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Ben Smith

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Notre Dame right at home in New York

Preordained, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. OK, let’s go with that.

Let’s say if that’s not the exact word for Notre Dame winding up in Yankee Stadium today, it’s close enough for you to feel the breeze as it whistles past. History has always driven the bus up there in South Bend – when you’ve been playing football since Grover Cleveland was president, it could hardly be otherwise – and so there is at the very least a symmetry to Notre Dame vs. Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl, a pleasing sense of roundness.

After all, the history that inevitably follows Notre Dame football wherever it goes doesn’t even have to try to find it this time. You know this because Johnny Lujack’s the first name that pops into your head today, not Tommy Rees.

That’s if it’s not Leon Hart, of course. Or Doc Blanchard. Or Glenn Davis or Red Blaik or Frank Leahy or, going back, yes, Knute Rockne himself.

So no wonder Swarbrick said what he said, when the Irish accepted a bid to an outdoor game in the Bronx in late December.

“Sometimes things feel preordained in a sense, and you work real hard to achieve a certain result, and you wind up in a place and when you get there you say, ‘This was meant to be. This is perfect,’ ” he said. “This is an important year for Notre Dame football, because it marks the 100th anniversary of the first great team and the first great game in our history. Nov. 1 of 1913, Notre Dame beat Army in New York, effectively introduced the forward pass to college football and changed the trajectory of not just our program but our university forever.”

That game didn’t happen in Yankee Stadium, but you get the point. It’s all part of the tapestry when you send Notre Dame there – and if it’s not the same cathedral it’s next door to the parking lot where the same one did stand, so there you go.

In that parking lot, the Irish played Army for the first time in 1925; three years later, Rockne gave the most famous halftime speech in history in the Yankee Stadium locker room – something about a Gipper – and the Irish charged out to pummel the Cadets.

And on it went.

Notre Dame played Army in Yankee Stadium from 1925-46, and then one more time in 1969, when the names were Parseghian and Theismann and Gatewood. In 1946 the unbeaten Irish and unbeaten Cadets played one of the epic games in college football history, the hallowed 0-0 tie in which Lujack and Hart ’n’ them fought Blanchard and Davis ’n’ them to a standstill. It ended Army’s 25-game winning streak.

That day somewhere north of 74,000 people crammed the Stadium to watch a scoreless tie, a figure that likely won’t be eclipsed today. That Notre Dame’s presence will bump the attendance well above the 38,328 Rutgers and Iowa State drew for the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl is a virtual lock, however.

That would have been true even without Swarbrick at the helm. But no AD before him has been as diligent about cashing in on the national appeal of the Notre Dame brand.

Hence the Shamrock Series, which has taken Notre Dame to Cowboys Stadium in Texas and Soldier Field in Chicago. Hence the “This is perfect” line about playing in Yankee Stadium. Hence future games in, among other places, the Meadowlands against Syracuse and Fenway Park against Boston College.

“We want to play in special places,” Swarbrick said this month.

Mission accomplished today, certainly.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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