Irish excited to return to Bronx

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The warm-weather edict kept the Big Apple off Notre Dame players' radars in the week after their regular season finale. But as the New Era Pinstripe Bowl persisted -- Brian Kelly joked that former Irish player and current bowl exec John Mosley wouldn't leave him alone -- Yankee Stadium began to look like more of a reality. And if Kelly needed to do an extra bit of convincing, all he had to was stand before the seats of the Gug auditorium and point to the projector behind him.

"When I was standing here in front of this big screen, I put up the PowerPoint, I went from talking about the Pinstripe Bowl, had my guys' attention," Kelly said. "They came out of their chairs when I showed them the bowl package. I didn't get that popular in a very short period of time. They were very excited about the things they were going to get from the bowl package. And it's New York. It's New York at Christmastime. Just the ability to do a lot of things. A lot of these guys haven't been to New York at that time. They were pretty excited about it."

Players later revealed they will receive PlayStation 4s. They will also use the New York Giants' practice complex in East Rutherford, N.J. Trips to Ground Zero and other area landmarks are also on the docket.

Shorts and flip-flops might be replaced by winter coats and boots, but the impending matchup with Rutgers and all that surrounds it has the Irish much more intrigued than initially anticipated.

"I guess you hear so much about the other bowls, we didn't think that the Pinstripe Bowl was one of the options we would have," receiver TJ Jones said. "So when we heard it, it wasn't a shock but it was, Oh, we didn't know that bowl was in our options. But now, after we realized what we'd already be able to do in New York, be it Rockefeller Center, the venues that we'll be able to see and also playing in Yankee Stadium again, and we're definitely excited to play."

The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl looked like an option, but it would have required some extra legwork, which ultimately became doomed once Northern Illinois lost the Mid-American Conference title game Friday night. (Reports surfaced about the Irish going to New York earlier that day.) The Sheraton Hawaii Bowl was desirable, too, but its Christmas Eve date made things extremely difficult on a group whose final exams end just four days before.

So it's back to the Bronx, where the current senior class beat Army in the 2010 Shamrock Series. That group remembers the Jumbotron that it lacks in their six home contests, and it remembers playing in the first football game at the new Yankee Stadium, which is hosting its fourth bowl game.

"We had the Yankees locker room, being there and getting ready in those guys' locker room and being out," left tackle Zack Martin said. "The whole baseball field, the way it's set up is pretty cool, and then playing a team like Army, it's kind of a special moment."

Martin, a two-time captain, reasoned that a four-loss team such as Notre Dame cannot get upset at anyone for not playing in warm weather, and that the team is happy with its new destination.

For Notre Dame's eight players from New York and New Jersey, it is a welcome change to be home for the holidays.

"A lot of my family and friends, close followers, support back from home didn't really get a chance to come to a lot of the games," said captain Bennett Jackson, a Hazlet, N.J., native. "Now I'll get a chance to see them. I can stay after the game in New Jersey a little longer and see my family. But it's really great to be able to play at home, my last game in front of all my family."