Wednesday, September 3, 2014

College Football Kickoff in Croke Park

First, thanks to my blog friend Rachel in Ireland for writing a great post and taking a great photo of the two of us with our Iowa gear in the stands at the game. It's great to have blogger buddies who also appreciate American Football.

The big day was upon us, Penn State was set to take on Central Florida at Croke Park at 1:30 p.m. local time (8:30 a.m. EST- timed perfectly to end just before the noon games), but there were supposed to be pregame festivities on in Temple Bar, so we headed up a bit early to check out the action.

The VAT House Sign for Penn State and UCF Croke Park Classic 2014
The VAT House Sign

There was supposed to be a "tailgate" in Temple Bar to celebrate the game. We didn't know what this actually meant when we read the headline. If it was to be in the Temple Bar area, it couldn't really resemble anything like a real American parking lot tailgate. Where would they put the pickup trucks?

The VAT House had their standard promo sign for the game, welcoming as they always are to foreign sports fans. Beyond the VAT House was the melee, the "tailgate" of legend. As we suspected, it wasn't anything at all like a tailgate except that it preceded an American sports game and was full of partying Americans. It looked like it was just a sort of pregame gathering place before catching a shuttle to Croke Park. Where were the barbeque grills? Where were the footballs being thrown? We might have been tempted had there been bratwurst, pork burgers, or turkey legs being cooked, but sadly we weren't in Iowa City.

After taking some pictures with a few PSU fans with Iowa fan friends, we headed up to the stadium for the pregame festivities. Right away we noticed a different vibe in Croke Park than that before the Dublin hurling match. As the stands filled up, the sounds of Jay Z, not those of Enya, filled the stadium. Both teams had brought small bands along, and these skeleton crew pep bands did their best to fill cavernous Croker with their teams' fight songs. 

ETATS NNEP Banner Croke Park Classic 2014

Knightro the Knight Croke Park Classic 2014
Knightro the Knight

Pregame Flag Presentation from a Low Angle

We really felt homesick during the pregame flag ceremonies. They knew their audience for this one, as more than a hundred staffers brought out banners for each team, the Croke Park Classic logo, and huge American and Irish flags. The Dublin Gospel Choir sang the US and Irish national anthems, and from our endzone seats, we could see (but not yet hear) two F-16 fighter jets barreling at the stadium. 

It was a standard well-executed flyover, common in the States at big sporting events. As rehearsed, the jets flew low over the stadium, and the loud blast of their engines hit the crowd just as the singers were finishing the anthem. 

It really sent a charge into the stadium, but it apparently startled and upset some Dublin residents. Unfortunately, no advance notice went out to the local residents who wouldn't be expecting low-flying fighter jets buzzing their city on a normal sports day. Some folks took to Twitter and Reddit asking things like...

I think Cork is finally invading Dublin.
RE: Thank f*ck! I thought it was something to worry about.

Ah f*ck sake lads, now we'll have to get sweet talking Bill Clinton over to smooth out the Irish American relations. I'll get the saxophone.

That was loud alright. Heard it in beaumont hospital. I thought it was a plane coming down! Jaysus

My elderly neighbour just flung open the window and yelled "damn Ryanair bastards!" at the sky.

Sorry to all those who were disturbed by the surprising display. I read in the Croke Park Classic pregame materials that a flyover would be part of the festivities, but most of the disinterested local population wouldn't have sought that out. They were mostly getting ready to watch the Kerry/Mayo Gaelic football replay that was moved from Croke Park to Limerick because of the American football game.

When the game got underway, I smiled when I saw the helpful display on the scoreboard describing some of the action for American football beginners. We first noticed it on an early false start call, but saw it for a number of other penalties throughout the game.

Scoreboard Explanation at Croke Park Classic 2014
Scoreboard Explanation

At halftime, with both schools' bands numbers limited by travel expenses, the entertainment was a display of hurling by Leinster (eastern Ireland) and Munster (southwestern Ireland) junior squads. They weren't playing on a regulation-size field, and didn't have the goalposts for single-point scores, but it was intriguing and exciting for the Gaelic games noobs in our section. It also was, according to an Irishman we talked to after the game, "The most exciting part of the day..."

Halftime Hurling Demonstration Croke Park Classic 2014
Halftime Hurling Demonstration

A Polite Request in English at Croke Park Classic 2014
A Polite Request in English

The second half of the game really saw the action crank up. Both offenses were moving the ball, and a number of big plays on both sides brought the sizable crowd to its feet. UCF took a very late lead in the 4th quarter before Penn State drove the ball into field goal range on their hurry-up package. PSU took the 26-24 win on a field goal as the last second ticked off the clock. We stayed for the trophy presentation as the fireworks and blue and white confetti flew.

After the long trip home, we were just in time to catch the second half of the Iowa game as they beat Northern Iowa back in Iowa City. As a dedication to all those rooting for the Hawkeyes, I proudly displayed my black and gold pride all over Croke Park. We miss you and we miss football, but events like this certainly help.

Cory at Croker at the Croke Park Classic 2014
Cory at Croker

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