FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Brian Kelly was the first off the plane, joined by Jack Swarbrick and both men's families. Kelly was greeted by a couple of men in orange jackets, and he looked out into a sea of orange blazers and shirts — and yes, the orange mascot — while taking in the number of cheers from a segment of fans who made the trip for Notre Dame's arrival here.
Then he walked the orange carpet and proceeded to a bus, stopping to kid that there was no way in the world he was squeezing into the small opening that the media pack had left for him before it crowded the Irish head coach even further.
Every Notre Dame player who should be here for the Discover BCS National Championship is here, Kelly said. DaVaris Daniels, seven weeks removed from a broken left clavicle, will play a role against Alabama, the coach re-affirmed. And even though the third-year Irish head man has stated that this is a business trip, he can appreciate the attention bestowed upon his program following a 24-year absence from a stage like this, and he hopes his players can, too.
"We want to have fun while were here, too," Kelly said. "It's a business trip; there's no question we're here to play the game. But I want our guys relaxed. They've done all the work. We got some practices that we got to take care of, but I want them relaxed and ready to play."
"We're going to get our work done and we're going to enjoy our time here," he later added, "but we're going to get the proper rest necessary. Look, you don't go 35 days and condition your team to come out here and blow it for three days, so we've had plenty of fun. We'll enjoy our time here, but we're here to win a football game."
The team playing for a championship Monday against the team that has won two of the past three will get an up-close look at another title winner later Wednesday, as the Irish players are going to the Miami Heat's home tilt with the Dallas Mavericks.
The other heat will await the Irish on Thursday, with temperatures expected to be near the 80s in the days leading up to the game.
Indoor practices in the frigid South Bend, Ind., winter have been the best the Irish can do until now, when the waiting has turned into something more tangible with the game just five days away.
"I'm definitely a little nervous right now," receiver Robby Toma said. "But if you don't feel nerves then something's wrong with you. This is a huge game. This is what you grow up for and what you want to play for when you're young."
Kelly saw a different look in his players' eyes in boarding this flight, their fifth and final one of the season.
"Absolutely," he said. "They're going to play the national championship game in Miami. It's not like any trip that they've had before. It's not like any trip that I've had before. So there was anticipation that when we got on the buses to the airport that they were really excited about this trip. It's something that you dream about when you play this game and when you coach this game."