by Ed Forry
Last Labor Day weekend, we were passing through Dublin Airport for a connecting flight to Paris. It was early on that Sunday morning, yet the concourse was crowded with travelers.
It was the kick-off weekend of the Irish government’s year-long tourism campaign called the Gathering, and it seemed there were an unusually large number of Americans in the airport’s departure for such an early hour.
Then, as we rounded a corner, we came across a bevy of American football players and their supporters. It was the Notre Dame team, heading back to Indiana after opening the season the evening before with a game against the Naval Academy. Playing before some 48,000 spectators at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on Lansdowne Road, the ND team won big, 50-10.
It marked the beginning of an impressive season for the Irish of South Bend. The game was a success, both as an athletic contest and as a tourism attraction, as Tourism Ireland estimated some 35,000 Americans were in Dublin for the event. It was just the seventh regular season NCAA game ever to be played in Ireland, and just last month, Penn State announced it will open its season next year in Dublin, playing the team from the University of Central Florida (UCF.) That game has been named the Croke Park Classic and is scheduled to be played on Sat., Aug. 30, at 8:30 p.m. Dublin time, with live television coverage back to the states on ESPN.
Locals in New England will remember that it was Boston’s own Jim O’Brien, a Boston College football player from the early 1960’s, who more than a quarter century ago first conceived the idea of playing an American college football game in Ireland. O’Brien called it the “Emerald Isle Classic,” and he persuaded officials at his alma mater to decamp to Ireland to meet the football team from West Point in the first NCAA-sanctioned college football game ever to be played in Europe.
That Nov. 19, 1988, game was played on the Lansdowne Road pitch before a crowd of 45,000 fans, and BC was a distinct underdog. But led by quarterback Mark Kamphaus, the Eagles won in a big upset, beating Army 38-24. O’Brien had a hand in promoting two other games in Ireland, featuring Pittsburgh in 1989 and Holy Cross in 1991, but the ground-breaker took place that first year.
Today, O’Brien is excitedly making plans for the silver anniversary of that historic game. This year there will be a 25th reunion for those 1988 players from both teams when BC hosts Army at Alumni Stadium on October 5. All members of BC’s ’88 squad have been invited to return to the Heights that day, along with members of the Black Knights team that went 10-2 that year, and lost by one point in the Sun Bowl to the Crimson Tide of Alabama.
O’Brien says he is looking forward to seeing all the players, and he points out that several members of that Army team have had high profile careers as Army officers, and become heroes on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.