Other than its collective record since 2006, the Notre Dame football team doesn’t do ordinary. And since last season, it no longer does neutral site games. Instead, the Fighting Irish call their home games away from home the “Shamrock Series, as presented by Sprint.”
But the ball got rolling back in 2007, when Notre Dame sent a delegation in the spring to San Antonio and Dallas to work out details of potential games in those cities. That trip yielded a 2009 game between ND and Washington State and a 2013 matchup at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas between the Fighting Irish Irish and Arizona State. Notre Dame was already scheduled to play Army at a neutral site and that venue ended up being Yankee Stadium.
Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick told UND.com last November “this year is the first year that we’ve really embraced a separate identity for our off-site game.” And it is separate, that’s for sure, because we couldn’t find one instance where Maryland, last year’s inaugural Series opponent, referred to the matchup as the Shamrock Series on its website. And we highly doubt that Miami, next year’s foe at Soldier Field in Chicago, will use the Shamrock name to promote the clash.
Perhaps one reason behind the Shamrock Series is similar to a member of the Amish community hitching a ride instead of breaking the rules and buying a car. Notre Dame can take advantage of different high-tech stadiums to promote the University through video presentations, as it did last year in Landover, without having to make any changes to Notre Dame Stadium, which would likely set off a firestorm with the older crowd.
Perhaps its an opportunity for the program to unveil flashy new uniforms at least once a year, while going the traditional route the rest of the season to appease the overwhelming portion of the fan base that isn’t quick to embrace anything different.
“Our experiences in San Antonio and in New York were completely different and yet they were both fabulous in their own ways," Swarbrick told UND.com prior to the Maryland game. "In many ways the motivation for all this has virtually nothing to do with football. What we want to do is expose more people to Notre Dame.”
What the Series is really about is avoiding a sixth road game in a hostile environment after the NCAA allowed a 12-game schedule back in 2006. Because the Irish travel so well and have fans in every corner of the globe, the contests will likely be considerably pro-Irish, even when the site of the contest is in the opponent’s backyard.
Last year Notre Dame thumped Maryland, 45-21, at FedEx Field in Landover — home to the Washington Redskins and a mere 12.6 miles (according to Google Maps) from the Terrapins’ College Park campus. The announced crowd was 70,251. FedEx Field’s seating capacity is 85,000.
Against the Terrapins, it was the second straight year that a Notre Dame player returned an interception for a touchdown in a “neutral” game. Sophomore cornerback Lo Wood’s 57-yard return for a score against Maryland was the first such Irish touchdown since cornerback Darrin Walls had a 42-yard tally against Army last Nov. 20 versus Army in Yankee Stadium — a 27-3 drilling.
The Irish stomped Washington State, 40-14, in San Antonio in 2009. Going way, way back, Notre Dame topped rival Stanford, 27-10, at the Rose Bowl in 1924 — the only off-site game in the rivalry’s history.
Beyond the game in Dallas against the Sun Devils in 2013, off-site games have yet to be scheduled, according to associate athletics director John Heisler. You can bet there are a number of proposals being floated around right now. It has worked so far. Perhaps ND should start scheduling two or three a year.