Playing for ancient wood and iconic steel in Ireland’s “cathedral”

crokeparklines

Workers line the field at Croke Park on Friday. (Jason Plotkin – Daily Record/Sunday News)

It’s the perfect and yet strangest combination of materials in producing a football trophy.

We’re billing it as the “world’s oldest and newest trophy.”On mobile? Click here to view photo gallery

It’s the Dan Rooney Trophy — what Penn State or Central Florida earns when it wins Saturday’s Croke Park Classic here in Dublin.

And it was on display at the stadium on the eve of the most unusual overseas matchup to open the season. Of most importance, we learned that the football on the trophy is carved from bog yew once buried underground for 4,500 years. And that the steel supporting it came from long-lost Three Rivers Stadium in the Steel City.

We’re not sure these Nittany Lions really care much for the historical perspective of such things. Croke Park personnel at least hope they take away the aura the stadium holds in this country. Every Irishman who plays in this place is an amateur, their teams representing home towns.

Here's a look at the Croke Park Classic trophy. (Frank Bodani - Daily Record/Sunday News)

Here’s a look at the Croke Park Classic trophy. (Frank Bodani – Daily Record/Sunday News)

And above stadium organizers don’t want anyone else walking on the grass (It’s a pitch, not a field). “You’ve got to earn your way, sacrifice,” our tour guide said. “It’s the one sort of respect or the one privilege the players get, is that they’re the only guys who walk out there.”

But they made a rare exception for Penn State, and presumably the Knights from UCF. They got to not only tour the historic stadium leading up to Saturday’s game, they got to check out the grass.

The point is that renovated Croke Park is much more than a landmark of a stadium. Not only does it hold the biggest matches in Ireland’s beloved Gaelic Games, its significance runs much deeper, considering it was the site of “Bloody Sunday” in 1920, when British forces stormed the place during an event with shots fired and 14 left dead.

“This is a cathedral. This is probably one of the most iconic places in Dublin. It’s hallowed ground,” said stadium director Peter McKenna. “Everything about here is relevant of what our identity is, what our culture is. This is the most important building in the city.”

And that’s saying something for a medieval city.

Now, it becomes the destination for 14,500 traveling Penn State fans who expect to badly outnumber the Central Florida supporters (only 1,500). The 35,000 or so other hopefuls in the stands will be made up of curious folks from Dublin and the rest of Europe.

Penn State’s following is “probably a little more than what we expected,” McKenna said. Though it doesn’t stack up to the 35,000 Americans who traveled here two years ago to watch Notre Dame play Navy at newer Aviva Stadium.

McKenna described that as the largest “movement of Americans at peacetime.”

Certainly, tomorrow will be something altogether different for first-year coach James Franklin and his program that is staring down a third-straight year of not being allowed into a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions.

This is their first game of a new season and of yet another new era. They will play and then immediately load up and fly home, arriving in State College early Sunday morning.

If nothing else, they hope to take that ancient wood and iconic steel with them.

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In Ireland, it’s all in the pudding … for breakfast, that is.

Penn State playing football in Ireland means that I must do my best to explore the culture of the homeland.

Which means I was driven to find a top-shelf Irish breakfast.

We dived into this "full Irish breakfast" in downtown Dublin. Those two little "cakes" on the right??

We dived into this “full Irish breakfast” in downtown Dublin. Those two little “cakes” on the right??

Because, like I always say about Penn State road trips, since everyone has to eat, it might as well be an adventure. And so a recommendation took photographer Jason Plotkin and I to Bewley’s Grafton Street Café in the heart of Dublin.

Getting there involved walking past new Aviva Stadium, the glass and steel structure that looks like a harp on its side. It meant meeting Penn State fans from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on the train platform on our way downtown.

It meant walking on narrow streets where cars and double-decked buses fly around curves on the left side of the road and everyone’s front door seems to be painted one bright color or another.

It was a gorgeous, sunny morning. Wednesday here felt like late-October in State College. Thursday felt like a bowl game in Tampa, Florida. Every stone stone wall on a winding street that guarded some tightly-fitted cottages reminded me of the movie, Billy Elliot.

Finally, it was time for breakfast.

Bewley’s Café is known as Dublin’s largest (400 seats), oldest (1927) and busiest (1 million customers a year). Manager Sean Duffy told stories of the restaurant’s stunning history in regards to the tea and coffee trades. He talked about those brilliant hand-painted stained glass windows adorning the dining room that are more than 80 years old.

Of course, we came for the food.

Things started with perfectly-designed, art-topped cups of cappuccinos. No sugar was needed, Duffy explained, because the milk is of such high quality. And the milk is so good because of the cows that produce it. And the cows are so special because of the “grass and the rain” and …

The highlight, though, was the “full Irish breakfast.” It’s a top-seller with at least a few thousand served here every week.

It included potato farl (a pancake), grilled ham, sausage, a tomato half, tiny mushrooms, a poached egg and two slices of toast. It was accompanied by fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Everything is grilled so it is healthier, Duffy explained with a straight face, and we wanted to believe him. We also added a giant, made-in-house fruit scone, another Bewley special.

But the plate’s Tour de force was the traditional black and white pudding. The blood pudding. Those two petite, innocent-looking dollops, almost resembling tiny pastries.

I had heard of this stuff. I pretty much could guess what it was made of, but I didn’t really want to know. I felt compelled to try it because I was in Ireland and that’s what you do when you’re in Ireland, right?

Continue reading “In Ireland, it’s all in the pudding … for breakfast, that is.” »

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Penn State and football? First, our Irish initiation

The Penn State football team landed in Ireland, breezed through customs and headed to Croke Park for lunch before practice.

The Cedar Cliff High football team landed just a bit later. The Colts immediately went on a bus tour of Dublin.

We arrived with Cedar Cliff, and the first thing we did was find Tony O’Brien our cab driver, tour guide and welcoming party to the city. The heck that it was cloudy, only 60 degrees and windy with rain approaching.

We were riding on the left side of the road and learning in style on the way to our hotel. The football teams would wait.

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O’Brien is middle-aged and a Dublin native. He was friendly, polite, and so what if he cursed every five words, it was done smoothly and seemed quite natural.

“It’s just us being demonstrative, emphatic,” O’Brien explained. “No point in being offended because you’re going to hear it everywhere you go. … It’s just the way we are. That’s all you going to hear.”

But we also wanted to know about food. Somewhere we should go, something in particular we should experience as Americans on our first visit.

He started talking about coddle.

Continue reading “Penn State and football? First, our Irish initiation” »

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PSU’s Franklin getting in game mode ahead of Croke Park Classic

Penn State coach James Franklin speaks during his weekly news conference Tuesday in State College a few hours before the team was scheduled to leave for Dublin for the Croke Park Classic against Central Florida on Saturday. (Centre Daily Times -- Nabil K. Mark )

Penn State coach James Franklin speaks during his weekly news conference Tuesday in State College a few hours before the team was scheduled to leave for Dublin for the Croke Park Classic against Central Florida on Saturday. (Centre Daily Times — Nabil K. Mark )


While he wants his players to enjoy the experience the trip to Ireland will bring, Penn State coach James Franklin was adamant that the team’s priorities remain Saturday’s game against Central Florida in the Croke Park Classic.

“Number one, we’re going to play a game and so is Central Florida,” Franklin said in Tuesday’s teleconference. “We’re going to deal with all the same issues, flying to another country and the time zones and all of those things. So I think that’s helpful. It’s not like you’re flying somewhere and playing a team in their element.”

The coach acknowledged the unique setting of traveling 3,300 miles to play in another country. Still, he wants a game-day approach to the trip.

Penn State goes to Ireland: Your home for complete coverage
“This is not going to be a once‑in‑a‑lifetime experience. For us, this is a business trip to go play a football game no different than if we were playing at State College High School,” he said. “But this trip is not about enjoying the countryside. This is an opportunity to take a special trip. I think it’s going to be great for the fans, but we’re going to play a football game. There will be some activities we have, but very little of that.”

Continue reading “PSU’s Franklin getting in game mode ahead of Croke Park Classic” »

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Ki-Jana and the Rose Bowl 20 years later

Penn State All-American running back Ki-Jana Carter has been selected for induction into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame, joining legendary coaches Knute Rockne and Dick Vermeil.

Joe Paterno's last undefeated season was sparked by tailback Ki-Jana Carter, now a Rose Bowl Hall of Famer, 20 years later.

Joe Paterno’s last undefeated season was sparked by tailback Ki-Jana Carter, now a Rose Bowl Hall of Famer, 20 years later.

Carter was a key member of the 1995 Rose Bowl Championship squad that capped off a perfect 12-0 season with a 38-20 win over Oregon on Jan. 2, 1995.

Coach Joe Paterno’s 1994 squad, led by first-team All-Americans Carter, Kyle Brady, Kerry Collins, Bobby Engram and Jeff Hartings, will be recognized at the home-opener against Akron on Saturday, Sept. 6 as part of their 20-year reunion. Kickoff is set for noon at Beaver Stadium for Coach James Franklin’s first home game.

The Rose Bowl Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place on December 30 at the Pasadena Convention Center, two days before the 101st Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual.

“It’s a true honor from the Tournament of Roses and the Rose Bowl committee to be selected for induction into the Hall of Fame,” Carter said. “Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl was everything and I always dreamed about playing in the Rose Bowl. To play in the Rose Bowl and be the MVP of the game, it was awesome, but now it’s the ultimate honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It is pretty overwhelming.

“This is an honor that I share with all of my teammates, it just shows how special that year was,” Carter added. “It was only our second year in the conference and we go undefeated and to the Rose Bowl, that’s pretty special. Without my linemen, my tight ends, my quarterback and the receivers all throwing blocks out there for me, I wouldn’t be here. It’s awesome that this is coming up now because our 1994 team is being honored at the Akron game and I will have time to reflect and share this honor with them.”

Carter, who finished second in the 1994 Heisman Trophy voting, earned co-MVP honors in the Rose Bowl after rushing for 156 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. He ran for an 83-yard touchdown on the first offensive play of the game, which is the third-longest run in Rose Bowl history and the longest run in Penn State bowl history.

The 1994 Nittany Lions won their first Big Ten Championship in just their second year in the conference. Penn State became the first Big Ten team to post a perfect 12-0 mark, making the Nittany Lions the first conference team to post an unblemished record since the 1968 Ohio State team. The 1994 Lions were a record setting bunch, breaking 11 Penn State records and seven Big Ten records. Penn State’s 48.1 scoring average in conference games is a record that still stands today.

Carter’s Rose Bowl performance capped an outstanding junior season in which he led the country with a 7.8 yards per carry average. He also finished fourth nationally in rushing (139.9), second in scoring (10.8 ppg) and fifth in all-purpose yardage (158.4). Carter led the Big Ten in all three categories.

Carter was runner-up to Rashaan Salaam of Colorado for the Heisman Trophy and a finalist for the Maxwell Award. His 1,539 yards rushing in 1994 remains the third-best season total in Penn State history, and 23 touchdowns are tied for second to Lydell Mitchell’s 29 TDs in 1971.

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PSU bound for Ireland

Frank Bodani and Jim Seip discuss news surrounding Penn State and Big Ten football about a week before the Lions fly to Ireland for the season-opening game against Central Florida.

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Penn State football chat, 8 p.m., Aug. 18

The Nittany Lions are beginning to hit the homestretch of preseason camp. They leave for Dublin, Ireland a week from tomorrow.

The Lions are stacked at tailback. Where does Zach Zwinak fit into the plans?

The Lions are stacked at tailback. Where does Zach Zwinak fit into the plans?

Let’s chat about how James Franklin and his Lions have fared so far and what we may expect from them over the next two weeks leading up to the opener against Central Florida.

We know the offensive line would be an issue, but how much has that been complicated by a banged-up Donovan Smith? How much will the defense be upgraded this fall with new coordinator Bob Shoop?

We’ll talk about that and more, including recruiting, tonight from 8 to 9.

In the meantime, check out the most recent Penn State podcast from Jim Seip and myself which goes in-depth about Adam Breneman and how the offense will deal with his latest setback.

Posted in Adam Breneman, Bob Shoop, Chat, coaching staff, Donovan Smith, Fans, Football, Frank Bodani, Injuries, James Franklin, Jim Seip, Penn State, Recruiting, Zach Zwinak | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How can PSU overcome Breneman injury?

Tight end Adam Breneman has an injury, one that could keep him out of action for multiple games or even the entire season. How will the Nittany Lions overcome the injury? Reporters Jim Seip and Frank Bodani discuss the latest with Penn State football in the most recent podcast.

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How many elite cornerbacks will the Lions land?

Penn State now finds itself in a most unique recruiting situation.

It just landed one of the top cornerbacks in the nation … and is in prime condition to land another in the coming months.

And maybe even a third, if everything rolls right.

 Jordan Lucas believes Penn State is turning into "DBU." Their elite cornerback recruiting may back that up.

Jordan Lucas believes Penn State is turning into “DBU.” Their elite cornerback recruiting may back that up.

This all comes after some were beginning to wonder if James Franklin and the Nittany Lions would get any of their highest-profile defensive back prospects in this 2014 recruiting cycle.

Continue reading “How many elite cornerbacks will the Lions land?” »

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Penn State football chat, 8 p.m., Aug. 11

One week of preseason camp is over, so let’s chat about where James Franklin and the Nittany Lions are headed.

Youngster Geno Lewis is being counted on to lead even younger Lions receivers.

Youngster Geno Lewis is being counted on to lead even younger Lions receivers.

Join me at 8 on Monday evening to talk about the progress of the offensive line and those young receivers, as well as the ever-important backups to quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

Plus, we’ll hit on recruiting and the sooner-than-expected decision and commitment of top cornerback John Reid.

And are you heading to Ireland to watch the Lions and Central Florida? Will it be coach George O’Leary’s last game? Daily Record photographer Jason Plotkin and I are going, so I want to hear your best travel details to get us ready.

In the meantime, check out my column from today on the value of Bill Belton … the most versatile Nittany Lion.

Former Penn State lineman Pete Curkendall and his wife are raising a family of special needs children.

Former Penn State lineman Pete Curkendall and his wife are raising a family of special needs children.

Plus, it’s always the right time to talk about former Nittany Lions doing good. And no one shows that more than Pete Curkendall. Check out his remarkable family story here.

And here is another piece on Curkendall’s up-and-down career and his after-Penn State connection with Joe Paterno.

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