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December 9, 2013

An offer ND couldn't refuse

Bowl games are considered a reward for the hard work and physical beating a football team endures during the regular season. That reward, through the years, generally has centered on warm temperatures and a climate that returns players back to their shorts/t-shirts/flip-flop days of summer.

New York's Pinstripe Bowl, now in its fourth season, offers something a little different.

So when former Irish football player John Mosley (1980-83) leaned on Notre Dame during his trip to South Bend for the BYU game a couple of weekends ago, the manager of Yankee Stadium's non-baseball related events made the Irish an offer they couldn't refuse.

"I would say that," laughed Brian Kelly when asked if the Pinstripe Bowl put the full-court press on the Irish. "John Mosley would not leave me alone. Quite honestly, I think I told him to get out of my office a couple of times. He was here for the weekend against BYU and he wouldn't leave. He wouldn't take no for an answer."

In the end, the Irish upperclassmen wouldn't have had it any other way. With talk centering on a warm-weather site as Notre Dame's regular season came to a close in Palo Alto, Calif., their attention quickly shifted when they were presented with the Pinstripe Bowl's unique set of circumstances.

"When you're dealing with our guys, it's bowl packages, right?" Kelly said. "It's a very attractive bowl package for our guys. I don't want to get into the details because I think we'd like to probably keep that amongst ourselves. But when I was standing here in front of this big screen and I put up the power-point, I had my guys' attention to (the extent that) they came out of their chairs when I showed them the bowl package.

"And it's New York. It's New York at Christmastime. Just the ability to do a lot of things. A lot of these guys haven't been to New York at that time (of the year). They were pretty excited about it."

Frankly, Notre Dame's hands were tied regarding other options. The Dec. 26 Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego became an improbability when Northern Illinois lost to Bowling Green in the MAC championship game. The Dec. 24 Hawaii Bowl was a timing/logistical nightmare with final exams ending on Dec. 20.

For the seniors/fifth-year seniors who played in Yankee Stadium three seasons ago - nearly two-dozen players on the current roster - a return trip to New York City seemed like the way to go.

"We had a blast the first time, and anytime you get to play at a baseball stadium like that, especially the Yankees, is pretty special," said fifth-year senior/tri-captain Zack Martin. "The way we looked at it, we lost four games and we didn't earn (the right) to go to (a warm weather site). We're very happy to go to New York. We're going to be busy and have some fun. We've been taken care of by the bowls in the past, but this is pretty special."

Concerns over bypassing a warm-weather site dissipated pretty quickly once Notre Dame turned its attention to the Pinstripe Bowl.

"At first, we were thinking warm weather, but I think that was because we were standing in some warm weather out in Stanford," laughed fifth-year senior linebacker Dan Fox. "But we're excited to come back to New York and play football. There's such a great venue there. We played there in 2010 and I was amazed by the Yankee staff. You go into that locker room and there are so many great players' lockers.

"There's such a great fan base for Notre Dame in New York City. It's a great place to play. (The weather) is not something that we're worried about, especially me. I'm from Cleveland where it's freezing."

And then there were the gifts. Among those listed were a PlayStation 4, a variety of clothes, a Pinstripe Bowl ring and a Pinstripe Bowl watch.

" A lot of gifts…a lot of gifts," smiled tri-captain TJ Jones. "A lot of good stuff you weren't expecting to get from a bowl game, and then going to Radio City Music Hall. I like Broadway plays and musicals. I like that kind of stuff. Going to things like that in New York City during Christmastime, for me, is something I really enjoy."

Ultimately, the Pinstripe Bowl probably put a smile on Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick's face as well. Sources have indicated that the Pinstripe Bowl upped its $1.8 million payout a bit, which is a far cry from the $500,000 the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego was offering.

"New York is certainly a great place for Notre Dame," Kelly said. "We have great support in that area with our subway alums. It's a home away from home. We'll be well-received there.

"The Pinstripe Bowl has been terrific to work with. They've done everything to make it a great event for our players. I'm really pleased with how they have initiated and followed up with making this a great event for our players."







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