Trinity College Dublin was buzzing with joy and spirit yesterday at the campus’ Welcome Village, a hub for passionate fans of Boston College and Georgia Tech to eat, drink and be merry ahead of today’s widely anticipated College Football Classic in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.
Fans have taken over the city and were easy to spot, with the majority dressed head to toe in either gold and maroon for the Boston College Eagles, or gold, white and navy for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. College logos and insignias floated around on hats, shirts, scarves and signs, with merchandise tents standing in each corner of the square. Food and beer tents were loud with laughter and song, as Boston College and Georgia Tech alumni reminisced about their college days.
The main attractions were the pep rallies, including sparkling cheerleaders, sequin-clad dancers and massive, brilliant marching bands who filled TCD with fight songs and classics like Shipping up to Boston.
The soft, southern drawl of the Georgia accent mixed with the distinctive, friendly Boston accent was fascinating to hear against the architectural backdrop of Trinity College Dublin. All were delighted to be in Ireland - many had been before, and some made the trip especially for the football game, but were ecstatic about their tours of the country before and after the game.
I spoke to a wide variety of fans, from parents of the athletes to former college football players to alumni to professors to everyday Bostonians and Atlanta natives.
Bostonian Michael Mucci was standing on line to see the Book of Kells with his wife Mary Ellen - he played Defensive End for the Boston College football team, graduating in 1972:
“We’re here with eight former Boston College football players - we all played together 50 years ago,” he said. “We want to see a good game. Hopefully nobody gets hurt. A win would be very nice.” While Michael is proud of his Italian roots, Mary Ellen, whose maiden name is Vahey, has roots in Galway, and the couple says they’ve been to Ireland numerous times, gushing over Aran sweaters and the Ring of Kerry.
After touring the southwest of Ireland over the last week, Georgia Tech alumni Sid and Maria Davis of Atlanta said that while they plan to retire to Florida in the coming years, they are now officially thinking about purchasing a home in or around Co. Kerry for the summer months.
Sid, who graduated in 1978, said: “They’re going to do very well. I think they’re going to win - most definitely. They’re favored a little bit. Favored by three points. They have a slight edge. It’s not going to be a knockout or anything, but they have an edge. The score might be 21-17.”
“We’re with a group that was planned by Georgia Tech,” Maria said. “They sold all 9,000 tickets within a day or two. There are probably 15,000 people here from Georgia Tech alone.”
Dublin is experiencing a tourism boost of €19 million from the weekend’s high profile game and festivities. Fáilte Ireland’s Director of Business Development Paul Keeley said in a press release: “Our largest international sporting event for 2016, the Aer Lingus College Football Classic is set to provide a great boost to local tourism. We are delighted to welcome all the participants and supporters to Ireland and look forward to an exciting weekend both on and off the field.”
“We want to ensure that our US visitors, in terms of their experience here, enjoy the full Irish [experience] and it is essential that activities off the pitch are just as entertaining as on. With both colleges travelling with a 150 piece strong marching band and cheerleading troops, anyone who visits Trinity College over the weekend will be in for a treat.”
One Atlanta native, Suzie, who thinks GT will win 21-7, said that she met her Irish third cousin yesterday morning for the first time. Upon recently finding out she has family in Dublin, she and her husband Scott, who’s been an avid GT fan for 50 years, decided they’ll definitely make the trip to Ireland to enjoy the game and meet their long lost cousin.
It was no surprise that almost all of the Bostonians had Irish roots or family: “Boston College was the first major university to take an intellectual interest in Ireland,” said Kathy McCabe, who was partaking in the festivities with her two former BC roommates, Kristi and Rosemary. “They started the Irish Studies program around 1979 and was the first major American university to establish it as an academic discipline.”
“They’re absolutely going to win,” she added confidently.
With both fan bases so positively sure their own team will win, I can’t say I’m convinced in one direction. But there was one picnic table in the beer garden where a married couple from Georgia Tech and two young college buddies from Boston College sat together drinking beers, who proved to me what the weekend is all about. “In the US college sports atmosphere, both teams party and get along,” said GT alum Scott Schmidt. “European team rivalries are so intense. It’s like life or death. We’re not quite that intense,” he said, laughing with his wife Darra and the two young Bostonians, Vincent and Armando, who they’d only met ten minutes earlier.
There wasn’t an ounce of competition or animosity in the Welcome Village - everyone was ecstatic to be in Dublin supporting their own team to their fullest potential. I officially root for both. Who do you think is going to win?