Making Fantasies Come True

By Staff

Coaching Management, 12.4, April 2004,

They may not wake up the echoes, but they may create enough noise to make them stir a bit. Taking a page from several Major League Baseball teams, the University of Notre Dame, in conjunction with Global Football, hosts a fantasy camp for Fighting Irish football fans.

The five-day, four-night camp, held in early July, gives fans an intimate look at what itís like to be a member of the storied Fighting Irish football program. "Itís the greatest way Iíve seen to directly tie rabid fans into the university and the football program," says Patrick Steenberge, President of Global Football and the campís organizer.

Steenberge, who played quarterback at Notre Dame in the early 1970s under Ara Parseghian, has tailored the camp so that it requires minimal effort on the universityís end. Notre Dame provides Steenberge the facilities and access to the programís coaching staff, as well as some marketing help in the form of alumni lists, and Steenberge does the rest.

The camp, which is in its second year, charges each participant $4,290, an increase from the first yearís rate of $3,590. "Almost all of last yearís participants told me I wasnít charging enough for everything we provided," says Steenberge. After expenses are paid (including salaries for coaches and staff), half of the money goes to the Notre Dame Monogram Club (a lettermenís club), and half is paid to Global Football.

Steenberge hires both past and present Notre Dame coaches to instruct the campers. "I told the athletic department that we didnít need the labor of any current coaches or university personnel, because I know that they all have plenty of work to do," says Steenberge. "But when I met with Coach Willingham, he asked if we would like some of the current coaches to help out since the camp fell during their vacation time, right after Notre Dameís youth football camps."

Last yearís camp, the first of its kind in college football according to Steenberge, had 27 participantsó25 players and two honorary coaches. "They came from all walks of life," says Steenberge, noting that participants ranged in age from 23 to 70ówith a median age of 41. Two of the participants played football at small colleges, but for most, their football experience ended with high school. "The only thing they really had in common was their love of Notre Dame football," Steenberge adds.

This year there will be 50 participants, including 12 returning from last yearís camp, a move that caught Steenberge off guard. "I would have thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he says. Steenberge was also surprised that only three of last yearís participants were Notre Dame alumni.

From game jerseys and pants to socks and cleats, each participant receives the same game and practice gear worn by Notre Dame football players. On the final day, each person is presented with a Notre Dame football helmet straight from Riddell. "I talk to the Notre Dame equipment manager and find out where he buys everything, and I go through the same companies," says Steenberge. "Itís special because you canít buy most of that stuff unless you go through the camp or are on the team."

Looking like a Notre Dame player is one thing, but playing inside Notre Dame Stadium is the campís ultimate highlight. Participants are taken through a series of workouts and practices, which culminate in a camp-ending flag football game held at Notre Dame Stadium. The players, wearing their official Notre Dame uniforms, run down the locker room stairs, and reach up and touch the familiar "Play Like A Champion" sign before hitting the field. The game, which consists of four 15-minute running-time quarters, is called by longtime Notre Dame public address announcer Mike Collins.

"Once the attendees hear that voice, it really hits them that they really are playing at Notre Dame Stadium," says Steenberge. Each player is introduced to the crowd with his name, photo, and hometown flashed up on the stadium scoreboardóa great photo-op for attending friends and family members.

The game is also videotaped, with each participant receiving a copy at the end of camp. Steenberge also hires the official Notre Dame football photographer to take action shots of the campers during the game.

Along with the gluttony of memorabilia, attendees leave with a little better understanding of what itís like to be a college football player at Notre Dame, says Steenberge. He adds that he still talks to many of last yearís participants, and that some of the contacts they made led to business deals during the five-day period.

"For me it was a neat way to get back in touch with the university I played for," says Steenberge. "And Iíve found that universities are always looking for ways to get people back on campus, whether itís a reunion or a football game weekendóand this really is a perfect way to do that."