It didn't quite look or feel like the Christmas I'm used to, but the Notre Dame football family celebrated the holidays here in OrlaNDo. Team chaplain and Dillon Hall rector Father Paul Doyle presided at Christmas Mass, which was followed by a brunch for the team, coaches, staff and the rest of the ND travel party. The players ate first and headed out to team meetings, before hitting the field for their second bowl practice of the trip. Afterwards, many of the players headed to Disney World for a few hours of fun. (See Gary Gray's Twitter photo for one of the funniest moments of the week thus far.) It remains to be seen if Disney topped last night's visit to SeaWorld, where Shamu was clearly a team favorite. The Irish move one step closer to gameday tomorrow, with practice in the afternoon and a trip to Universal Studios. We'll have more updates coming soon, so keep an eye on Irish UNDerground and Facebook.com/NDFootball. And on this Christmas night, I'll leave you with this all-time classic from Mr. Sinatra. - Josh Flynt ('11)
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Dec. 23 was a great first day in OrlaNDo, but today, Christmas Eve is when the festivities truly began. If you follow any of the players on Twitter, you may have noticed a lot of talk this morning about airports. With a short break from practice and football responsibilities over the past few days, most of the team was traveling from back home. The "Our Team, Our Story" video above provides Mike Golic Jr.'s perspective of the trip as he departed from Connecticut earlier today. Players arrived throughout the morning and everyone was in Orlando by mid-afternoon for a team meeting and practice. Practice will be followed by a team meal, before many of the players depart for an evening at Sea World. Walking around during these first couple days, the size of our hotel is a bit overwhelming. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say it might take me longer to walk from my room to our "office" here in Florida than it takes to drive from my house in South Bend to the Guglielmino Athletics Complex back on campus. That being said, the hotel has three pools (plus a children's pool), jogging trails, a golf course, tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, and multiple cafes and restaurants. But don't be alarmed. That's not to mention the banquet and conference rooms that have become dining areas, position meeting rooms and a players' lounge. The bowl trip is an opportunity for the players, coaches and their families to enjoy some time together, but Coach Kelly, his staff and team remain focused on their matchup with Florida State next Thursday. If the Shamrock Series was designed to take the university to a different city, Bowl Week takes the entire Gug on the road. For me, it doesn't quite feel like Christmas Eve. Usually at this time, I'm getting out of 4 p.m. Mass and preparing for a nice dinner with my family. This is the first Christmas I've ever spent away from them and the winter weather of upstate New York. Going for a run this afternoon in a t-shirt and shorts, it felt more like spring break or summer vacation than the holiday season. The hotel is definitely not void of Christmas decorations, but something seems strange about walking outside and seeing palm trees and green grass rather than icicle lights and snow. It's tough to miss the holidays at home with my parents and brothers, but I know there are some people who are away from their loved ones and may have no one to share their Christmas with. I feel truly blessed to be surrounded by the Notre Dame family here in OrlaNDo. It's a different kind of Christmas for me, but one I will definitely enjoy and certainly not forget. I hope everyone has a happy, safe and joyous Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas, Irish fans. - Josh Flynt ('11)
Just two days before Christmas, it was in the 30's and overcast in South Bend - pretty standard for this time of year. I might even say that seems warm for what I've grown accustomed to over the last four years and previous 18 living in upstate New York. But then came the magic of the airplane. Three hours and 1,100 miles later, we arrived in Orlando, greeted by sunshine and mid-80's. (The photo above doesn't quite do the weather justice. That was actually taken from inside the tinted windows of our bus at the airport.) Flying on a charter flight for the first time was quite an experience - Movies, food, in-flight Internet and more food. Now I understand why people say, "Once you've flown on a charter flight, you won't want to go back to commercial." We arrived at the team hotel just after 4:00 pm. With over 1,500 rooms, and seemingly dozens of conference rooms and dining areas, it feels more like a small city than a hotel. Shortly after we arrived, our UND.com video crew spoke briefly with Coach Kelly, who joked that moving a team of 105 players to Orlando was easier than traveling with his three children. A few players traveled on the South Bend charter this afternoon, but most will arrive on Christmas Eve from their home airports. There will be a team meeting in the afternoon, before the first bowl practice in Orlando and a trip to Sea World tomorrow night. The excitement has only just begun here in Orlando. We'll have plenty of other updates coming throughout the week right here on Irish UNDerground, at UND.com and on the football Facebook page. It's beginning to look a lot like bowl season. - Josh Flynt ('11)
After a few weeks of college visits and meetings with coaches, Dayne Crist, who recently graduated from the Mendoza College of Business, made this announcement on his Twitter page earlier today: In joining the Jayhawks, Crist will reunite with former Irish coach Charlie Weis. The California native recently reflected on his experience at Notre Dame in an interview with Douglas Farmer of The Observer, recognizing that while he leaves South Bend, he will return to Our Lady's university often, perhaps as soon as May, to walk at graduation with his friends and classmates. While Crist moves on to a new team in his pursuit of the NFL dream, #10 is and always will be a Domer - a Notre Dame man who is as good a representative of this university as anyone I have seen during my time here. Thank you, Dayne. You will always be part of the Notre Dame family. - Josh Flynt ('11)
Fighting Irish Digital Media intern Josh Flynt ('11) continues to provide the inside scoop on the Notre Dame football program. He will have a series of updates as the Irish get ready for the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 29 in Orlando, Fla. After a night of bowling, go-karting and mini golfing at Strikes & Spares, the Notre Dame football team had one final practice in South Bend this morning before players were dismissed for a short holiday break. Just a few minutes ago, the football equipment truck, more affectionately known as "ND1," begun the journey south. After some much deserved family time, the team will reconvene in Orlando on Christmas Eve. In many ways, the team hotel in Florida will be swapped for the Gug here on campus. From position meetings to team meals and a players' lounge, the Irish will feel right at home, even though they will be more than a thousand miles from the comfort and familiarity of South Bend. I've never been to a bowl game before, but will be making the trip this year. Even before leaving Indiana, I've realized that while the ultimate goal is to come home with a win, the bowl experience is about much more than simply the game itself. The team has been, and will continue to be, focused on beating Florida State next Thursday, but the players will also get a chance to enjoy some time in the Sunshine State. There will be a lot going on throughout the week and beginning on Friday, Dec. 23, I hope to provide many updates regarding the on- and off-the-field happenings of the Irish in orlaNDo. Look for the latest on my Twitter account, be sure to keep an eye on the football Facebook and YouTube pages and check back right here at Irish UNDerground. Get your bowling shoes ready. Go Irish. - Josh Flynt ('11)
- Former Notre Dame All-American and NBA free-agent forward Troy Murphy signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, the team announced Sunday ... Murphy signed a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum, worth $1,352,181, which is a set figure by the league for all players with 10 or more years experience, according to a league source ... Murphy, 31, averaged 2.6 points and 2.2 rebounds and 10.5 minutes in 17 games with the Boston Celtics last season, finishing the year in Boston after beginning the season with the New Jersey Nets ... the 6-foot-11, 245-pound left-hander has career averages of 11.6 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 38.9 percent on 3-pointers in 10 seasons in the league ... the Lakers brought Murphy in for a private workout on Wednesday where he caught new coach Mike Brown's attention ... Murphy was a two-time consensus All-American and two-time BIG EAST Player of the Year in 1999 and 2000. - The FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) All-Independent team included Notre Dame's Cierre Wood, Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert, Zack Martin, Trevor Robinson, Aaron Lynch, Louis Nix III, Manti Te'o, Robert Blanton, Harrison Smith, David Ruffer and George Atkinson III as first-team selections ... Floyd was named the offensive player of the year, Te'o the defensive player of the year and Atkinson the special teams player of the year ... honorable mention notice went to Tommy Rees, Darius Fleming, Jamoris Slaughter, Jonas Gray, Taylor Dever and Gary Gray ... a national media panel representing the coverage markets of the independent institutions made the selections. - The Irish football team is in full swing with its bowl prep, with a walk-thru this morning, practice from 2:30-4:15 p.m. today, meetings tomorrow morning, then a final practice from noon-1:45 p.m. Tuesday ... the players can travel home late Tuesday and will reconvene in Orlando by 2:30 p.m. Saturday. - The Lincoln Journal Star yesterday reported that former Irish football center Rick Kaczenski (he started at center for Notre Dame in 1995-96-97), currently in his fifth year as defensive line coach at Iowa, is a top candidate for the defensive line coaching slot at Nebraska.
Though most people know him as a star running back at Notre Dame and a former all-Pro with the Pittsburgh Steelers, last week, Jerome Bettis was making an impression on Capitol Hill. "The Bus" was in Washington, D.C. to speak to lawmakers and officials about setting mercury emission limits in power plants that burn coal and oil. Bettis urged legislators to support the Environmental Protection Agency's Air Toxics Rule to mandate nationwide reductions of dangerous emissions of mercury, lead, arsenic, and acid gases. "My goal is for the members of Congress we meet with to understand just how important these rules are to people's health, and that they need to be implemented as soon as possible," he said. According to the American Lung Association, more than 175 million people live in the presence of unhealthy levels of air pollution. For the former Irish running back, it is also a personal matter. He was diagnosed with asthma at age 15. Bettis was joined in Washington by Clean Air Council analyst Katie Feeney, who explained the dangers that unsafe levels of mercury can have for women during pregnancy. Despite spending some time lobbying in our nation's capital, Bettis has no plans to pursue a career in politics. "For me, the problem is, with football, it's easy: You win or you lose. You give 110 percent every time, and that's it. But in politics, sometimes there's not a clear winner and not a clear loser," he said. "There's a lot of gray. So I've lived in a world of black and white, and politics, unfortunately, there's a give and a take... It's just an interesting dynamic that I'm not used to." Today, Bettis splits time between Atlanta and Pittsburgh, and is a businessman and commentator with NBC Sports. He has also established the Bus Stops Here Foundation, an organization that helps troubled and underprivileged children. - Josh Flynt ('11)