In 53 days and a wake up, we play Navy. I became acquainted with the “and a wake up” method of counting days when I was deployed and would anticipate going home as the sum of any number of days “and a wake up.” That the phrase includes the act of sleeping makes it particluarly appropriate when considering Purdue and the possible negative effects playing in Dublin will have on the Irish in 2012.
The NFL has played a game in London every year since 2007, when the New York Giants played the Miami Dolphins. In 2008, the Chargers played the Saints (Who Dat!). In 2009, the Patriots played the Buccaneers. In 2010, the ’49ers played the Broncos and in 2011, the Buccaneers returned to Wembley to take on the Bears. After each London game, the teams returned to a bye week.
What happened to each team after the bye should raise a few red flags for Irish fans: the collective record of teams playing in London is 32-52. Of course, statistics out-of-context are usually misleading, and the London stats are no different. The 2007 Giants, for example, went 4-4 after London and still won the Super Bowl. The 2007 Dolphins went 1-15, for the season, so the argument can be made, and won, that it didn’t matter where on the planet the Fish played that year. Still, the post-London records are what they are. And here they are, thanks to Josh Katzowitz at CBS Sports: Giants (4-4), Dolphins (1-7), Saints (4-4), Chargers (5-3), Patriots (5-4), Buccaneers (3-6, 0-9), 49ers (4-4), Broncos (2-6), and Bears (4-5).
The Irish give us a season to analyze, too. In 1996, ND played Navy in Dublin in Lou Holtz’s last season as head coach. The Irish were 4-2 when they flew to Ireland for a November 2 game, followed, without a break, by Boston College, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Southern California. ND beat Navy and BC and annihilated Pitt and Rutgers. They ended the season with a loss, though, 27-20 in overtime to USC, away.
You can argue that the NFL teams who have played in London have been mediocre to bad and their post-London schedules accurately reflect that. You can also argue that the 1996 Irish suffered no ill-effects from their jaunt across The Pond, given their four consecutive wins, two of which were 60+ point punishings of Rutgers and Pitt. But, maybe all that travel did, finally, catch up to them in SoCal.
What concerns me most about 2012 and our trip to Dublin is that it’s the first game. If things go wrong, there’s not a lot of room to recover, not with Michigan State and Michigan waiting in the wings. And yes, I intentionally skipped over Purdue. Purdue, like BC in 1996, is our bye and scheduling them the week after traveling to Ireland and the week before Sparty tells you a lot about how we feel about them. “With proven experience at quarterback [. . .] and a defense littered with potential all-league talent, a second straight winning season is a realistic goal.” Actually, that’s not how ND feels about Purdue, that’s how Athlon Sports feels about Purdue. But, my point is the same: Purdue allows us to come back, get our legs underneath us, and get into what is going to be a season for the ages, one way or another. Finally, by saving the bye for later, we get to use it to full advantage and maybe get some players off of IR, instead of just recalibrating our circadian rhythms.
The NFL-London experience is worth keeping in mind when trying to prognosticate the coming season. While the teams that have played in London have not come back as world beaters, that may be more their fault than anything else. By playing a marquee matchup in Dublin, the Irish open 2012 in high style. By scheduling Purdue the next week, ND is banking on the Boilermakers being more bye than burden.