Two historic football programs, two hearty fan bases, an iconic venue and even some sunny weather all converged to create the perfect recipe for Yankee Stadium's fourth annual New Era Pinstripe Bowl. A record 47,122 fans - the first sellout in the game's history - saw Notre Dame pull away late for a 29-16 victory over Rutgers.
"I loved the way we were able to stay calm and stay within our offense and continue to kind of monotonously move the ball downfield," said Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees, who completed 27 of 47 passes for 319 yards in his final game and joined Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen as the only players in Notre Dame history to throw for 3,000 yards in a season. "Hats off to Rutgers for playing a great game, but I'm really proud of the way we persevered and were able to pull it out."
On the 55th anniversary of "The Greatest Game Ever Played" - the Baltimore Colts' overtime victory against the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium for the 1958 NFL championship - Notre Dame improved to 17-6-3 all time in the Bronx.
"Some of the greatest Notre Dame games in history were played in Yankee Stadium," said Notre Dame president the Rev. John I. Jenkins. "Both the Yankees and Notre Dame came into prominence in the 1920s and captured the imagination of the country, and so it's just special to be back here. We always feel when we come to New York, there's such great support and such a great relationship with the people here; it feels like a home game."
The Irish, ranked No. 25 by The Associated Press, grinded out a win in which junior kicker Kyle Brindza tied a bowl game record with five field goals. They also overcame a surface that became slick as it softened in the 45-degree sun as well as a flu bug that affected 16 players.
"[Head football athletic trainer] Rob Hunt and our training staff got the game ball," said head coach Brian Kelly. "We had a lot of guys out there who were not at 100 percent, but they did a great job battling through it."
Rutgers, which entered the game with the nation's fourth-ranked run defense, opted to play back and protect against the big play. Notre Dame responded by picking the defense apart underneath, orchestrating long drives throughout the game and converting 8 of 17 third and fourth downs.
Yet, the Scarlet Knights clamped down in the red zone and were within three, 19-16, with less than four minutes to go. A 3-yard touchdown run by Notre Dame's Tarean Folston with 3:38 remaining helped seal the victory. Senior left tackle Zack Martin took home the 2013 New Era Pinstripe Bowl David C. Koch MVP Trophy - the first offensive lineman to be named sole MVP of any bowl game since 1959, according to Notre Dame's athletic department.
While Rutgers looked forward to joining the Big Ten in 2014 and Notre Dame set its sights on getting back to the national championship game, the Yankees were happy to close out 2013 on a high note.
"The New Era Pinstripe Bowl has been a phenomenal success, both for the city and for the Yankees and the universities," said Yankees president Randy Levine. "We've had record sponsorship sales, record marketing agreements. This game has been a complete, 100 percent outstanding success."