NOTRE DAME — Two weeks ago, Notre Dame seniors firmly stated that the ideal bowl game destination would be somewhere warm, sunny and notably not South Bend in December.
On Saturday, Dec. 7, Notre Dame formally accepted a bid to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in New York City.
What changed their minds?
It turns out a mix of location, timing, logistics, an attractive bowl package and relentless recruiting by Pinstripe Bowl officials that offered the Irish more than they could turn away.
“It’s been a great place for us,” head coach Brian Kelly said of New York. “I remember us being at Yankee Stadium, the way we were treated there. New York is certainly a great place for Notre Dame. We have great support in that area, subway alums. It’s a home away from home.”
The Irish had been juggling the idea of playing at San Diego’s Poinsettia Bowl or the Hawaii Bowl, but the logistics didn’t click. Once Northern Illinois lost to Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference championship, the Poinsettia Bowl — which has a MAC tie this year — was off the table.
As for Hawaii, the Dec. 24 kickoff date would have been a tight fit with Notre Dame’s final exam schedule (Dec. 16-20). The team would have flown out Dec. 21 and missed several of the bowl activities the days leading up to the game.
So instead, the Irish will fly to New York City on Dec. 23 for a Dec. 28 game against Rutgers (6-6).
Notre Dame’s ties with New York, its history at Yankee Stadium and a generous sales pitch helped sway Kelly to the Big Apple. Kelly joked that former Irish player John Mosley, who now handles non-baseball events at Yankee Stadium, would “not leave (Kelly) alone” in terms of recruiting Notre Dame for the bowl.
As for the small matter of winning over his players, who were dead-set on a more appealing climate, Kelly said it didn’t take much convincing.
“I put up the Power Point, I went from talking about the Pinstripe Bowl, had my guys’ attention,” he said. “They came out of their chairs when I showed them the bowl package. I didn’t get that popular in a very short period of time. They were very excited about the things they were going to get from the bowl package.
And it’s New York. It’s New York at Christmas time. Just the ability to do a lot of things. A lot of these guys haven’t been to New York at that time. They were pretty excited about it.”
Receiver TJ Jones said the bowl package included a Playstation 4, a bowl ring and “a lot of clothes and hats.” He said a trip to Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center were other selling points for the trip.
Tackle Zack Martin agreed.
“It’s the best place to play if you’re not going to play in warm weather,” he said.
Both Jones and Martin were part of the Notre Dame team that played Army at Yankee Stadium in 2010. Both walked away with strong, positive memories of the experience.
“I remember being wowed by the interior design of the stadium, the JumboTron, how neatly it was all built,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of the things get to do in the city, ultimately playing in (Yankee) Stadium again helps make the cold weather more bearable.”
Everett Golson is expected to be readmitted to the university as early as next week, but Kelly said the suspended quarterback won’t participate in bowl game practice. Golson is expected to visit his girlfriend in New York and might meet up with the team there.
Offensive guard Chris Watt won’t play in the bowl game following an MCL tear against Stanford.
With former quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin gone to become the next head coach at Miami (Ohio), Kelly will coach the quarterbacks for the Pinstripe Bowl. Mike Denbrock, wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator, has been named Notre Dame’s interim offensive coordinator. Kelly said he’ll focus on a search for Martin’s replacement after the bowl game.