July 5, 2000

HAMBURG, GERMANY -They didn’t complain a bit.. In fact, the Notre Dame football players who hit the practice field Tuesday in the first day of preparation for their Saturday Charity Bowl meeting with the Hamburg Blue Devils seemed to enjoy every moment of their two hours of work on a pleasant, 70-degree afternoon. Remember, there are more than a few members of this Notre Dame alumni football squad who haven’t put on pads or helmets for some years. The veterans on the team are 1976 tight end Al Bucci and ’71 quarterback Pat Steenberge. Others, like Reggie Brooks and Pat Eilers, aren’t long out of the National Football League (in Brooks’ case, Barcelona of NFL Europe, as well). Likewise, with Adrian Jarrell and the Arena Football League.

The consensus seemed to that of Darnell Smith as practice commenced Tuesday -“I feel like I’ve never taken this uniform off.” There were a few muscles asked to respond for the first time in a while. Offensive lineman Mike Perrino moved slowly, trying to keep his back in order. Defensive lineman Bryan Flannery suffered a groin injury early in the workout. Meanwhile, Brooks and fellow tailback Lee Becton wasted little time displaying flashes of their 1,000-yard seasons with the Irish. Brooks, in particular, seemed to be in midseason form. Veteran linebacker Wes Pritchett intercepted a pass during the pass skeleton series, spiked the football and showed the same enthusiasm that made him one of the emotional leaders of the ’88 Irish national title team.

Remember, too, that some of these Notre Dame players know each other by name only. Quarterback Steve Belles shook hands with center Greg Stec as they began working on quarterback-center exchanges early in the workout.

The appearance of a Notre Dame football squad drew a half-dozen photographers to the workout Tuesday. Helped by exposure in Germany from NBC Sports telecasts of Irish home games, names like Brooks, Becton and Kris Haines (he caught the last-second touchdown pass from Joe Montana in the ’79 Cotton Bowl) were more than a little familiar to the hometown journalists. An NFL Films crew appeared Wednesday at practice -and the local Hamburg newspapers Wednesday featured color photos from practice, impressive coverage for a non-soccer event, according to German officials.

Off the field, the Notre Dame group enjoyed a Tuesday evening boat trip through the Hamburg canals, complete with noisemakers and confetti for the Fourth of July. Wednesday night, the team will attend a Buddy Holly musical.

Another interesting perspective comes from the sons of former players like Perrino, Ron Plantz, Pat Kramer and Jack Shields, all of whom attended practice Tuesday. The boys had heard their dads talk about playing football for Notre Dame but obviously had never seen what that rally meant. On Saturday, the sons will watch the fathers put on those gold helmets and blue jerseys one more time -and it’s hard to tell who’s looking forward to it more.

Blue Devil officials are predicting a crowd of about 30,000 for the game Saturday.