By MICHAEL WANBAUGH
THE GOSHEN NEWS
On a day meant to discuss the ins and outs of the most important college football game of the season, “Trick Shot Monday,” stole the show here at Sun Life Stadium Saturday.
Sure, the media day circus for this year’s BCS National Championship game between top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama Monday night featured plenty of stuffy football business, but all it took to lighten the mood was a ping-pong ball, a cup of water and the BCS National Championship trophy.
Led by ESPN personality Samantha (Steele) Ponder, several Notre Dame players took part in a spirited challenge to be the first to throw (or bounce) the ping-pong ball into the cup of water.
It’s a game that has become a tradition on Monday’s at the Fighting Irish practice facility in South Bend this season. Apparently it’s just as fun to play on a Saturday in South Florida.
Dozens of reporters and cameramen huddled around the BCS National Championship trophy as Ponder and Notre Dame players Mike Golic Jr., Cierre Wood, Carlo Calabrese and John Goodman took turns trying to make a shot.
Special attention was paid to having the ball first bounce off the national championship trophy that was sitting at midfield along the sideline.
For about 10 minutes the shots kept coming and the crowd kept growing.
It got to the point where a BCS official near commotion started to worry about the trophy’s safety.
The crystal football on top of the base is detachable and very fragile.
Finally, Ponder sank a shot and the players erupted, picking her up to celebrate her victory.
Alabama players and coaches took the field first for Saturday’s media day, as several top players and head coach Nick Saban took spots in six different interview booths along the northeast sideline.
The rest of the team sat in the seats past the corner of the end zone, all wearing their game jerseys. The same process was repeated for Notre Dame.
Each team had an hour of media availability. The sideline was packed with an army of reporters toting cameras and tape recorders. According to BCS officials there were 850 media credentials issued and that doesn’t include ESPN journalists and technicians.
One ESPN writer estimated that the cable sports network that will telecast Monday’s game has more than 100 people working the game.
One of those videographers is 1993 Goshen High School graduate Shawn Dechant.
The BCS official also said there were 328 credential requests that were denied.
One reporter, Dave Reardon, traveled all the way from Honolulu to cover the game for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. That’s 5,000 miles each way and a five hour time difference.
Hawaii is the home state of Irish All-American Linebacker Manti Te’o and wide receiver Robby Toma.
Reese Davis of ESPN trolled casually through the pack of Alabama players sitting in the Orange seats in the corner of the stadium Saturday.
Davis is part of the ESPN college football broadcast crew that includes former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz and former Pitt great Mark May. The constant banter between Holtz, a classic Golden Homer, and May, the consistent Notre Dame hater, has become a staple of the show.
May’s analysis – which has often been critical of Notre Dame over the years – and his playful bickering with Holtz has drawn the ire of many Irish fans, something Davis finds amusing given his behind-the-scenes perspective.
“I’m going to let you in on a little secret that Mark would probably kill me for,” Davis said.
“… You would not believe how many prominent people at Notre Dame love Mark May. In fact, Brian Kelly is very fond of Mark May. They really get along well.
“The dynamic has been fun,” Davis said of Holtz and May.
“Those guys are really good friends and I know that surprises some people and even upsets some people.”
Davis, for the record, is an Alabama graduate, yet that fact rarely comes up in his hosting role.
As the players and coaches met with the media on the sidelines, field crews were busy putting the finishing touches on the grass turf presentation, painting “Notre Dame” in the northeast endzone and “Alabama” in the southwest endzone.
A giant BCS logo adorns midfield.
It’s a quick turnaround to prepare the field considering the Orange Bowl game between Florida State and Northern Illinois was played just six days earlier.