Oct. 29, 2015

Game Week Central

Cheesesteaks, the Liberty Bell, Rocky, Independence Hall and Broad Street.

Franklin Field, JFK Stadium, Veterans Stadium, PPL Park and now Lincoln Financial Field.

A matchup of two top 25 college football teams in front of a sold-out audience.

Prime-time kickoff on national television.

ESPN Game Day.

It may be hard to pinpoint exactly what fans of ninth-ranked and 6-1 Notre Dame and 21st-rated and 7-0 Temple expected when this Halloween night contest in Philadelphia popped up on the scheduling calendar back in the preseason. It’s also probably safe to say the pairing has exceeded expectations.

Notre Dame hasn’t had a huge historical football presence in Philadelphia from a competition standpoint (the last time the Irish played there was 22 years ago), yet this one turned into an extravaganza.

Philadelphia actually may have been known more as a college basketball hotbed, thanks to Big Five (Villanova, Drexel, Penn, St. Joseph’s, LaSalle) competition at the Palestra, but Saturday night’s football clash may help change that.

Says Notre Dame wide receiver standout and Philadelphia product Will Fuller, “It’s like a dream come true. I would never have thought about this happening. It’s going to be real cool. I don’t think college football was really that important in Philadelphia. But it seems like it is now with Temple playing like this and Notre Dame coming to town, so it will be fun.”

It may well be the biggest game in Temple history, considering an Owls victory would enable them to go to 8-0 for the first time.

In fact, the Irish play a rare sort of daily double over these next two weekends, competing on consecutive Saturdays on the road in the same state (Notre Dame plays Nov. 7 at Pittsburgh). The last time that happened came in 1964 when the Irish won consecutive late-season games in the state of Pennsylvania (a 40-0 Oct. 31 win over Navy in Philadelphia, followed by a 17-15 triumph Nov. 7 at Pittsburgh).

How else is Notre Dame tied to Philadelphia? Other Irish athletic names with Philadelphia-area connections include:

* Current Irish football players Mike McGlinchey (Philadelphia) and Josh Adams (Warrington), in addition to Fuller

* Current Irish women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw (she played at St. Joseph’s) and former men’s coach Digger Phelps (he coached as an assistant at Penn and routinely took his Irish teams to play at the Palestra)

* Current Irish assistant coach and 2013-14 Philadelphia Eagle assistant coach Todd Lyght, along with former Irish and Eagle players Bobby Taylor and Mike Golic

* Former Irish and Phillies baseball pitcher (and 2008 World Series star) Brad Lidge–and former Irish baseball and basketball standout Ron Reed, who also pitched for the Phillies

* Former Irish hockey player and head coach and former Flyers captain Dave Poulin

— Five teams on Notre Dame’s 2015 schedule have a combined 31-3 record: #3 (Associated Press) Clemson 7-0, Navy 5-1, #21 Temple 7-0, #23 Pittsburgh 6-1 and #8 Stanford 6-1. Temple, Pittsburgh and Stanford are a combined 9-0 at home in 2015–and the Irish must travel to play at all three venues.

— The NCAA toughest schedule listings this week show Notre Dame’s future opponents 24th at 21-12 (.636), past opponents 57th at 20-18 (.526) and cumulative opponents 33rd at 41-30 (.577). The seven teams the Irish have played to date have combined to go 25-24. The five remaining Irish opponents are a combined 25-12.

— Notre Dame stands 14th nationally in scrimmage plays of 20 or more yards (with 20) and 12th in plays of 50 yards-plus (8). The Irish have three plays of 70 or more yards–and only Arizona (5), Florida State (4) and Washington (4) have more.

— Notre Dame ranks 13th nationally in rushing plays of 10 or more yards (with 55), 11th in rushing plays of 20 or more yards (18) and tied for fifth in rushes of 70 or more yards (2). The Irish are tied for fifth in pass plays of 50 or more yards (4).

C.J. Prosise is fifth nationally in runs of 10-plus yards (33), with LSU’s Leonard Fournette first with 37. Prosise is tied for sixth in runs of 20-plus yards with 10 (Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook have 13).

Will Fuller is tied for sixth nationally in receptions for 20-plus yards (13), tied for seventh in pass plays of 30-plus yards (9), tied for seventh in plays of 40-plus yards (5) and tied for third in receptions for 60-plus yards (2).

— Temple this week ranks fifth nationally in interceptions (12), sixth in rushing defense (91.9), eighth in scoring defense (14.6), ninth in pass efficiency defense and 14th in total defense (307.7).

— Notre Dame stands 11-7-2 against teams that came in at 7-0 or better–including two wins over opponents that were exactly 7-0 (Navy in 1978 in a game played in Cleveland and #1 Pittsburgh in 1982 in a game played at Pittsburgh). Notre Dame’s most recent victory over a team that listed at 7-0 or better was the 1993 Notre Dame Stadium win over #1 and 10-0 Florida State. Seven of those 11 Irish wins overall came in bowl games.

— Athlon presented its midseason awards and placed Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith third among candidates for defensive player of the year and running back C. J. Prosise third on its list of “breakout players.”

— Notre Dame has scored 30 or more points in six of its first seven games in 2015 for the first time in Irish history.

— The last Notre Dame team to play at Lincoln Financial Field? The Irish men’s lacrosse team played there on NCAA Championship Weekend last May, falling in overtime to eventual NCAA champion Denver in a national semifinal contest. Irish 2015 football special team contributor Nick Ossello played a key role in that lacrosse contest, scoring the tying goal in the final minute of regulation to send the game to overtime.

— Notre Dame is 15-0 in previous football games played on Halloween (Oct. 31), the most recent in 2009 in San Antonio versus Washington State–and also including two games in Philadelphia (victories over Navy in 1964 and 1970).

— Notre Dame’s lone defeat in 16 previous games in Philadelphia came 14-7 against fourth-ranked Navy in 1960 at JFK Stadium. Notre Dame last played football in Philadelphia in 1993 (also against Navy in a 58-27 Irish win) in Veterans Stadium.

— Though it has been a while since Notre Dame played football in Philadelphia, other Irish teams have made impacts there. Many Notre Dame squads made regular visits to Villanova in the years the Irish were members of the BIG EAST Conference. PPL Park was the site of Notre Dame’s 2013 NCAA title win in men’s soccer–and the Irish men’s lacrosse squad played and won there in 2014 in its first appearance in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship in that sport.

— Irish consensus All-Americans from the state of Pennsylvania include 1963-65 guard Dick Arrington (Erie), 1966-68 quarterback Terry Hanratty (Butler), Heisman Trophy winner and 1946-49 end Leon Hart (Turtle Creek), 1988-90 flanker Raghib Ismail (Wilkes-Barre), Heisman winner and 1946-47 quarterback John Lujack (Connellsville) and 1967-69 defensive tackle Mike McCoy (Erie).

— The Notre Dame Club of Philadelphia is sponsoring a Friday luncheon at the downtown Philadelphia Marriott–with speakers including former Irish players Thom Gatewood and Reggie Ho. The Notre Dame pep rally will be held from 6-8 p.m. Friday at Commerce Square Plaza (2001 Market Street)–and the official Notre Dame alumni tailgate begins three hours before kickoff Saturday at NBC Sports Arena at XFINITY Live! (1100 Pattison Avenue).

— Late former Irish football defensive coordinator (1986-87) and Pittsburgh head coach Foge Fazio last Saturday was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame at a banquet in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Fazio died in 2009.

— The Australian national rugby team, the Wallabies–who trained at Notre Dame for two weeks in late August and early September–will play defending champion New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup championship game Saturday at Twickenham Stadium in London.

— Notre Dame lost a longtime valued presence behind the official timing operation for football, basketball and hockey games with the Oct. 18 death of Chuck Webber. He began working the scorer’s table for Irish men’s basketball in 1957, later added Notre Dame hockey games, took on women’s basketball in 1975 and added football in 1982. In 2007 he received an honorary monogram from the Notre Dame Monogram Club. He retired from his football role in 2012 and from his basketball duties in 2014. Webber was known by the signature bow ties he wore to events, and he always showed up with a plastic bag full of mints and other candy, available to all those working the games. Combined with the death last month of longtime Notre Dame athletics public-address announcer John “Jack” Lloyd, the Irish game management function will be missing two of its most professional and dependable contributors.

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame.

Heisler produces a weekly football commentary piece for UND.com titled “Sunday Brunch,” along with a Thursday football preview piece. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series. Here is a selection of other features published recently by Heisler:

— Top 10 Things Learned About the Irish So Far in 2015:


— Brey’s Crew Receives Rings, Prepared to Raise Banner–and Moves On


— Jim McLaughlin: New Irish Volleyball Boss Is All About the Numbers:


— Men’s Soccer Establishes Itself with Exclamation:


— Australia Rugby Visit Turns into Great Sharing of Sports Performance Practices: http://www.und.com/genrel/092215aae.html

— Bud Schmitt Doesn’t Need a Map to Find Notre Dame Stadium: http://www.und.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/092315aag.html

— Sunday Brunch: Holy Smokes, Irish Beat USC!


— Community Service a Record-Setting Event for Irish Athletics in 2014-15: