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.
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.