FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Notre Dame is accustomed to drawing a lot of attention.
But even the No. 1 Irish (12-0), who play No. 2 Alabama (12-1) in Monday’s BCS championship game, couldn’t be fully prepared for what awaited them when the team’s charter plane landed at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Jet Center.
Two arcs of water were blasted over the plane and the team came down the steps to be greeted by a throng of orange jacket-wearing bowl representatives before coach Brian Kelly and receiver Robby Toma were enveloped by a horde of reporters wanting to ask them about the big game.
You are going to play the national championship game in Miami, Kelly said. It’s not like any trip they have had before. It’s not like any trip that I’ve had before. There was the anticipation when we got on the buses to airport that they were really excited about this trip. It is something that you dream of when you play this game and when you coach this game.
Notre Dame will be trying to win its first national title since 1988.
And while the players are used to dealing with distractions going into games, Toma admitted that this week will be different from any regular-season game or previous bowl trip.
We got a long time here, and we got work to do while we are here, Toma said. It is not like our other road trips where we show up and play. We really got to stay focused this trip.
This week is difficult to focus with all the distractions, especially in Miami. Coach is going to give us a lot of free time, and we are going to be able to have fun. But when it is work time, it is work time.
Kelly said every player has shown up to work and there were no injury setbacks before the team traveled Fort Lauderdale.
When the Irish resume practice at 1:15 p.m. today, when high temperatures are predicted to be in the 80s as opposed to the forecast high of 28 for South Bend, Kelly said the focus will be on getting used to the weather conditions and polishing a few finer points for the title game.
We will get after it pretty good (today), Kelly said. It is going to be in the 80s. We want to make sure they feel the weather tomorrow.
I think some polishing up a little bit of the game plan. This is all about Alabama and our game plan. We are not doing anything relative to skill work or things of that nature. It is more things we want to rep out against Alabama.
Toma said everyone is ready to play for the first time since Notre Dame closed the season with a 22-13 win at USC on Nov. 24.
Last night I started getting anxious watching the Florida State-(Northern Illinois) Orange Bowl game, just realizing that we are going to play in that stadium on Monday. It is a little nerve-racking, but we are ready for it, Toma said.
Notre Dame also isn’t sweating entering the game as an underdog to Alabama.
I think we played a lot of games as underdogs this year, Toma said.
A lot of people have doubted us. Nothing is going to change. We are going to compete for four quarters. We are not going to guarantee a win, but we are just going to go out there and play.