Oct. 1, 2009
By Jeremy Cothran
SEATTLE - The pomp and pageantry at Notre Dame make it one of the most unique places in college football. Because of its status as a national team, players around the country have grown up indoctrinated into the Fighting Irish culture - the fight song, the mural of Touchdown Jesus, the Grotto and the Golden Dome atop the Administration Building.
For the Washington coaching staff, part of the game plan is acclimatizing the team to the atmosphere at Notre Dame. At least a few of the Huskies will be no doubt compelled by the university's history, but the coaches stress this trip will be strictly business. It's hard enough to prepare for the Fighting Irish's assortment of talent without worrying about players succumbing to the environment.
"You can make the mistake of going there and treating the place like a vacation," Sarkisian said. "Going to the Grotto and going to College Football Hall of Fame and going to look at Touchdown Jesus. We won't do that. This is a business trip."
This is just the third trip to South Bend for Washington and the first since 2004. It's never been a welcoming environment -- the Huskies are winless against the Fighting Irish.
To combat what could be a hostile road environment, Sarkisian once again has had the team practice with piped-in music this week. Last weekend against Stanford, the Huskies played in a half-filled stadium and had no problem making line calls or audibles. This weekend in front of 80,000 fans should be different. In fact, during Wednesday's UW practice, the Notre Dame fight song was played on a continuous loop the entire time.
In order to put his team outside the hubbub of South Bend, Sarkisian insisted the players stay in a quieter location. So the Huskies will bunk in nearby Michigan City, Ind., a lakefront town almost 40 miles from Notre Dame's campus. Because of the three-hour time zone change, Washington plans to leave on Thursday afternoon (for most games, the Huskies typically fly out on a Friday).
During the trip, the team will essentially have their activities planned down to the hour. Once they touch down in South Bend, it's off to the hotel. On Friday, the Huskies plan to hold a walkthrough at Notre Dame Stadium, followed by meetings and meals. The coaches don't want players sightseeing around the campus or South Bend, a mistake Sarkisian admitted was made once while he was an assistant at USC.
"We did all the sightseeing and the different things, and we didn't perform great," Sarkisian said. "We were a different team and they were a different team. Since those times, it's been about the business trip, not staying in South Bend, just get away a little bit. We just go play the game. It's like any hostile environment. It's not a whole lot different than going to Oregon and coming to play in Husky Stadium ... But it's fun. It's exciting."
The Trojans have played the Fighting Irish home-and-away every year - with a break during World War II - since 1926, a rivalry that originated because Notre Dame was looking to gain exposure by playing a national schedule. So Sarkisian is well versed in how to prepare for a trip to South Bend.
Still, that doesn't mean the Huskies aren't excited about playing at Notre Dame Stadium. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim grew up dreaming of one day playing there. Quarterback Jake Locker told the media on Monday that he briefly considered the school during his recruiting process, mostly because of his Catholic upbringing.
But they also don't expect to be awed by the experience.
"The football field doesn't change at all, no matter where you play," said Te'o-Nesheim. "It's going to be loud. We know they have a great tradition and it will just be a lot of fun."