New uniforms just part of ND's modernization

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New uniforms just part of ND's modernization

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- When Notre Dame unveiled a new adidas-made uniform to be worn Oct. 6 against Miami, the threads were, as expected, met with plenty of derision, at least on Twitter. But that same criticism -- mainly of the helmet -- wasn't shared by Notre Dame players.

"I love them," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "You look good, you feel good, you feel good, you play good. It's true."

"The last couple years with what adidas has done for us, and the Shamrock Series, we've got so much swag now," added tight end Tyler Eifert. "They're pretty neat."

These specific uniforms are a one-time deal, to be worn only for that early October contest against Miami, which is part of the school's Shamrock Series that has taken the Irish to San Antonio, New York and Washington D.C. in the last two years.

The goal of the Shamrock Series was essentially to put Notre Dame on tour, taking not only the football program, but the school to other parts of the country. But instead of taking the classic uniforms with them, Notre Dame views the Shamrock Series as a chance to try something different.

"Because the concept, because the game is now part of something that is going to last and has its own identification as the Shamrock Series, we decided, in a very conscious way, to take this and use it as the one time each year that we modify our uniforms," athletic director Jack Swarbrick said.

"To make it a special, different event, to embrace the notion that we're going to bring an exciting and new opportunity with us when we come to a city, and part of that is the uniform."

That idea of trying something new extends beyond just the uniforms. Swarbrick mentioned he enjoyed the video board capability at Yankee Stadium in 2010, and isn't completely against an upgrade to a Jumbotron at Notre Dame Stadium sometime in the future.

"That's what we're trying to do -- can Notre Dame Stadium still be the Augusta of college football," pondered Swarbrick, "and provide an environment that allows you to communicate about the school more effectively. That's my frustration. I sort of enjoy it from a football perspective when there's a close call and I watch the opposing coach get whiplash trying to find the video board trying to decide whether or not to call for a review.

"But it frustrated the heck out of me when we honor a professor in between the first and second period by bringing him out to the 30-yard-line, making an announcement about him or her and handing them a football and nobody in the stadium knows what's going on. We ought to be calling great attention and focus to that person. And that's hard to do in our current environment."

Last year, Notre Dame Stadium played music over its sound system for the first time. That's another change that's come to the gameday atmosphere in South Bend, even if it meant Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" playing seemingly on repeat during the Irish's contest against USC.

And Swarbrick wouldn't rule out a change in playing surface, perhaps from natural grass to the flashpoint idea of artificial turf. Notre Dame will have to replace its turf after this season, so that's when the issue will be addressed.

A quote from Mark Daniels, director of football for adidas America -- which designed the Shamrock Series uniforms -- seemed to sum up the balance Notre Dame is attempting to strike, not only with the uniforms, but with music, video, turf, and so on.

"We expect strong reaction regardless of what we do," Daniels said. "We fully understand the heritage, the tradition, the rituals of what Notre Dame is. And we like to take those, celebrate those moments but modernize it, bring it into the future a little bit."

Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez preaches modesty amid team's positive start

Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez preaches modesty amid team's positive start

It’s amazing the difference a year has made for the Chicago Fire.

At this time last year the Fire were coming off having the worst record in Major League Soccer and looked headed to another year at the bottom. The team’s attack was toothless when David Accam was injured and any early optimism in the first year for general manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic waned.

In the first of three organized meetings with reporters last year, Rodriguez admitted the team’s record wasn’t good enough and preached patience. Things didn’t get much better for the Fire, which finished last for the second year in a row.

This offseason, Rodriguez made a number of big moves and the early returns are positive on most of them. Dax McCarty has vastly improved the team’s midfield and possession play, with goalkeeper Matt Lampson calling him the team’s MVP after practice on Tuesday. Nemanja Nikolic leads the league in goals, something unthinkable in the first half of last year when the Fire struggled to get one or two shots on target, let alone goals, during a match. Bastian Schweinsteiger is the big name player fans have been waiting years for and he has delivered on the $5.4 million price tag.

When Rodriguez fielded questions from reporters for an hour on Tuesday, the Fire had the third most points in Major League Soccer. He could have referenced the patience he called for a year ago and boasted about the vindication. Instead, he said, as coach Veljko Paunovic did in the past week, that the team still hasn’t accomplished anything.

“For sure I sleep a little better,” Rodriguez said. “For sure you can’t wait for the next game even sooner, especially when you’re on a good patch I think. There’s so much ground yet to cover. This is a very difficult league to prognosticate and predict, even from week-to-week.

“I think it’s my job to try to see through the results, again continue to measure our process and how we’re progressing against that process to try to make sure that we don’t have any blind spots to ourselves and what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. To push the group to constantly self-reflect and improve.”

[MORE FIRE: Tough tests in next two months should show a lot about Fire]

Rodriguez also said the Fire’s positive start hasn’t changed his expectations for this season either.

“We have to be a little bit modest, given that we as a club have struggled for so many years,” he said. “The first bar, and it’s a low bar, but it’s the playoffs.

“Our expectations were to make the playoffs. Our expectations were to contend or win the Open Cup championship and those continue to hold.”

He did admit that “skepticism is understandable” from fans who have seen the team struggle for several years. Schweinsteiger’s arrival and the team’s improved record have created what he described as a momentum, and not just on the field.

“There’s certainly a buzz,” Rodriguez said. “There’s also still that small, but loud group of wallowers who are just hoping that the wheels come off or still want different players than the ones we acquired. That will still be there, perhaps until we win a championship. Overall, I think there is an excitement that’s building.”

This is the high point of Rodriguez's still-young tenure with the club. The Fire feature a World Cup winner, have one of the best records in the league and there’s a buzz around the team. What a difference a year makes, indeed.

Jon Lester fans 10, tosses complete game as Cubs beat Giants

Jon Lester fans 10, tosses complete game as Cubs beat Giants

As much as the Cubs dreaded the idea of facing Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner in an elimination game last October – and feeling all that anxiety rippling through the crowd at Wrigley Field – the San Francisco Giants still would have had to beat Jon Lester that night.

The Giants know how good Lester is, sending manager Bruce Bochy and catcher Buster Posey as part of the group recruiting visit to his Georgia home shortly after winning the 2014 World Series. There were even rumblings of a $168 million proposal from the Giants at the winter meetings where Lester took a six-year, $155 million megadeal and the chance to make history in Chicago.  

That Lester vs. Cueto matchup in Game 5 never happened, because the Cubs pulled off a Giant comeback in the divisional round. Lester went on to become the National League Championship Series co-MVP and win his third World Series ring. 

Lester (3-2, 3.19 ERA) looked to be in October form during Tuesday night’s 4-1 complete-game win over the Giants, while Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo each homered off Cueto (4-4, 4.64 ERA).