When und.com captured Brian Kelly’s “we’re going to South Beach” comment moments after No. 1 Notre Dame defeated USC to advance to the national championship game, the statement seemed to carry with it an implicit suggestion that it would be fun in the sun for the national title.
Never hold a coach accountable for comments made at pep rallies and amidst the euphoria of finishing the regular season undefeated.
Kelly made it clear to the media Saturday - weeks after making it crystal clear to his players - that the Irish are heading to the BCS championship game in Miami Gardens with only one goal in mind.
Bring back the crystal football.
“I told them it was going to get to this,” said Kelly Saturday following Notre Dame’s practice session inside the Loftus Sports Center. “You have to let me know if you want to do this because when we go down there, here are the rules.
“They understand what it’s all about going down to Miami. It’s not enjoy South Beach. This is about preparing for a national championship game.”
Kelly said that generally he’s put his teams on 2 a.m. curfews and allowed for a day or two of relaxation as a reward for their efforts to land a bid at the respective bowl site. This is different.
“We’re 11 o’clock,” said Kelly of his set curfew time. “This is not a bowl game. You know what I mean? You’re playing for the national championship. We’re there on a business trip, and that’s how we’ll approach it.”
Not that the players would be inclined to disagree with their head coach’s approach. But there was no hesitation from those in attendance Saturday that they were anything but in complete lockstep with their head coach in their approach to playing Alabama for all the marbles.
“I think that’s the only way you can look at it,” said Irish right offensive tackle Christian Lombard. “This is the biggest game anyone on this team could ever play in. That’s the way you need to look at it. It’s a business trip, and I’ll take going to bed every night at 10 o’clock to have that ring. I have no problem with it.”
“I agree with (Kelly),” said Cat linebacker Prince Shembo. “Afterwards, we’ve got no game until September. We’ve got time. We’ll make the sacrifice. I’m not a big party guy anyway. I’m just ready to play.”
Inside linebacker Dan Fox has been to and participated in bowl games before. This isn’t anything like what the team has experienced under Kelly the past two seasons.
“There is the Sun Bowl and the Champs Sports Bowl, but this is the national championship,” Fox said. “It’s just completely different. It’s not like we’re going to go out there and party. We’re going there to win the game.”
While this will be the third bowl trip for the upperclassmen, it marks the first time in three bowl games that the Irish have left so late for their destination. Last year’s Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando was played on Dec. 29. The 2010 Sun Bowl was on New Year’s Eve in El Paso, Texas. In both instances, the travel schedule overlapped Christmas. Thus, players convened at the bowl site from their respective locales across the country.
“In the past, we’ve gone down as individuals or in little groups as teammates,” said left guard Chris Watt. “Now we’re going down as a team. It’s a different mindset with the team arriving together and doing everything as one.
“I think it’s really important having that curfew set at 11. It really is a business trip going down there.”