May 28, 2009
Notre Dame, Ind – Each spring generations of former Notre Dame football players venture back to campus for the annual Blue-Gold Spring Football Festival. This year members of the Irish football family had the opportunity to enjoy a dinner, reception and the spring football game. Some returning players even got the chance to return to the gridiron at tryouts for the Japan Bowl and the Blue-Gold Alumni Flag Football Game.
To kickoff the Blue-Gold Football weekend, hundreds of former football players and their families filled the Joyce Center for the Annual Friday Night Football Dinner sponsored by Ruth’s Chris Steak House. To get the night started, head football coach Charlie Weis offered some opening remarks before handing off the microphone to each of the Blue-Gold Game honorary coaches.
This year three Irish greats, all selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft, accepted Coach Weis’ invitation to serve as honorary coaches for the game. Former Washington Redskin Reggie Brooks ’93, the Arizona Cardinal’s Bertrand Berry `97 and the New York Giant’s Justin Tuck `04 returned to their alma mater to speak at the dinner and roam the sidelines offering words of encouragement to the current players during the spring game.
“The one thing that will always stick out to me from the weekend is that no matter where we go when we leave here, we will always be representing Notre Dame no matter what.” Berry said, “We are a family and I wear the ND with pride.”
After signing autographs and taking pictures with the children of former players in attendance, the group headed to a private reception in the Monogram Club’s new Alumni Football Players’ Lounge. Many Notre Dame greats attended the reception, including legendary Irish football coach Lou Holtz and ESPN’s Mike Golic.
“It is a family here. When you go to Notre Dame and leave Notre Dame you never forget it.” Golic said, “Most of the time you appreciate it even more after you leave, when you realize what you left and how it is portrayed around the country and the world. So for me the best reason to come back to Notre Dame is because it feels like coming home again.”
For Holtz and many of the players who returned for Japan Bowl tryouts, Saturday morning started bright and early out on the LaBar Football Practice Fields.
At tryouts, over 70 former players laced up their cleats again in hopes of making the final Japan Bowl roster. Players were tested on their strength, conditioning and football acumen.
Once tryouts were complete, Holtz and his coaching staff trimmed the 72 men trying out into a final 60-man roster. These 60 players will don the golden helmet one more time on July 25th.
Leading the Irish into the Tokyo Dome will be quarterback of the 1988 national championship team Tony Rice. Joining Rice in the backfield will be fullback Ray Zellers and Notre Dame’s all-time rushing leader Autrey Denson.
Former players not competing for a Japan Bowl roster spot also had the chance to return to the gridiron for the 10th Annual Blue-Gold Alumni Flag-Football Game.
This year’s contest was a hard fought battle that came down to the final minutes of the game. With less than three minutes remaining and the score tied at 14, the Gold Team’s A’Jani Sanders picked off quarterback AJ McGunigal’s pass in the end zone. Sanders returned the interception 102 yards for the game-winning touchdown to give the Gold Team a 20-14 victory.
With the game winning interception return, Sanders was selected as the game’s Most Valuable Player. Presenting Sanders with this year’s MVP trophy were Monogram Club President Marc Kelly and 1987 Heisman Trophy Winner, Tim Brown.
While the game was competitive, many of the players enjoyed having the chance to take the field with players from all eras.
“It feels great to come back and experience the camaraderie of the different generations of guys” said former strong safety Benny Guilbeaux ’99.
An hour after the former players left the field, it was time for this year’s Irish football team to make its 2009 debut and cap off a great weekend with the Annual Blue-Gold Game. Close to 30,000 fans were in attendance to see the Blue Team defeat the Gold Team 68-33.
To close this year’s Blue-Gold football weekend, running back Armando Allen was selected as the offensive MVP. He carried the ball 12 times for 70 yards. On the defensive side of the ball, Robert Blanton took home MVP honors. Blanton recorded two tackles and one interception, which he returned for a touchdown.