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Northwestern Wildcats shock Nebraska Cornhuskers in Aer Lingus College Football Classic

The college football season kicks off with the long-delayed Aer Lingus College Football Classic in Dublin, Ireland between Nebraska and Northwestern

The college football season kicks off with the long-delayed Aer Lingus College Football Classic in Dublin, Ireland between Nebraska and Northwestern
Oisin KeniryGetty

While the NFL has been busy trying to conquer London, college football has its sights set firmly on the Emerald Isle. Sponsored by Irish national airline Aer Lingus, the College Football Classic was cancelled in both 2020 and 2021.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers had been scheduled to play in the ill-fated 2021 game and they flew across the pond this year to face off against the Northwestern Wildcats. Heavily favored, the Huskers were stunned by the Wildcats who upended a double-digit lead by Nebraska.

Showing promise early in the third quarter, the Huskers elected to go for an onside kick after going up 28-17. Not fooled in the least, Northwestern mounted a 44-yard drive cut the lead to just four points.

Picking off quarterback Casey Thompson, Northwestern strung together a six-play, 42-yard touchdown drive to take the lead. Killing the clock in the fourth quarter by simply keeping the ball on the ground, the Wildcats picked off Thompson on the following Nebraska possession to ice it.

The crowd featured around 13,000 Americans on the road, but the local presence in the stands more than matched it, with close to 40,000 attending. At one point the credit card machines could not connect to the internet, and with vendors in the Aviva Stadium unable to accept cash, there was only one thing for it. Irish hospitality won out over capitalism and all the beer and food was simply given away. Slainte!

History of college football games in Ireland

While it may seem incongruous to see American college football being played in Ireland, the strong links between the two countries mean that this is not the first time that it has happened. With over 40 million Americans being of Irish descent, the ties that bind the two nations are strong indeed.

Bringing in an estimated €63 million ($62.7 million) to the Irish economy, it is an event that organizers hope will become an annual fixture in the college football calendar.

The first college football game played in Ireland was back in 1988 when Boston College faced Army in what was called the Emerald Isle Classic. That event was repeated in 1989 when Pitt faced Rutgers, with both of those games being played in the now-demolished Lansdowne Road Stadium.

Reviving the event in 1996, renamed the Shamrock Classic, Notre Dame took on Navy in that holiest of holies, Croke Park, scene of the infamous Bloody Sunday massacre during the Irish struggle for independence from Britain.

Shelved until 2012, the once-again Emerald Isle Classic returned with a repeat of the Notre Dame contest with Navy, this time in the newly-constructed Aviva Stadium, home of the Irish national rugby and soccer teams.

Two years later, in 2014, the game returned to Croke Park, with Penn State facing UCF in what was dubbed the Croke Park Classic, which saw an incredible 53,304 fans pack in to see the game.

Another two years went by and Irish national airline Aer Lingus stepped in to sponsor the game in 2016, where Georgia Tech took on Boston College in what was now dubbed the Aer Lingus College Football Classic. Success in the event encouraged organizers and sponsors to try and make this into an annual event.

2020 was meant to see the first of the games, with Notre Dame scheduled to take on Navy. The worldwide pandemic saw the event cancelled and 2021 was scheduled to have Nebraska face Illinois. Lingering travel restrictions saw this game ultimately cancelled as well.

Now, after six years without college football in Dublin, the Classic has returned and it is scheduled to repeat in 2023 as well, with a repeat matchup of that Notre Dame vs Navy matchup. While it remains to be seen if the Irish really love college football, it is pretty certain that college football loves Ireland.


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