FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – When Notre Dame athletics officials found out that the university would be given 17,000 tickets to tonight’s 2012 BCS National Championship Game against Alabama in Miami that actually posed a problem.
A big problem.
The Notre Dame ticket office was besieged with over 100,000 requests for those coveted seats (Alabama had 42,000 requests). Sun Life Stadium only holds 71,540 fans. The Irish Nation could have filled the stadium by itself with an hour’s worth of sales.
Such is life at Notre Dame and third-year Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly embraces it, but tries desperately to shield his players from it.
“I think there's been pressure on this football team since I stepped on campus,” Kelly said. “What we've tried to do is take that pressure of unfulfilled expectations to one of let's be who we are.
As we get into Monday night we're going to play the game the way we've played it all year. We're going to play fast; we're going to play aggressive because we don't carry all those perceived burdens. They're 18 to 21 year olds, they have no idea what that history means. We do, our fan base certainly does, but what I've tried hard to do is let our kids go play the game and let their actions speak, and not let all of this outside perceived pressure for the entire Notre Dame nation to weigh heavily on them.”
They are called the “Fighting Irish”
Over recent seasons – OK, recent decades – Notre Dame had developed a reputation as a team that wasn’t exactly known for its physical toughness. Kelly set about changing that culture from his first day in South Bend. Three seasons later, he believes that this year’s squad exhibited the tenacity that he sought and he feels that will be on display tonight.
“Fighting Irish,” Kelly said emphatically when asked to discuss his team’s mindset. “Fighting Irish. That's who we are, that's how we've constructed how we want our guys to play. We're going to battle you.
First time our back has a chance; he'd better lower his shoulder and run through a tackle. He'd better finish off tackles, play tough and physical. We want that kind of demeanor.
Our guys understand how I want them to play the game. That's why we're here. We tried to play the game this way the first couple years; we just couldn't quite get there. They play the game like Fighting Irish, and that's how we want to play the game tomorrow.”
Pay for play? Kelly says OK
There has been much debate in recent years regarding the topic of whether or not a full-ride scholarship is adequate compensation for student-athletes.
In Kelly’s mind, there should be no debating the subject any longer.
“… these young men put in so much time with being a student and then their responsibilities playing the sport, that they don't have an opportunity to make any money at all,” Kelly explained. “to get a part-time job, to - I know when I played, I worked in security and I washed dishes, anything that I could do to put a little money in my pocket so I could go to the movies or get a pizza.
That's really what we're talking - we're not talking about paying players. We're talking about let them be college students, and a stipend to me makes total sense, and allowing them, because of all the time that they put in – and people would say, well, they get their scholarship. We understand that. But going out on the weekend - I want them to be college kids, and a stipend will continue to allow them to be college kids. That's my opinion.”
Notre Dame is No. 1 (so some think)
Notre Dame may be the top-ranked team in the opinion of the computers, coaches and sportswriters, but Las Vegas begs to differ.
The Irish are nearly 10-point underdogs to the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide, but that doesn’t bother Kelly.
“Somebody has got to be an underdog,” Kelly said. “I would say Alabama has got the belt, and they deserve the belt. We've got to take it from them.”