Friday night lights comes to Ireland on Friday the 31st of August and, unlike the Notre Dame and Navy game in the Aviva the next day, tickets are actually available! GIFT 2012, run by Global Football, brings 12 American football teams to Dublin and Meath to play in three double headers in Donnybrook Stadium, Parnell Park, and Páirc Tailteann. Patrick Steenberge, former Notre Dame quarterback, is president of Global Football and took time out of his busy schedule to talk to NFL-Ireland about the upcoming games.
How did you get around to starting Global Football?
I started [Global Football] in 1996 and was looking for a way to get back into football. I had played in high school and college, at a pretty high level with Notre Dame and got injured my senior year, which blew my dreams of playing professional. That was 1972, I got totally out of [football]. And then some 25 years later I decided I wanted to get back into the sport but I wasn’t going to stat coaching at that point. So I had a travel business before and been around different sports, so just created this idea of taking American teams overseas at the amateur level. Both from an educational stand point but and an athletic sports stand point. It’s grown far beyond my belief to where now we’ve done games in 19 countries around the world.
How did the twelve teams traveling over to Ireland get involved with GIFT 2012?
I’ve done it long enough now that our name is out there, really I’m the only one really doing it on an international basis. So, sometimes coaches find me and others times, I go out after them. For the games in Ireland, these were really all personal contacts. Either I knew the coach personally or the athletic director personally, some had traveled with me prior like with John Carroll University. Or they came through friends of mine, like Father Judge from Philadelphia; a former team mate at Notre Dame, Bill Gallagher, he and I have been in touch over the last few years and he’s helped me take some high school groups overseas, and he said he had a good buddy coaching at Father Judge and they may be interested. So these were all pretty much hand picked and personal invitations for GIFT 2012.
And these three games in Ireland are regular season games?
Yes, that’s what’s different from most of the games that I do, these are regular season and will count in their schedules. The date was a key thing, what most teams do here is they play six or seven or eight league games and they are their conference games. They’ll play two or three non-league games ahead of time and those are usually ahead of time. So when I saw the date of the Notre Dame Navy game on September 1st, that was kind of magical, that made it work. Had this been October it would never work because teams won’t take a conference game over here. So [these games] count towards their regular schedule, they count towards post season but they are non-conference games.
Probably the most difficult part of it is organizing the games, we need to have everything right in the stadiums. When I do games in the spring, offseason games, it doesn’t really matter if the field is a little short or we need to use soccer goal posts, those things aren’t that important. We could also use local officials, one of the key things with this was, we need to use American officials because it’s an American sanctioned game. So we’re bringing over three crews of officials, which is wonderful. And we’ve got to get the fields properly lined per our standards so I’m working with the people [in Ireland], the goal posts have to be the proper height so we’re getting all that done. That’s probably the more complicated issues.
How big is the travelling contingent for the GIFT 2012 games?
Boy, they’re all over the board, Kent School is bringing 45 players and we’ve a number of teams like Hamilton, Loyola, and Jesuit who are all bringing upwards of a hundred players on their squads. Along with that we’ve got three marching bands coming, eight of the schools are bringing cheer squads and dance squads and then there’s lot of parents coming along. In total we’ve got 2,600 bodies traveling in our official parties.
Was there anything in particular that attracted you to the three venues that were chosen for GIFT 2012?
It was a tough selection process, I toured lots of facilities around [Ireland] and I think one of the common factors was I wanted to share it among rugby and the GAA, I wanted to involve both groups. So I wanted to make sure I got into those types of venues. We didn’t need a thirty or forty thousand seat stadium, I’d rather fill what we’ve got. I like the ones with the tradition and I like the intimacy, the crowds are right in there on the [players]. I also wanted to spread them out, to enable more people to come.
Would this be something Global Football would look at doing on a more regular basis?
Two things. One is a big thing that made this work very well, was the fact of tying it in with the Notre Dame Navy game, so that made it a bigger event obviously. So there’s not another college game planned anywhere that I know of yet. But what I am planning on doing, and I’ve already got it in the works, we are going to do an event next year as part of The Gathering and it’s called The Global Ireland Sports Gathering. The idea is to do multiple sports, but all tied into The Gathering idea, and American football will be one component. We’re also reaching out to teams in America that play rugby, swim, play basketball, soccer and we’ve talked to a number of schools and clubs here and we’re just starting our efforts to bring groups over next year. I’ve really enjoyed working in Ireland and hope to be able to do things on an annual basis.
How important do you think games like this are in encouraging people to go out and play football?
Some what, I think the one thing that’s nice is the level that we play, most of it at the high school or small college level, those are the levels that local people can relate to. The people that come out and watch the games, they’re going to see these are normal athletic kids, they’re not, i call them “freaks” – the NFL guys [who] are absurdly big and strong and fast athletes. Our guys are really good athletes but they’re still amateurs. So I think that does allow people to look at it and go “hey this could work, we could maybe play this game”. So I would hope people may decide they can play the game as well as watching it.
I see there are some GIFT events planned for Wednesday the 29th and Thursday the 30th?
These are educational tours, most of these kids are in school so there missing school days, so they’re all going to do educational tours. Some are doing the city centre of Dublin, some will go down to Wicklow, some will do castle tours and there’s one group going out to a re-enactment of the Battle of the Boyne in Drogheda. Along with their training; they’re each going to train Wednesday and Thursday.
Thursday we’re doing some fun things, we’re going to have a city centre parade. Starting at St. Stephen’s Green and going down to Trinity; the front gates. That will run from 17.30 to 18.30 and will be open to the public to come see the kids, they’ll all be wearing their game jerseys and we’ll have the marching bands and the cheerleaders. It will be a classic Americana parade. And then we’re going to have a pep rally in the front square of Trinity College. We’ll just kind of welcome everybody there, and make them VIPs before the big boys get in town from Notre Dame and Navy.
Do you still stay involved with Notre Dame?
Prior to the varsity spring game, which is kind of their annual scrimmage, they do an Alumni flag football game and I go back every year. I tell them as long as they can find me some young receivers I can throw to and I if I don’t have to run around too much. So I still do that. And I started an event in 2003 called the Football Fantasy Camp, where men come and pretend they’re college football players and get coached by the real coaches and do a flag game in the stadium. I ran that until 2008 but it still continues and the Notre Dame football office run it themselves. So it’s good that I was able to begin that tradition. Two of my three children have graduated from the university so we’ve got a lot of ties there.
How do you think Michael Floyd, drafted by the Arizona Cardinals out of Notre Dame, will do in the NFL this year?
Oh I think he’ll do very well. He’s tall, he’s fast, he’s athletic. You know sometimes watching him in college, it was almost like a man among boys. There were some defensive backs that just had no chance playing against him. I really think he’ll be a star. It’s not always the first year, it’s a big jump for anybody going from college to pro, so it may take a couple of years. I guess wide receivers among any positions do seem to be able to move in and just do well, so I think he’ll be a big star before long.
Tickets, which are available from Tickets.ie/GIFT2012, are €15 for adults, free for children under 12 and €10 for students (available at individual stadia). With fans expected to travel from 13 US states, Canada, Austria, Germany, and even Australia, Global Football are estimating GIFT 2012 could be worth about €4.5m to the Irish economy.