Notebook: How the Huskers ended up in Ireland
Nebraska formally announced its participation in the 2021 Aer Lingus College Football Classic in Dublin, Ireland, with a press conference at Memorial Stadium on Tuesday.
Athletic director Bill Moos, head coach Scott Frost, and individuals from two of the organizing groups - John Anthony, CEO of Anthony Travel, and Padriac O’Kane of Irish American Events – all spoke to give their thoughts and background on the Huskers playing their first international game since 1992.
Here are some of the main takeaways from the press conference…
This was already two years in the making
Moos said the idea of playing a game in Ireland was first introduced to him shortly after he took over at Nebraska back in October of 2017.
“I wasn’t even sure who our football coach was going to be in 2021,” Moos said.
But Moos was immediately intrigued by the opportunity for a variety of reasons, the first of which was being able to provide the opportunity for such a trip to student-athletes who otherwise might never have a chance for international travel.
There was also the aspect of exposure for Nebraska and its football program - not only with being a featured game nationally in a Week 0 matchup when college football fervor is at its peak, but also to be showcased the Husker brand on an international stage.
Then, of course, Moos said the trip would be great thank you for a fan base that has supported the program unwaveringly for so many decades.
“If you’re traveling from Scottsbluff and Alliance to get to Lincoln, hopping over the pond to get to Ireland is no big deal,” Moos joked. “I have every reason to believe that (NU fans) will show up en masse and turn that beautiful green country into Husker red.”
Why Ireland wanted Nebraska
Anthony got straight to the point during his portion of the press conference by addressing the three most common questions he’d gotten since the 2021 Aer Lingus College Football Classic matchup was announced.
First, how did this come about with Nebraska?
Anthony said it started after Notre Dame played Navy in the 2016 game in Ireland, and the Fighting Irish expressed heavy interest in returning as part of an extended series in the country.
That led to Notre Dame scheduling a rematch vs. Navy (which has played in Ireland twice now) in 2020, but the game’s organizers then had to start looking for teams for the 2021 contest and beyond.
Anthony went to Chicago to meet with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and then addressed the conference’s school administrators during their annual summer meeting to pitch the event. Anthony extended invitations to all the league’s programs but said one school was by far his first choice.
“Even though it was a large room with 50-plus people, you would’ve sworn I was a high school kid focused on one girl at the dance,” Anthony said. “With 50 people there, I stared at Bill the entire time. I was so locked in on getting Nebraska the first Big Ten team over because this is a special place, and you were the beauty of the ball for us.”
Secondly, why Nebraska?
Anthony said it was obvious why the game’s organizers were attracted to the Huskers, partly because they believed the program was on an upward trajectory and also because of Husker Nation.
“The fan base here is well-known throughout the sport, throughout the country,” Anthony said. “Nobody can match Nebraska fans with how you travel, the knowledge, the loyalty, the respect for the game. Husker Nation is something special.”
Lastly, what now?
Anthony said the next step would be continuing to work out the logistics for both teams, which he said was “pretty much turn-key” for the event’s organizers at this point.
For fans, Anthony referenced two websites that would be updated leading up to the game that would have almost all of the information needed:
For Frost, it was all about the player experience
Frost has done plenty of traveling in his life, though he said he’d never been to Ireland and was instantly intrigued with the opportunity to check another country off his bucket list.
But when it came down to officially agreeing for his team to play in Aer Lingus College Football Classic, Frost said the decision came down entirely to the experience his players would get from the trip.
“in traveling and seeing other things, you don’t just have a good time, but you learn a lot,” Frost said. “I think it’s an incredible educational experience. I think our players will benefit from it both from a football standpoint and a personal standpoint.
“When (the game’s organizers) laid out all the details of the trip and the things that our players are going to be able to do; I thought it made a lot of sense. I think it’s going to be a special week for us.”
From a football standpoint, Frost had already expressed interest in playing a Week 0 game not only to get an earlier jump on the season but also to provide another bye week following the game in Week 1.
Nebraska will begin its 2021 fall camp a week earlier than normal to prepare for the trip, but Frost wasn’t sure what the team’s schedule would be in Ireland or how long they would stay before or after the game.
“I’m trying to get through bye week right now,” Frost joked. “As much time as we can spend out there, particularly with a week off right after… I want our kids to get over there and be able to experience Ireland.”
Ireland hoping for a record turnout
In the mere 24 hours since tickets for the Aer Lingus College Football Classic went on sale to the public, Nebraska fans already started setting records as usual.
Anthony said NU fans broke the game’s record for first-day ticket sales of any of the previous four games in Ireland “by a considerable margin.”
Per Huskers.com, more than 600 people had put down the $250/ticket deposit through Huskers2Ireland.com as of noon on Tuesday.
Anthony also noted that in 2012, when Notre Dame played Navy in what was then called the Emerald Isle Classic, it marked the largest single movement of Americans to Europe in a peacetime effort with 35,000 Americans making the trip.
That was also the largest number of international travelers for a single sporting event (which excludes the Olympics). Of that total, Anthony said 28,000 were Notre Dame fans.
“I think it’s fair to issue a challenge today to the Husker Nation: let’s get to 29,000 Husker fans taking over Ireland for a Sea of Red in Dublin in 2021,” Anthony said.
***Frost said playing a game in Ireland would be something he and his staff used as another pitch on the recruiting front with prospects in the 2020 and 2021 classes.
“I’m sure all the guys we’re recruiting in this class and the next class will both see this and see the opportunity that they have to come to the University of Nebraska and the added opportunity of being able to travel and go to another country and get this experience,” Frost said.
“So we’re definitely going to use it, talk to our guys about it, talk to recruits about it. If they’re as excited as me, I think it’ll do a lot of help for us.”
***While the trip will be a unique experience for everyone involved, a few current Huskers already got a taste of playing a game in Ireland.
Running back Dedrick Mills was there with Georgia Tech in 2016 and scored the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left for a 17-14 victory over Boston College.
Assistant coaches Sean Beckton and Travis Fisher were there in 2014 when Central Florida played Penn State. The Knights lost that game 26-24 on a walk-off field goal.
“I was able to bounce a lot of stuff off them, and they all raved about their experience over there,” Frost said.
***Anthony admitted that he lives in South Bend, Ind., and he was at the 2000 Nebraska-Notre Dame game when Husker fans famously invaded Notre Dame Stadium.
“I’ve never forgotten it,” Anthony said. “So now to be able to capitalize on that for Ireland, we want that whole Sea of Red to take over Dublin and the country of Ireland like you did South Bend, Indiana, 19 years ago.”
***O’Kane said Ireland officials project that the five-game college football series would bring welcome around 120,000 visitors to the country that would spend an estimated quarter of a billion Euros.
***O’Kane said that Dublin’s 51,000-seat Aviva Stadium was completely renovated in 2010 and was now a state-of-the-art facility.