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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / 1996

Notre Dame Hardly Makes Waves in Visit to Dublin

Independents: Irish's 54-27 rout of Navy doesn't impress fans much, but the spectacle does.

November 03, 1996|WILLIAM D. MONTALBANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DUBLIN, Ireland — Aye, it was a grand day all around for the Irish on Saturday. American football came to Dublin and before it was over two cultures journeyed noisily from opposite directions to share the same thrill.

Thousands of visiting Americans cheered themselves hoarse as Notre Dame walloped Navy for the 33rd consecutive year, in the process reviving its postseason expectations.

Notre Dame 54, Navy 27 is what the portable scoreboard said in the end zone of a borrowed stadium, but it wasn't that close.

Thousands of Irish rooting for their honorary American cousins politely applauded an alien game but happily devoured the spectacle in which it came wrapped. They cheered the marching bands and they loved the cheerleaders. They even did the wave. Sort of.

"It's an entirely new experience, not like a soccer game or any other sports event I've been to. It's more of a family day out," said recent college graduate Karen McGann.

The spectacle, yes. The sport, no thanks. That seemed the common thread among the Irish as Notre Dame took an early lead and swept away with a 33-point second half.

"Football is a baffling game. It stops more than it plays. I suspect football is something you have to grow with and go into. Still, I like the buzz," said rugby enthusiast Ron McWilliams.

What was ballyhooed as the first Shamrock Classic game drew an announced 38,651 spectators--less than a full house--to historic Croke Park in Dublin on a blustery and gray, but happily dry, afternoon.

"Your tackles are harder, but our game is faster, you know," said Stephen Harrington, a 12-year-old fan of the Irish national games of Gaelic football and hurling, for which the stadium is famous.

The emerald green grass pitch, er, field, was given new dimensions for its football debut and made American with goal posts borrowed from the Scottish Claymores of the World League. After initial skirmishing and a lot of nervous skittering on soft turf, the Fighting Irish put them to use with 4:40 to play in the first quarter.

Fullback Marc Edwards punched over from the five-yard line to climax a six-play, 43-yard drive. Edwards would score twice more on plunges of one yard in Notre Dame's 19-point fourth quarter.

Notre Dame added its second touchdown on the first play of the second quarter on a five-yard pass from quarterback Ron Powlus to tight end Pete Chryplewicz. Navy came back, though, with a 13-play, 66-yard drive that consumed 6:18 before fullback Omar Nelson scored on a six-yard run, the first of two touchdowns for him.

Sophomore tailback Autry Denson, who rushed for a game-high 123 yards, also scored twice, on runs of 33 and 23 yards, the first with 14 seconds remaining in the half.

With a 21-7 halftime lead, Notre Dame put the game out of reach with 11:48 remaining in the third quarter when 281-pound defensive end Renaldo Wynn lumbered in with a 24-yard fumble return.

Navy was always game: Cory Schemm would score twice for Navy on second-half passes of 55 and 16 yards from Ben Fay. But the Midshipmen were never able to close the gap.

"I'm very disappointed with the way we played. Notre Dame is a good team and we could not afford to give them the opportunities we did," Navy Coach Charlie Weatherbie said. "We didn't play the way Navy can play."

The result, leaving both teams with 5-2 records, was a boost for Notre Dame, which lost in overtime two weeks ago to an Air Force team that Navy had defeated.

Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz singled out his offensive line for its play. "We had to make plays along the line of scrimmage and we did," he said, terming the trip "a wonderful experience for our players."

In victory, the team also returns today with homework: Holtz has asked his players to write a journal contrasting what they had expected to find in Ireland with what they actually encountered.

Irish fans, many of whom were seeing their first game, were drawing up comparable mental scorecards for American football--not all of them favorable.

"I can't even see the ball most of the time. And the players running on and off the field; there must be a hundred of 'em. In Gaelic [football], the whistle blows and people play their hearts out nonstop," Kevin Callaghan said.

"The plays themselves are very fast, but there's a lot of waiting around for them, isn't there?" said Andy Fleming, who had come up from Killarney for the game.

Tom Curtin said he understood the game well enough but "it's hard to make out what the refs are saying." This, said Curtin, despite a lesson on a restaurant napkin from his brother-in-law, Fred Haptonstal, one of 38 Los Angeles Police Dept. officers who flew in to help root the Irish home.

The game drew a smaller crowd than promoters had hoped, although both teams will go home with around $500,000 after expenses. There were empty spaces among expensive seats, but the standing-room end zone known as Hill 16 was jammed. There were many puzzled and restive Irishmen there until the Notre Dame cheerleaders paid an acrobatic visit.

"The game is very colorful and disciplined, but I'm afraid it lacks passion and excitement," said Callaghan. "All the stopping and starting interrupts the flow. It's a good atmosphere, but not the same buzz as one of our games. The cheerleaders, though, all that flying through the air; now that's something Ireland definitely needs to import. They're amazing."

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