By David Teel
7:10 AM EDT, November 4, 2011
This is the ACC’s chance, a unique, seemingly fated, three-weekend window to lure Notre Dame into a conference with more Irish connections than a Kennedy compound barbecue.
The opportunity starts Friday when Notre Dame’s football traveling party lands at Piedmont Triad International Airport in advance of the Irish’s Saturday game against Wake Forest. A week later, Notre Dame plays Maryland at the Washington Redskins’ stadium in suburban D.C., followed by Boston College’s Nov. 19 visit to South Bend, Ind.
Three successive Saturdays, three ACC opponents, an opportunity for league officials to blitz the Irish with goodwill, to convince the school to forego its football independence and join the ACC for all sports.
Not an all-out, bring-the-house blitz. That would seem too desperate, almost tacky. Something more subtle is in order, a drop-the-tackles, rush-two-‘backers-and-a-safety zone blitz that makes clear your intention.
So the ACC need not greet the Notre Dame plane with a Celtic band and scores of locals dressed as leprechauns. But it wouldn’t hurt to have a stretch limo or three awaiting athletic director Jack Swarbrick and his posse for the short drive to conference HQ.
The forecast calls for mid-50s and rain, so scratch 18 holes at the Grandover resort adjacent to the ACC office. But surely the good folks in the kitchen can rustle up proper Southern cuisine – please make sure the hushpuppies aren’t greasy -- and, if requested, a pint or three.
Naturally, commissioner Johnny O’Swofford should lead the conference delegation, but don’t forget Duke athletic director Kevin White, a former Notre Dame AD, and Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch. Prior to accepting the Wake Forest gig in 2005, Hatch worked at Notre Dame for 30 years, rising from a history professor to provost.
If anyone can schmooze Notre Dame president, the Rev. John Jenkins, it’s Hatch, who wrote the critically acclaimed “The Democratization of American Christianity.”
Ten years ago, a game at Wake Forest would have been slumming for Notre Dame. As is, 31,500-seat Groves Stadium is the smallest venue the Irish have played in since a 1945 game at Great Lakes Naval Training Station.
But Wake Forest has upgraded not only its stadium but also its football program. Coach Jim Grobe guided the Deacons to the 2006 ACC championship and this season a fourth victory over Florida State in six years.
After this weekend of Paula Deen-style hospitality – nice of ABC/ESPN to chip in by televising the game in prime-time -- the ACC can appeal to Notre Dame’s patriotic side when the Irish go to play Maryland in Landover, Md.
First order of business: Make sure the team flies into Reagan National rather than nearby Baltimore/Washington International. After all, Reagan portrayed legendary Notre Dame quarterback George Gipp in the film “Knute Rockne, All-American.”
After landing at the Gipper’s airport, police-escort the team busses to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., where the tour guide should be Reggie Love. He’s POTUS’ special assistant and played football and basketball at Duke.
That evening, Swofford and other ACC officials can appeal to Notre Dame’s cultural/academic side with a reception at the Kennedy Center, where former National Symphony music director Leonard Slatkin is conducting Gautier Capuçon playing Saint-Saëns's Cello Concerto No. 1.
Memo to the ACC types: Don’t snore during the concerto or yell “play Free Bird” when it ends.
Meanwhile, the Irish football team can head over to the Verizon Center for a Washington Wizards game. College athletes love the NBA. Oh, wait.
Three priorities for Notre Dame-Maryland game day:
* Make sure attendance is respectable. Nothing says minor league quite like a two-thirds empty stadium.
* Assign the Irish the visitors’ locker room. Don’t want any Redskins karma rubbing off on the guests.
* Prevail upon Terps coach Randy Edsall to start Danny O’Brien at quarterback.
The finale of Notre Dame’s three-game ACC mini-season is Nov. 19, at home, against Boston College. The two church affiliates are natural rivals, and this marks their 18th meeting in the last 20 years.
Here’s where the conference needs to close.
So bring along Charlie Ward, Florida State’s Heisman Trophy quarterback from 1993. The only game he and the Seminoles lost that season en route to Bobby Bowden’s first national championship was at Notre Dame.
‘Twas an epic No. 1 vs. 2 November collision, much like this week’s LSU-Alabama showdown. The 31-24 victory bumped Notre Dame to No. 1, but a week later the Irish lost to visiting Boston College 41-39.
Also include Gene Corrigan, a former ACC commissioner and Notre Dame athletic director whose son Kevin coaches the Irish’s lacrosse team. No one wants a Notre Dame-ACC union more than The Commish.
And don’t forget Mike Krzyzewski. As a Catholic kid in Chicago, Duke’s Hall of Fame basketball coach revered Notre Dame, and one of his former assistants, Mike Brey, is the Irish’s head coach.
Finally, bring a vat of "chowdah" for Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, a Massachusetts native whose father was a Boston politician.
Sure, Notre Dame is likely to resist all suitors and to remain a football independent. But with college football realigning like never before, and with the Irish playing three ACC teams this month, why not make the pitch?
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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