Noie: No Ireland trip OK if Notre Dame football season a go

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

An oversized piece of luggage summoned strictly for extended travel sits untouched in a basement corner between furnace filters and Christmas decorations.

The passport, never renewed over the previous five months because, well, there really was no point, resides in the family safe (location undisclosed), which also holds tickets to next summer’s Billy Joel show at Notre Dame Stadium.

Fall clothes originally required for the next week — jeans, pullovers, a light sweater — reside in the back of the closet, where they hopefully will stay for the next few months.

Tuesday was not supposed to be a crank out a column day. No time. Too much anticipation to think clearly. Gotta pack; gotta go. Tuesday was supposed to be a travel day. A long one. An intriguing one. It was to be a day that started in Northern Indiana and ended sometime the following morning not far from Northern Ireland following a red-eye across the Atlantic Ocean.

All of it on a scheduled flight (American 208) to cover a scheduled football game (Notre Dame-Navy) that both no longer exist. American 208 was not scheduled to depart O’Hare International Airport late Tuesday night (flight time, seven hours and 25 minutes), and Notre Dame no longer will play it’s season opener Saturday in Dublin, Ireland.

Scheduled to land late Wednesday morning in Ireland, you knew nothing of the country where you’d spend the next six days. There was a lot to learn and see and do and write about. You’d do it knowing a lot about this Irish team that opened Monday at No. 10 in the Associated Press preseason poll.

Yet as August staggers to its end, there’s nothing we’ve actually seen, even less we know and so little to write about regarding Notre Dame football. Everything about a team that’s expected to be really good continues to be one big blank slate for outsiders not allowed a look in.

If a college football team practices, but media eyes aren’t there to chart every snap, every formation, every lineup combination, every assistant’s outburst, does it really happen?

By now, we should know how the Irish offense operates under first-year coordinator Tommy Rees. We should know if quarterback Ian Book looks the part of a guy who has all the calls and audibles and leadership stuff down as a three-year starter. We should know if running back Jafar Armstrong is ready to be the gimmie-the-ball guy that can consistently run into open spaces and end zones and for over 1,000 yards. We should know what the depth chart looks like at tight end and wide receiver and just how good an expected really good offensive line really is.

On the other side of the ball, we should know what the rotation looks like along the defensive line. Who’s flustering the quarterback? Who’s stepped in place of the two pass rushers (Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara) who stepped to the NFL? We should know who grabbed ahold of the starting buck linebacker spot. We should have an idea of the depth in the secondary.

We don’t know any of it.

Media held out the slim hope that we might see something this month inside the stadium, albeit at a socially-distanced vantage point. Then that ‘Rona bomb dropped on campus last week, and any possibility of that plan disappeared.

Thanks, Legacy Village party people.

We’d have already talked several times face-to-face with head coach Brian Kelly. We’d have gotten our requisite 10 minutes — and not a second longer — with each of the assistants for the first time since last August. We’d have heard several times from the captains and a key senior or two. Maybe even sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton or an early impressive freshman. Yeah, sorry, wishful thinking.

These are weird times, and this is as weird a preseason as Notre Dame has experienced. There is no media access in the traditional sense. No practices. No first five periods. No nothing. Kelly last met reporters eight days ago in a 29-minute Zoom session where questions skipped around like a worn out 45 (ask your parents or grandparents) from the quarterbacks to the team’s Alphas to the freshmen and back to Book, then to buck linebacker.

The last time an Irish player sat in front of voice recorders and stared into cameras to answer football questions was after the Camping World Bowl. Come Friday, that was eight months ago.

Notre Dame’s tried to help in releasing practice photos and videos produced by its in-house production staff. But what can you truly learn of watching an eight-second clip of left tackle Liam Eichenberg blocking during position drills? Unless you treat it like the Zapruder film (ask your parents or grandparents), it’s hard to say. Is that the backup quarterback on the grassy knoll? Who was the second sacker? How about that right there? Or there?

Covering college football means seeing college football up close and personal. It needs to be heard. It needs to be felt. Anything else, and everything seems scripted. Not real. Like this preseason.

Soon enough, all of it may get real. The opener remains on schedule for two weeks from Saturday. After Wednesday, that’s only 16 more days. Actual games are planned to be played. There will be blocking and tackling and wins and losses. There might not be many fans or media, but everything’s so close that you can even begin to see it and feel it and hear it.

Seeing Dublin this week would’ve been cool. But as we barrel toward September, bouncing back into a college football coverage routine and rhythm would be cooler.

What do we know about Notre Dame football now barely two weeks out from the season opener? Because of the coronavirus pandemic, not nearly enough.