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After a long wait, Notre Dame football thrilled to finally arrive in Florida

LandFeichter Robby Toma

Landon Feichter, Robby Toma

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BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

NOTRE DAME VS. ALABAMA

Time: 7:30 p.m. Monday in Miami Gardens, Fla.
TV: ESPN. • Line: Alabama by 10

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Updated: January 2, 2013 10:57PM



FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — After 38 days of idleness — of mind-numbing cardio and monotonous weightlifting, of finals and trips home, of unending practices and film sessions — reality finally hit Notre Dame receiver Robby Toma on New Year’s night, as he settled in to watch the last game of the day.

“I really started getting anxious watching the NIU-Florida State Orange Bowl game,” Toma said, “just realizing that we’re going to be playing in that stadium on Monday. It’s a little nerve-wracking, but we’re ready for it.”

The long wait to get to South Florida finally ended shortly before 3 p.m. on Wednesday, when Notre Dame’s charter flight touched down in Fort Lauderdale, greeted by a celebratory water cannon, a throng of media, bowl committee members in garish orange jackets, a few dozen fans, and seemingly half the city’s police force, ready to escort the Irish to their hotel.

But now comes the long wait for the actual game against Alabama on Monday. As the hype gets ratcheted up, so does the excitement for the players. After all, Notre Dame hasn’t played a game since Thanksgiving weekend.

“I know a lot of them tweeted and sent out pictures (Wednesday morning) that they were happy to just get on the bus,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “That doesn’t happen very often.”

Kelly made it clear last week that the Irish’s trip to Florida would be no day at the beach. As he put it, “This is not a bowl game, you’re playing for a national championship.” And he reiterated on Wednesday that the team would have an 11 p.m. curfew for all five nights leading up to Monday’s game. But he also softened a bit, saying he wanted his team “relaxed,” as well.

The Irish were scheduled to go to the Dallas Mavericks-Miami Heat game later in the evening. But the rest of the week won’t be about fun in the sun and photo ops.

Toma said the players will have “a lot of free time,” but there is still work to be done in preparing for the defending national champion Crimson Tide. One concern is adapting the Irish — who left temperatures in the teens and were greeted at the airport by the mid-70s — to the heat and humidity of South Florida. Thursday’s forecast calls for sunny skies and highs in the 80s. Kelly said he looked forward to having his guys “sweat it out.”

Other than that, Kelly simply wants to fine-tune the game plan the Irish have been working on since finals ended three weeks ago. Twenty-two weeks after opening training camp, there’s not a whole lot of big-picture coaching left to do.

“This is all about Alabama and our game plan,” Kelly said. “We’re not doing anything relative to skill work. It’s just more things we want to rep out against a fine Alabama team.”

Toma said that, even now that the Irish are finally here, waiting is the hardest part.

“We’ve got a long time here, and we’ve got work to do while we’re here,” he said. “It’s not like our other road trips where we just show up and play. So we’ve really got to stay focused on this trip. … It’s definitely fun, and it’s a little overwhelming. But the excitement throughout the whole team, that’s what’s going to carry us through this week.”

And there’s plenty of that to go around.

“I’m definitely feeling a little nerves right now,” Toma said. “But if you don’t’ feel nerves, something’s wrong with you. This is a huge game.”



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