This weekend sees the conclusion of this year’s NFL London Games. Thousands of Eagles, Jaguars and general American Football fans will be making their way to Wembley to see the sport they love. For College Football fans, an announcement out of Dublin on Thursday gives them their own prospective pilgrimage. The College Classic is back!
“What’s the College Classic” I hear some of you cry? Well let me enlighten you…
The History of the College Classic
Back in the mid 80’s Aidan Prendergast and Tim O’Brien came up with the idea of bringing a major NCAA College Football Game to Ireland. Their goal was to attract Americans of Irish descent back to the homeland. A major part of this was to encourage teams with close Irish or Catholic associations to make the journey to Dublin.
In 1988, their vision became reality and The Emerald Isle Classic was born. Boston College and Army played to a crowd of over 40,000 at Lansdowne Road. The Eagles were the underdogs with a 2-7 record but ran out victorious 38-24.
The Classic was intended to be an annual event but after the ‘89 game between Pitt and Rutgers was watched by less than 20,000 fans, College Football didn’t return to Ireland for another seven years.
The Fighting Irish
Sporting a new name and a new venue, the game returned in 1996. The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame made the trip across the pond to play Army in the Shamrock Classic at Croke Park. In a 54-27 win, Notre Dame added prestige to the fixture by setting the record for a winning streak over an annual opponent with their 33rd straight win.
2012 saw a return of both teams and a return of the Emerald Isle Classic title. In many ways the Classic returned to its roots too. It was timed to coincide with “The Gathering”, a tourism based initiative designed once again to attract Irish emigrants to visit the homeland. To say it was a success is an understatement! 35,000 Americans made the trip. Aviva Stadium sold out in advance, the first time in stadium history. Over 48,000 packed in to watch The Fighting Irish put up a fifty on Navy again, Notre Dame running out 50-10 winners.
Tight Duals in Dublin
Nearly twenty years after hosting the Shamrock Classic, Croke Park welcomed UCF and Penn State for the 2014 Croke Park Classic. 53,000 fans were treated to the tightest game of the Classic’s history. A last second Sam Ficken field goal saw Penn State creep past UCF 26-24 to hoist the Dan Rooney Trophy.
The most recent edition of the game came in 2016. Georgia Tech and Boston College went head to head at Aviva Stadium. In another close game the Yellow Jackets took down Boston College 17-14. In another rebrand, the game was referred to as the Aer Lingus College Football Classic.
Which brings us full circle back to Thursday’s announcement.
2020 will see the Aer Lingus College Football Classic return to Dublin and Aviva Stadium. It will be the first in a series of five games running up to 2024. Irish President Leo Varadkar said: “This is a long term partnership with US College Football. We want to see it continue long in to the future”.
For Ireland, it represents a potential €250 million economic boost. For the NCAA and College Football it represents the opportunity to grow interest in the sport in the same way the International Series has for the NFL.
There will be plenty of speculation as to the teams that we will see. Because of the previous desire to have teams with an Irish or Catholic background it would be a good bet to say the Boston College Eagles will be seen again at some point. Part of Thursday’s announcement was the matchup for 2020.
The two teams to kick off this new era of the College Classic?
The Fighting Irish and Navy of course.
photo credit: Wikipedia