The Shamrock Series for Notre Dame has been met with mixed reviews by most Notre Dame fans over the last few years as the Irish have played in some great venues but haven’t faced opponents who match the venue. In the eight years of the series before this year’s break, the Irish have faced just one quality opponent. Jack Swarbrick took a big step towards changing that with Monday’s news of the reboot of the Shamrock Series with two games against Wisconsin.
Swarbrick inherited the idea of the Shamrock Series and in theory, it was a fantastic idea. Get Notre Dame to play one “home” game a year away from Notre Dame Stadium in an area of the country where they don’t normally play. It was to give Notre Dame fans all around country more ways to see the Irish and to allow Notre Dame more exposure in areas it has trouble recruiting.
In theory those are both good things. In practice, the Shamrock Series deteriorated into more of a traveling dog and pony show. Since the Arizona State Shamrock Series game in 2013 when Notre Dame played it’s last and most prominent opponent in the series the Irish played Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium, Boston College in Fenway Park, and Army at the Alamodome.
The games before the Arizona State game in 2013 weren’t a whole lot better. 2012’s showdown with Miami in Soldier Field looked good on paper when it was scheduled but the Hurricanes were barely a stiff breeze in Notre Dame’s way to a 41-3 blowout. Before that the Irish faced Maryland in FedEx Field, Army in Yankee Stadium, and Washington State in the Alamodome.
By the time Notre Dame put a temporary halt on the series for this year they had already recycled venues (Alamodome) and opponents (Army). Adding Wisconsin in Lambeau Field in 2020 and Soldier Field in 2021 flips the script of the Shamrock Series.
Notre Dame’s Connection to Lambeau Field
The one nitpick with the series I have is that the Irish have already played a Shamrock Series game in Soldier Field when they blew out Miami 41-3. Lambeau Field, however, has never hosted Notre Dame despite its namesake’s connection to the University. Curly Lambeau spent one season on the Notre Dame roster in 1918 under then head coach Knute Rockne.
Notre Dame has much more of a history at Soldier Field. The Irish have played in the home of the Chicago Bears 12 times and sport a 10-2 record in those contests. Notre Dame and Wisconsin have faced each other once before in Soldier Field as well back in 1929 when Rockne led the Irish to a 19-0 shutout of the Badgers.
Having the game at Lambeau designated as a home game and being broadcast on NBC as opposed to vice versa was a very shrewd move by Swarbrick. Notre Dame’s long history at Soldier Field gives the feel of playing there a bit of a been there done that feel but with the game at Lambeau Field being on NBC, Notre Dame gets to showcase one of the biggest games of the year on its defacto network. Win win for Notre Dame and NBC.
Connections with Wisconsin
Notre Dame and Wisconsin have only played 16 times in the storied histories of both programs, but its most recent game was a big one for Notre Dame – especially given recent events. The last time the Irish and Badgers squared off was 1964 in the first game coach by the late, great Ara Parseghian at Notre Dame. Notre Dame won the game 31-7 as a sign of things to come under the guidance of Parseghian.
Harry Stuhldreher, quarterback of the Four Horsemen, served as head coach and athletic director for Wisconsin from 1936-48. He isn’t the only former Wisconsin coach with Notre Dame ties though.
Barry Alvarez served as defensive coordinator for Notre Dame’s last national championship team before being named head coach at Wisconsin following the 1989 season. Alvarez revitalized Wisconsin football before assuming the role of athletics director at the university in 2004. He spent one season burning the candle at both ends as head coach and AD before focusing solely on being the AD in 2005. Alvarez was reportedly instrumental in orchestrating the series with Notre Dame.
Under Armour Connection
One overlooked aspect of this series is the Under Armour connection with Wisconsin. Both schools have exclusive partnerships with Under Armour as the brand looks to gain more market share in college athletics. While some might think it’s just about a marketing ploy, having the two prominently featured in one of the more anticipated non-conference games of the season is good for the Under Armour brand which in turn is good for both universities and both programs.
Hitting Every Mark
There’s really nothing here to not like. Notre Dame and Jack Swarbrick took the good idea of the Shamrock Series that Kevin White spearheaded and executed it better than it ever has been with this series. Wisconsin will be the best opponent Notre Dame has ever played in a Shamrock Series game and Lambeau Field will rival Fenway Park as one of the best venues.
Some will argue that this series should just be a home and home to give both fan bases a chance to experience the other’s home stadiums and it’s a valid argument. A road trip to Camp Randall would be a unique experience for Notre Dame fans. As someone who went to the game at Fenway though and experienced a game in such a historic venue, I don’t think there will be any complaints by anyone lucky enough to make the trip to Lambeau in 2020.
Unlike years past, the Shamrock Series will not just be a marketing gimmick in 2020 or 2021. It remains to be seen if the series gets an even earlier reboot in 2018 or 2019 before the Irish travel to Lambeau but even if they don’t Swarbrick has done a great job here. Given just how perfect of a reboot this is, Notre Dame might even be wise to forget about trying to cram a Shamrock Series game in for the 2018 or 2019 schedules anyway. An open spot does not exist in either schedule at this point so doing so would require moving an already scheduled game into an off-site venue.
Swarbrick has taken some heat over the last couple of years, but he really has done a great job not just here but in putting together some really good future schedules for Notre Dame. There were some bumps in the road which have resulted in some years with a less than desirable set of home games for Notre Dame, but Swarbrick has done a good job of juggling a lot of scheduling conflicts and complexities over the last few years.
Monday’s announcement was just the crown jewel of the scheduling work that Swarbrick has done.
My understanding was that part of the point of the Shamrock Series was to boost visibility in more remote recruiting hotbeds (e.g., Texas, California, Florida). I’m completely on board, for what it’s worth, with adding Wisconsin to the schedule but the game doesn’t seem to be a great match with this series objective.
This is a natural matchup. I’ve been to a lot of great stadiums over the decades while following ND – adding Lambeau field to the list will be awesome.
PS…If we are going to resurrect this thing, let’s do a game out West somewhere against BYU – We Owe Them A Game Swarbrick…We Really Do! How about equal tickets at Mile High Stadium, or another great venue out there?
Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82
One of my best weekends ever for away ND game—- was at Airforce in Colorado Springs back in ’90’s. This was saturday —then we went to Denver for Colts versus Broncos at Mile High Stadium on Sunday. Both college and NFL venues on this weekend — I’ll never forget. The game in beautiful Colorado Springs was a spectacle put on by the Air Force with fighter jets flying over the stadium — then a real live falcon swooped down over stadium into awaiting hand of it’s handler. On Sunday — we were in awe as any midwest hick would be at the sight of Mile High Stadium. I recommend ND play there anytime. And an away game at Air Force in Colorado Springs is a must do. I don’t see Air Force on schedule in immediate future though. It’s tough for me to get into ND home games — but some of there away games are not and could be a great experience to enjoy a great weekend. I saw Irish Play Colorado in ’95 Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix. Irish got killed , but my kids and I had great time in exploring Arizona.