DUBLIN — This morning's game in Dublin between Navy and Notre Dame has brought an estimated 35,000 Americans to the Irish capital for a road game like no other, and the novelty of the event has captured the Irish imagination.
The U.S. Navy docked an amphibious-assault warship in Dublin and their fans have rallied in the city's central park, St. Stephen's Green. Not to be outdone, the night-before Notre Dame pep rally is being broadcast live on Irish state TV, followed by an open-air Catholic Mass from inside the grounds of Dublin Castle. And many city-center pubs have decorated their fronts with balloons, banners and window paintings honoring the two teams.
Oh yeah. There's also a game to be played at Ireland's gleaming new Aviva Stadium, a 50,000-seat venue normally home to Ireland's national soccer and rugby teams, which has just experienced the first ticket sellout in its 2-year existence.
Both sides' coaches admit it's been a challenge to keep their hyped-up players focused on the importance of the game — and sufficiently well rested following what, for most athletes, was their first trans-Atlantic flight — since arriving here Thursday at the crack of dawn.
"We feel very privileged and very blessed to be here along with Notre Dame. There's not too many teams that get this kind of opportunity," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "But other than that, we've got to remember we're playing a very good football team, so we'd better get ready."
The Irish and American organizers of the event, officially called the Emerald Isle Classic, have spent two years getting Ireland ready for its first hosting of a U.S. college football game since 1996, when the same two colleges were involved. On that occasion, the two sides played in a half-full stadium and U.S.-based fans saw only a tape-delayed broadcast.
This time, everything feels different. This game is officially tied to an ambitious Irish tourism project called The Gathering that seeks to woo anyone with an Irish surname back home to visit members of their clan next year. It's being televised live in parts of Europe as well as the United States.
Ireland's allotment of 15,000 tickets sold out in two hours, anyone donning Navy or ND sportswear in public is liable to be asked if they have a spare ticket to sell, and trying to find a hotel room within 100 miles of Dublin this weekend has proved next to impossible.
Navy is officially the home team, but that's tough to discern given the heavy Irish Catholic bias in favor of Notre Dame, which also has a fulltime overseas study program in Dublin.
Notre Dame vs. Navy
at Dublin, Ireland
9 a.m. today, CBS