approaches worked. Neither came from a so-called criminal, just tough football players with disparate personalities.
The aforementioned Zorich played angrily, often shoving/elbowing opponents who dared cross his path following a play. It wasn't an act. As a senior in 2003, Julius Jones ran with abandon, so too did Jerome Bettis and Marc Edwards during their Irish careers. Tom Zbikowski returned punts with what bordered on hatred for whatever was in front of him each time he fielded the ball. Finding contact seemed to be his best method of propelling his body forward.
That's what Brian Kelly indicated he wanted for his program with last October's oft-referenced, "You can see the players that I recruited here," comments. Players with an edge such as (since-transferred) Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas, etc.
Players who instead of talking about "getting on the bus" as freshman, actually utter the words, "We both have an intensity to go out there and kill. That’s how we get along. We have a close relationship. We really want to help the team.” (Lynch discussing his then bookend defensive end, Tuitt.)
That's the type of player Pinkett yearned for at his alma mater when he indirectly tried to defend recent off-field incidents such as the May arrests of Tommy Rees and Carlo Calabrese and the August suspensions of Cierre Wood and Justin Utupo. Instead he used words better left for bar-room discussions with a friend rather a formal radio interview.
Re-read Pinkett's comments above. Remove the words "bad citizens" and "criminals" and replace them with "guys with an edge" and "fighters."
I doubt any Irish fan, coach, or staff member would still disagree.