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On the ground in (sunny!) Dublin for Notre Dame-Navy

DUBLIN, Ireland – It's sunny. There's a beach close by. I think I even saw one or two folks in shorts.

Yeah, it's Dublin. Actually, it's Dublin out of character.

“You're here at a good time,” my taxi driver Patrick told me Thursday morning. “Usually it rains.”

Do we have to be told? A city known for its history, character and dampness seemed a little bit like South Florida when I arrived. Water, sun … beach? Yep, Patrick said there's one nearby. We are near the mouth of the River Liffey. I plan to check it out later. Maybe when the temperature rises above 65. That's more or less the high while I'm here for the Notre Dame-Navy game.

The ride from Dublin Airport to the hotel took about 30 minutes. In that time I got the quickie lay of the land from Patrick, a native whose Italian grandfather was the 21st of 23 children. Do you care? You do because Patrick wants you to care. That's how the Irish are (more on that below).

They want to tell you that the native Gaelic is taught as a second language.

“Céad míle fáilte,” Patrick says, “It means ‘a hundred thousand welcomes.' “

They want to tell you that the coastal town of Howth is 25 minutes north of here via the DART train.

“They serve fish right out off the trawlers,” Patrick says. “Shrimp prawns as big as your hand.”

They want you to know about their fierce pride in Gaelic football. It's only played here. The national semifinal -- Dublin vs. Mayo -- is on Sunday at Croke Park. That's where the 1996 Notre Dame-Navy game was played. Patrick points out the sleepy pubs that will be filled in a few days.

“They do it for the pride of their counties,” Patrick said of the players. “Eighty-thousand [watching] and the players don't get paid anything.”

Sound familiar, college football fans?

This has to be the most comfortable road trip of the season -- aside from the 11-hour flight. Aviva Stadium is at the end of the block. No fighting traffic around Bryant-Denny or Michigan Stadium. I'm walking to work on Saturday.

Meanwhile, there's a mass Saturday at Dublin Castle. My inbox is packed with invites to tour a Navy ship and the Guinness brewery. Navy? Yes. Guinness? No.

“Don't go,” Patrick said. “It's not worth it. There's not much to see. They give you a pint at the end and that's it.”

If you really want to get a taste of Guinness -- and who doesn't? -- wait until Sept. 27. They call it Arthur's Day. It is a celebration of the anniversary of the Guinness brewery that was established in 1759.

“We like our beer,” Patrick said.

We've heard.

Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame's AD, told me I'd love this place. It was about 32 years ago that Swarbrick was fresh out of Stanford law school. The plan was for him and a friend to bike around Ireland on one of those finding-ourselves post-college Euro tours.

“He was a varsity athlete at Stanford, captain of the gymnastics team,” Swarbrick said of the friend. “I was a hopelessly-out-of-shape law student. After one day of trying to pedal together I said, ‘You do your thing, I'll do mine.'"

They met up three weeks later. Meanwhile, Swarbrick did find himself in a way. Ireland welcomed him, took care of him, made him one of its own.

“I was fully dependent on the kindness of strangers,” he said of the trip. “Every day I encountered that … I was on my own.”

That's one of the reasons Notre Dame is playing Navy here to kick off the season. These schools and their fans aren't on their own. It's been done before -- the same teams played here 16 years ago. Back then, the Croke Park turf was a bit chewed up. The game wasn't even shown live in the U.S.

It was same-day, tape-delayed on CBS. The game lasted about 2 ½ hours because there were no media timeouts. No need since it wasn't being shown live. The commercials were added when the game was replayed.

“The Navy goat [mascot] was quarantined so they had to get one off a farm,” recalled Mike Aresco, then a CBS Sports executive now the Big East commissioner. “The goat wouldn't walk and they were dragging him with a rope. He didn't know what to do, he wasn't trained.”

You can see why it's important to Swarbrick that this game be done right. It's written into the latest contract between the two schools. Navy has to take one of its home games out of the country.

But 32 years ago Swarbrick was lost. He had split from his friend and was riding around the Ring of Kerry. When he reached the next town, Swarbrick noticed his wallet was missing. Passport, money, everything. Gone. In the U.S., that would have been the beginning of long, arduous, complicated process.

Swarbrick went into the local police station expecting to start that process. The cops spoke Gaelic as if to challenge the young American.

“I told the constable my wallet had been stolen from my bike,” Swarbrick said. “He sort of shook his head in disgust and said, ‘Take it easy, Yank. No one stole your wallet.' “

The cop told Swarbrick to come back in the morning and gave him an address. Once there, an elderly woman greeted Swarbrick without question and “treated me like a son.” Food, bed, everything.

“I've never had such hospitality in my life,” he said.

The next morning Swarbrick went back to the police station and found the same cop, feet propped up, tapping his wallet on the desk. It had been found that morning on the side of the road by a woman bringing milk into town.

“There is more money in your billfold than she will make in a year,” the cop said.

“I felt like the ugly American,” Swarbrick said. “I also appreciated the remarkable culture I was in. That played out repeatedly on my trip.”

A routine was developed. Swarbrick would bike to the next town with no plan. He would knock on doors, find a room for the night and be adopted by that family.

“The spirit of that country,” he said, “was something else.”

His trip came during The Troubles -- the ages-old conflict between the Protestants and Catholics. Swarbrick's biggest mistake was buying orange rain gear and walking into a local pub. Orange is the adopted color of the Protestant side.

“The place went dead quiet,” he said. “Everything stopped. I had no clue. I ordered a sandwich and a beer. Bartender said, ‘What's with the suit?' I said, ‘I needed a rain suit.' He said, ‘You don't need that one.'

“It sort of dawned on me. This was a really stupid mistake on my part.”

Swarbrick knows better these days. The rest of us are learning.

Meanwhile, Patrick, if you're out there: Is í Éire ceann do na tíortha is deise sa domhan.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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