"I'll ask for everyone that comes to the game to wear purple and roots for us" - Pat Fitzgerald
"You’re seeing the best of college football."
As the Aer Lingus College Football Classic edges closer, SportsJOE sent Scott McCabe to catch up with former NFL Player Jason Bell and Northwestern Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald to discuss the game.
Ireland will be hosting a sporting event like no other this summer - American football. The Northwestern Wildcats will take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, August 27.
Former NFL star Jason Bell, who had playing spells with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Houston Texans, offered his insight ahead of the highly anticipated college football matchup between Northwestern and Nebraska.
“You’re seeing the best of college football,” Bell said. “Both of these teams are in the same conference [the Big 10]. It’s all on the line, you do not want to start the season off losing to someone in your conference."
The Northwestern Wildcats will be the designated home team on the day, and Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald would like the full backing from Irish fans.
"I'll ask that everyone from Dublin and everyone that comes to the game wears purple and roots for us. When we have the ball in our possession, I'd like the crowd to keep it quiet. Just be loud when we don’t have the ball. That would be amazing to really give us this home-field advantage."
The last time the two sides met, Nebraska came out on top-form as they unleashed a punishing score of 56-7 on the Wildcats.
“We’ve got a huge challenge against Nebraska. We did not play very well against them before in Lincoln [location of Nebraska’s Stadium]. They played very well against us, maybe their best game of the year, so it should be a great football game,” said Fitzgerald.
The Northwestern head coach paid a visit to Ireland’s Six Nations clash with Wales earlier this year to grasp an understanding of what to his team can expect from the Irish crowd.
"It was just great to take in the culture of a game-day environment. I was blown away at how respectful everyone was during the game. The way everyone treated the Welsh team. There wasn’t a lot of jeering or booing. When you’re the road team in college football, you’re the enemy. You’re not well-liked."
Irish in the NFL
Ireland currently has two players eager to make it in the NFL. Punter Daniel Whelan who signed with the New Orleans Saints and kicker James McCourt who signed with the L.A. Chargers.
Whelan has recently been waived by the Saints. However, McCourt is having an impressive training camp as the rookie kicker hit eight of nine field goals at last Wednesday's practice.
The Aer Lingus College Football Classic provides an opportunity to inspire the next generation of Irish American football players.
"How do you fall in love with the game? - You see it," Bell said. That’s what the game is all about- the atmosphere."
"This is what kids see and this is their introduction to American football,” Bell added. “Get ready for non-stop action. You’re going to feel exhausted, like you played in the game."
Since 2007, when the London games were first introduced, the NFL has grown enormously across Europe with international games becoming a regular occurrence throughout the course of the NFL season.
This year, several teams were awarded the rights to 30 international home marketing areas across 10 different countries in an attempt for NFL teams to build their brand globally.
"Ireland was not subject to any bids from teams seeking permission to market [here]." Lord Mayor of Dublin Allison Gilliland told Sky Sports. "Dublin would, of course, welcome the NFL to Ireland."
The Aer Lingus College Football Classic could hold the key to an NFL team marketing in Ireland.
“I don’t know why it hasn’t happened already. When you look at the NFL and American football fans in Ireland, it only makes sense. Starting off and dominating this realm of college sports is the key,” Bell said.
“You’re going to have a lot of players who play in these games who move onto the NFL and they’re going to talk about that experience and say why aren’t we playing in Ireland? This is a great start and a great place to dominate the college game. I think it's going to be very impactful for the longevity of the sport in Ireland.”
Graduating to the NFL
The most recent Aer Lingus College Football Classic matchup took place in 2016, when Boston College faced Georgia Tech. From that game, one very special player emerged- Harrison Butker.
Butker was selected by the Carolina Panthers in the 2017 NFL Draft. However, Butker would find his greatest success with the Kansas City Chiefs. In the 2020 season, the kicker reached the pinnacle of American football when the Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
We might just be witnessing the next Super Bowl champion when the Aer Lingus College Football Classic gets underway this August. Make sure to get your tickets now while they’re still available.
*Tickets for the College Football Classic are available through ticketmaster.ie/touchdowndublin