SOUTH BEND – Fond memories, an impressive presentation and a sack full of goodies got Notre Dames seniors to warm up to the idea of playing their final game in a cold-weather destination.
The Irish (8-4), who returned to the Associated Press Top 25 at No. 25, will play Rutgers (6-6) in Yankee Stadium in the Pinstripe Bowl at noon Dec. 28. The possibly frigid conditions of New York were something the players wanted to avoid in their final game, but they found plenty of incentive to return to the baseball stadium they scored a 27-3 win over Army on Nov. 20, 2010.
Its been a very attractive bowl package for our guys, coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. When I called up the PowerPoint (presentation), I went from talking about the Pinstripe Bowl and I had my guys attention to they came out of their chairs when I showed them the bowl package.
Notre Dame senior linebacker Carlo Calabrese said the players will receive a PlayStation4, clothes, as well as a ring and a watch as part of their bowl gifts. There is also a planned trip to Radio City Music Hall.
Warm weather would have been ideal, but new Yankee Stadium, it doesnt get much better than that if youve got to play in cold weather, said receiver TJ Jones, who was one of the seniors after the loss to Stanford on Nov. 30 who was outspoken about playing at a warm-weather bowl site. Staying in a hotel in Rockefeller Center and just do things and go to certain things in the heart of New York, it doesnt get much better if you have to play one game in cold weather.
Kelly said Notre Dame had three to four bowls vying to bring the Irish to their game, mentioning the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego and the Hawaii Bowl as spots the Irish were interested in. But Northern Illinois loss to Bowling Green on Friday took the Irish out of the running to play in San Diego and the tight schedule of Hawaii – the team would have to practice three days, play the Dec. 24 game then leave – made that trip less attractive.
Rutgers appears to be as unattractive of foe as the tight schedule of the Hawaii Bowl. The Scarlet Knights didnt become bowl eligible until they defeated 2-10 South Florida on Saturday, and they went 0-4 against American Athletic Conference teams that had a winning record with an average margin of defeat of 27 points.
And while the Irish, who played in the BCS championship game last season, appear to have little to gain with a victory over a .500 team and a lot to lose if they are defeated by the Knights, the players said this is not a lose-lose situation.
I dont think about it like that at all, senior linebacker Dan Fox said. I just think of it as my last career game at Notre Dame that seems like a pretty big deal to me to try to win that game.
Notre Dame will have to try to win against Rutgers without left guard Chris Watt, who suffered an MCL injury against Stanford. Watt started 11 games this season, missing the Air Force game because of a knee injury.
Nose guard Louis Nix will not be around the team during the bowl as Kelly confirmed the senior signed with an agent and will not return for a fifth year at Notre Dame.
Nix, who will earn his degree at the end of the semester and is projected as a first-round NFL draft pick, wasnt going to play in the bowl after having season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee on Nov. 21. Kelly said because he signed with an agent Nix will not be able to travel with the team to New York or receive any bowl gifts.
Louis in New York would be cool, especially around Christmas time, so that was unfortunate Kelly said. But Im sure hes going to be fine.