Nebraska vs Northwestern in Ireland About More than Football

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The next edition of the Aer Lingus College Football Classic will feature the Northwestern Wildcats taking on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Dublin, Ireland on August 27, 2022. Staged at Aviva Stadium, this will count as a “home game” for the Wildcats, with Notre Dame then giving up a home game when they play Navy in this event in 2023.

Representatives of both the game and Ireland’s tourism bureau were on hand last night when Northwestern lost at home, 17-12, to the Iowa Hawkeyes in a game that was most notable for the political protests that transpired on the field.

We had a semi-exclusive chat with the marketing and tourism professionals in the press box, around a gorgeous Waterford crystal trophy (with Irish and American flags at the base) that the two NUs will play for.

“We say it’s much more than a game,” said Allison Metcalfe, Head of Tourism Ireland. “The game is one day, it’s a weekend. They spend another seven to ten days touring aroiund, seeing the culture, the heritage, the countryside.”

And that is what will make this trip so special for the Cats and Huskers- it’s going to be about a lot more than football. Metcalfe went on mention some of the key attractions the players will see.

“They’ll want to spend time in Dublin, probably go to the Guinness Storehouse, they’ll want to maybe go to Dublin Castle, the cliffs in the countryside, the Ring of Kerry. There will be lots of opportunities after the game is done.”

The Guinness Storehouse is much more than just the headquarters of a big international beer brand, and a museum to Arthur Guinness, the man who founded the company. It’s Ireland’s most visited tourist attraction and Gravity Bar, on the very top of the building, is the highest point in all of Dublin.

Typically, teams arrive on the Tuesday before the game, and then leave Saturday night once the game is done. However, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, a proud Irish-American from a part of Chicagoland with a very large Irish population, is planning to stay with his team a couple more days.

republic of ireland

“Coach Fitzgerald realizes you’re probably not going to have a game in week one, and not their school in yet, he’s going to be the first coach to stay two more nights,” said John Anthony, the cofounder and director of the game.

“We’re still working on what they’re going to do, but maybe a Gaelic football experience where they do an exchange of sport, maybe something like the Kilmainham Jail (Gaol), where’s it’s a one hour tour, you really learn a lot about Irish history, the independence (struggle) 105 years ago.

“With his connectivity, he wants the guys to understand a whole new culture.”

This writer was in Dublin for the centennial of The Rising (1916 Easter Rising, or Easter Rebellion) in May of 2016 and I can tell you that it was an amazing experience.

irish-the-rising-1916

So I truly hope the team does get the opportunity to visit Kilmainham Gaol, and with that the GPO too. The Dublin General Post Office is where The Rising started, and the Irish Proclamation was read for the very first time.

It’s such a fascinating and compelling chapter in Irish history, as it’s all basically their Declaration of Independence, 1776, Revolution and the Alamo all rolled into one. If we’ve learned anything at all about sports in the past year or two, it’s that we need to realize that these athletes are so much more than what they do on the field.

And that depth and complexity is something which should be both celebrated and embraced. Experiencing the histories of other cultures is definitely one way to do that.

Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”

He has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and co-hosts the After Extra Time podcastFollow him on Twitter and Instagram

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