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Big Stages Nothing New To Notre Dame

The home of Super Bowls XLII and XLIX is set up and awaits the Fighting Irish on Friday.

Dec. 30, 2015

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By Leigh Torbin

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -

As Shakespeare's Jaques so famously observes in As You Like It, "all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."

It may be true in a metaphorical sense, but when broken down literally, Notre Dame men are regularly players on bigger stages than many of their peers.

The latest entrance for the Irish came on Wednesday afternoon as the team toured University of Phoenix Stadium, the palatial home of the Arizona Cardinals, site of the New England Patriots' latest Super Bowl victory in February and also Friday's BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl.

It is merely the latest entrance because this stage will be the 14th different Super Bowl host venue to also play host to a Fighting Irish football team. It will be the 13th current NFL stadium to welcome Notre Dame and the third this season. Notre Dame has played in at least one active NFL stadium in each of the past eight seasons. The Irish also played on some of baseball's most hallowed turf in November at Fenway Park.

Not confined largely to a single region like nearly all college football teams, Notre Dame will have played in nine of the top 12 television markets over the careers of the current senior class, including this second game in the DMA of No. 12 Phoenix. From New York to Los Angeles, even a jaunt to Dublin, Ireland, Notre Dame football is never an off-Broadway play.

One man who in his time has played many parts is Jarrett Grace. The Irish have won each of their last six contests in NFL stadiums and he has contributed to several.

Then, Shakespeare's whining school-boy with his satchel and shining morning face, Grace took to an NFL field for the first time with Notre Dame in a 41-3 drubbing of Miami on Oct. 6, 2012, at Chicago's Soldier Field. Now a graduate student and, per the bard of Avon, with eyes severe, and beard of formal cut, full of wise saws and modern instances, Grace plays his part. He knows it well.

 

 

"I feel a lot more confident as I take the field now," he says. "You're really trying to prove yourself in that first year and let everyone know that you can compete on this level. Now, I walk on the field with pure confidence. My preparation level is much higher now. I was figuring things out then whereas now it's smooth sailing and I know how to operate. It's a good feeling."

Another good feeling occurred on Wednesday as he walked on the green grass of University of Phoenix Stadium, an awe-inspiring setting for his final collegiate contest. Gawking at the world-class stadium which enveloped even the not-easily-impressed Irish on Wednesday afternoon, Grace turned again toward childish treble.

"Even though I think we are little spoiled with the venues we play in, I don't think the guys ever take it for granted," Grace commented. "You see them playing with their phones taking pictures. This University of Phoenix stadium is one of those top tier incredible places to play. I never knew you could play on grass indoors!

"We do recognize that it's really special. Notre Dame can make a lot of these really special things happen. I think we're going to relish the moment, fly around and recognize at the same time that it's just a football field like we're on every day."

Grace's senior class is 8-2 in NFL facilities. The group is looking for its third-straight bowl game win. This world stage is familiar for the Notre Dame men. Indeed, the players know what will be required to win on Friday morning.

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Leigh Torbin, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013 and serves as the football publicity team's top lieutenant while coordinating all media efforts for Irish women's lacrosse. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.

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