The BCS national championship hype officially touched down in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday as a mass of reporters and cameramen overwhelmed even a Notre Dame team used to the commotion.
Players, coaches and school officials, led by head coach Brian Kelly, walked down the Delta aircraft stairs and onto an orange carpet, many of them photographing the media throng and police escorts.
“This is my first national championship game,” said Kelly, who was mobbed by dozens of media members as he stood against a custom-designed bus adorned with a massive team mural. “I don’t know if this is commonplace. …
“When we pulled up, all the people that were looking out the window were pretty much amazed to see the kind of draw this game has.”
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The top-ranked Irish (12-0) will meet No. 2 Alabama (12-1) on Monday in the title game. Orange Bowl Committee officials, who gave out goodie bags with mirrored BCS/Notre Dame-inscribed aviator sunglasses, water bottles and championship pins, said they had never seen so many people show up to greet a team for one of their games.
“Notre Dame is as iconic a college football program as there is,” OBC member Ron Stone said. “And if there’s another team that’s in the same league, of which there are very few, then it’s their opponent. I’ve been on the Orange Bowl Committee for 20 years, and I have never experienced anything like the number of requests for tickets I’ve gotten for this game.”
Irish wide receiver Robby Toma was asked if he had imagined this scene.
“Not at all,” he said, grinning. “I was kind of shocked I was going to be chosen [to face] the media. But all these cameras in front of me, it’s a blessing.
“I’m definitely feeling a little nerves right now. But if you don’t feel nerves, then something is wrong with you. This is a huge game.”
Kelly, who was scheduled to take his players to the Heat game Wednesday night, said recently he planned a more stringent curfew than usual — 11 p.m. every night instead of the 2 a.m. curfew at the beginning of most bowl trips.
“We’re going to get our work done and enjoy our time here,” he said. “But we’re going to get the proper rest necessary. Look, you don’t go [more than] 35 days and condition your team to come out here — and blow it for three days. We’ve had plenty of fun, but we’re here to win the football game.”
He said he wasn’t concerned one way or another that the Irish are 10-point underdogs.
“It takes care of itself,” he said. “Our guys know. They watch TV. They’re a group that’s on the Internet and reads all the stories. We’ve been underdogs before, and it really didn’t change our preparation and the way they go to work.”
The Irish are staying at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa on South Ocean Drive in Hollywood and will practice at Nova Southeastern University. Practices are closed to the public.
Although the Irish practice in an indoor facility in South Bend, Ind., their bodies are accustomed to the bitter cold they left Wednesday. It was 18 degrees but felt like 9 with the wind-chill factor.
“It’s going to be in the 80s [Thursday],” Kelly said. “We want to make sure they feel the weather, but we’re just going to clean some things up and continue through the process. … Hydration is the key.”
Kelly’s plan all along has been to gradually gear for the game so his players are “the best they can be on one day. We’ve used all the models that are at our disposal to make sure that happens.”