The new era of Notre Dame football is seemingly more about marketing the past than it is about winning in the present. Never was that more apparent than with the Fighting Irish season opener, September 1 against Navy.
As an alumnus, I am as susceptible as any Irish fan to living in the past. After all, given the way Notre Dame has played for the past decade or more, it has been more fun to relive the glory days than it has been to experience the disappointing present. But, as the 2012 season is about to open, the Notre Dame marketing priorities are about to run smack dab into on-field football reality, and the results could be unpleasant for fans like me.
The Irish open their schedule against the Midshipmen across the Atlantic in Dublin, Ireland. There's no sports-related reason for this. Europe has shown little interest in American football, no matter how hard the NFL tried to force it on them. Ireland has no actual connection to Notre Dame. The school was founded by French priests, and the Fighting Irish nickname was the invention of hyperbolic sportswriters in a uniquely stylized era of American journalism.
No, Notre Dame plays Navy in Dublin for purely marketing reasons. It sounds cool. It seems unique. It could translate into some TV ratings based on curiosity, and it allowed the university to sell travel packages to alumni and fans at a healthy markup.
The Navy game is akin to the manufactured Shamrock Series game later in the season against Miami at Soldier Field in Chicago. That game, featuring hideous jerseys and helmets that are an embarrassment to anyone who is truly a Notre Dame fan, is designed to sell nostalgia - for the long ago tradition of great Irish games in Chicago and for the more recent rivalry with the Hurricanes.
Playing Navy in Ireland might make some sense to NBC, which gets to kick off the 2012 college football season at 9:00am ET with no competition from other televised games. It likely makes for an exciting travel excuse for the well-to-do alumni and fans who fly to Dublin with the game as the centerpiece of their trip. But for the Notre Dame team, and its prospects on the field of play, it makes no sense at all.
The Irish go into the game with a brand-new quarterback, without their top running back, and battling the pressure from last season's dismal upset at the hands of South Florida. As if coach Brian Kelly's squad didn't have enough to overcome at the start of his third season, now the team has to get completly out of its pre-game routine by flying across the ocean for a game. It's like a pre-season bowl game.
Navy is not the sure win it was for decades. This will be a tough opener for Notre Dame. Deciding to add a gimmick like Irieland to the mix was a decidedly bad idea.
Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, holds two degrees from Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.