STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Dan Rooney hoped to see Ireland host an NFL game, but the Pittsburgh Steelers' chairman -- and former ambassador to Ireland -- said he was pleased to see Penn State and Central Florida agree to face each other in Dublin next August.
"I really tried to get the NFL to play the games, but they're now sort of committed to London and continue to a play a number of games there," Rooney said. "But as far as the athletes and the games themselves, I think it will be very successful there."
An official from the Gaelic Athletic Association expected Croke Park sell out its 68,000-seat stadium for the 2014 PSU-UCF contest, known as the Croke Park Classic. He also said Penn State was his first choice and that the Irish watched quite a few Penn State games on ESPN last season.
Ask an Irishman about a U.S. college, Director General Paraic Duffy said, and either Notre Dame or Penn State are bound to come up in conversation.
"You'd be surprised at the brand awareness there is of Penn State in Ireland," Duffy said. "It goes back a long way. I'm not quite sure why."
Duffy also said the New England Patriots are the NFL team most followed by the Irish -- likely because of the Irish heritage in Boston -- but that the Steelers are also well-known.
Penn State announced on July 14 that it would open the 2014 season in Dublin, Ireland, in the Nittany Lions' first international game in the program's 127-year history. The game will take place at 1:30 p.m. (8:30 a.m. ET) on Aug. 30, 2014.
Officials were on hand on Saturday afternoon in preparation for the Nittany Lions' contest against UCF, which will kick off at 6 p.m.
"It's different," Duffy said when asked how the college atmosphere compared to the NFL. "You can see what it means. The relationship between the football team here and the supporters is incredible."
The winner of next year's Croke Park Classic will also receive the Dan Rooney Trophy, which is a football-shaped trophy constructed of 4,200-year-old bog yew and steel from the old Three Rivers Stadium.
Rooney said he initially told officials he didn't deserve the honor -- and to pick an Irishman. But they insisted, and the former ambassador eventually relented.
"It means an awful lot now," Rooney said.