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The Irish in Ireland: Dublin Wrap-up

Sep 2, 2012, 1:58 AM EDT

Photo by Matt Cashore

It’s been more than eight months since the last Notre Dame football game, and to quote the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy, “the boys are back in town.” (Yes, yes…they’re not as famous as Dublin’s own, U2).

After piling up seven rushing touchdowns against Navy in last year’s 56-14 win at Notre Dame Stadium, the Fighting Irish scored another five on the ground today – two each from Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III, and a late score by Robby Toma – on the way to a 50-10 victory in the 2012 season opener at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland.

The Irish rushed for 293 yards, a total they have not topped since 2003, when they tallied 320 yards against Stanford.

One of seven Notre Dame players making his first career start, sophomore Everett Golson found Tyler Eifert for a five-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, the first of the quarterback’s collegiate career.

Though it gave up a few big plays through the air, the Irish defense kept Navy’s rushing game in check for the second year in a row – as the triple-option running attack managed only 149 yards.

Senior captain Manti Te’o collected his first career fumble recovery and interception, and made a big fourth down stop during the first quarter.

And in the “I Bet You Never Thought You’d See This” category, 6-foot-6, 303-lb defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt picked up a Midshipmen fumble and thundered 77 yards into the end zone for a touchdown that helped give Notre Dame a 27-0 lead.

Today’s game marked the 86th consecutive year in which the Fighting Irish and Midshipmen met on the gridiron, but the relationship between Notre Dame and the U.S. Naval Academy runs far deeper than the football field.

During World War II, Notre Dame’s campus served as a Naval officer training site. Today, Notre Dame’s NROTC unit is regarded as one of the best in the country.

As is tradition following Notre Dame-Navy games, the teams met at midfield exchanging handshakes and well wishes, before joining one another for each school’s alma mater, while most of the crowd of 49,000 remained standing.

Following the Midshipmen band’s performance of “Navy Blue and Gold,” the Irish jogged the length of the field, and the crowd, comprised mostly of Notre Dame fans, absolutely erupted.

The Band of the Fighting Irish broke into “Notre Dame, Our Mother,” before following it up with the “Notre Dame Victory March,” as the players, coaches and fans celebrated the season-opening win.

At about 9:20 pm Western European Time, the Irish took off on a flight back to the United States – bringing along a lot of laundry, an equipment staff already deserving of a vacation, plenty of once-in-a-lifetime memories, and a 1-0 record – on the enormous Delta Airbus.

In a word, the Emerald Isle Classic was spectacular.

And as it always is, when it comes to Notre Dame, it was about much more than just football.

More than 30,000 Americans made the trek across the Atlantic. Close to 9,000 attended last night’s “Notre Dame: A Welcome Home” event at The O2. Thousands gathered for Mass and a band parade near Dublin Castle. The Temple Bar district turned into a Notre Dame reunion place – I can’t even tell you how many familiar faces I saw during my brief time in downtown Dublin.

It was Navy’s home game, but the visit to the Emerald Isle felt much like the Shamrock Series weekends – a glowing display of the strength of Notre Dame’s fan base and a reminder of how much this university and football program mean to supporters and alumni.

My only hope is that it’s not another 16 years before the Fighting Irish and Midshipmen meet on Dublin ground again (The teams played at Croke Park in Ireland in 1996).

But for now, let’s enjoy the fact that Notre Dame football is back. No time of year is more exciting than the start of college football season – and it only gets better next Saturday afternoon, when 80,795 will rise to their feet in the House That Rock Built.

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