DUBLIN - You can't assume anything will end up free of complication when you're bringing a football team overseas, not even the lasagna.
Two years ago, Navy and Notre Dame played in Ireland, too. Navy always has lasagna as part of its pregame meal, and Ireland isn't exactly the place for fine Italian. The team had to teach its hotel staff the proper way to make it taste good enough for Garfield the cat. It was one of about a million boxes to check for Navy's equipment/travel operations trio Greg Morgenthaler, Bryce McDonald and Robb Dunn.
"Things in a different country aren't made the same way as in the U.S.," Morgenthaler said. "There are lots of little intricacies."
As harried as foreign travel can be for anyone (why can't we all just use the same electrical outlets?), it's worse for college football teams, which need hordes of equipment for 100-plus players and have to meet the expectations of control-freak coaches. Thus, the logistical planning and strategy that has gone on the past several months and will continue this week is a game before the real game. For Penn State, crunch time is now. Its team is scheduled to arrive this morning, and the team's 20,000-plus pounds of equipment have been arriving since last week.
"Even down to 5,000 pompoms that are being taken over by the alumni association," said Penn State director of football operations Michael Hazel. "Where does all that stuff go?"
College football road trips in the contiguous United States are the same no matter the place. The travel and equipment teams pack a massive truck with everything the team needs and transports it to Ohio, California, wherever. For this game, instead of hauling everything in a 53-foot trailer, Penn State has had to pack everything in trunks that will be shipped by plane (except for the Gatorade - the Gatorade went over via ship last week).
All of those items have been catalogued. Customs requires that every item - helmets, helmet screws, uniforms, pencils, etc. - be documented, as well as the cost of each item and the country of origin of each item.
Of course, customs agents are different around the world. The attention to detail could end up being all for naught.
In Ireland, Notre Dame head football equipment manager Ryan Grooms encountered lax officials in 2012. He had spent more than a month recording every item Notre Dame would take, expecting a thorough check. He presented the agent with a three-ring binder packed with laminated pages detailing every item and the cost of every item.
"He flipped a couple pages and goes, 'that's great,'?" Grooms said. "I said, 'You're going to look at this. I want this tested.'?"
In Ireland, the tasks continue. The travel and equipment staff will work with third parties to transport everything from the airport to the hotel, practice facility at University Central Dublin and the stadium. It will be responsible for making sure everything goes according to plan for every aspect of the trip.
To ensure smoothness, the Penn State staff visited Ireland in April and last year when the game was announced. The most recent trip included Hazel. On that visit, Hazel said it dawned on him he probably wouldn't have any free time to see the city or the countryside.
That's for sure. Those working in travel and equipment for Penn State will be lucky if they can snag a fresh pint of Guinness.
"You know what I saw?" Morgenthaler said, recounting his trip with Navy. "I saw the cargo facility, I saw the airport, I saw the hotel and I saw the stadium.
"God willing, someday I'll make enough money that my wife and I can go back to Ireland and actually enjoy ourselves and see something."