BROOKLYN, N.Y. — What’s more nerve-wracking for Chris Christie: Preparing for a Republican presidential debate or watching the final three minutes of a Notre Dame basketball game?
“Watching the final three minutes, because I have control over the debate! I have no control over this,” Christie told CBS Sports on Sunday in the Notre Dame locker room.
Wait, what? Christie in the Notre Dame locker room? Believe it.
“He’s on the ND scholarship,” Irish coach Mike Brey said.
The governor of New Jersey and former Republican presidential candidate was on hand to see Notre Dame’s thrilling, last-second 76-75 win over Stephen F. Austin. Was he feeling nervous sitting 10 rows behind the Irish bench on Sunday?
“Very nervous,” Christie said. “Not a little — very nervous.”
The Irish are moving on to the Sweet 16 thanks to a tip-in from an anonymous player — Rex Pflueger — who was at the right place at the right time to push ND to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
“We were here for the Stephen F. Austin game on Friday night, and I saw that was a really good team,” Christie said. “Great defensive team and I knew this was going to be a good game today. Thrilled for Rex. We got to meet him during the recruiting process, and his parents. We happened to be out there when they were making their official visit. They’re big Republicans and so we had a lot to talk about outside basketball. Thrilled he got that final shot.”
Christie and Brey became friends in 1995, when Brey took over as coach at Delaware after serving as an assistant under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. Christie, who is a Delaware alumnus, was in private law practice then.
“For the five years he coached at Delaware we were friends, and now for the 16 years he’s been at Notre Dame we’ve been friends,” Christie told CBS Sports. “We have a lot of connections that are getting bigger and deeper.”
Christie became a US Attorney in 2001. He recently bowed out of the Republican race for president, and has since endorsed Donald Trump.
“The gov! My man, my guy,” Brey said, and he also ribbed his buddy. “He only shows up for the big games. He’ll be there in Philly again — if Trump will let him.”
Notre Dame will play the winner of Xavier and Wisconsin in Philadelphia in the East Regional semifinal.
Christie has another Notre Dame connection: His daughter, Sarah, is a manager for the Notre Dame basketball team.
“All I know is, the two years we’ve had Sarah, we’re on a heck of a run so her job is safe,” Brey joked.
Sarah Christie said she was lucky this season, because Notre Dame never had a game run up on the same night as one of her father’s Republican debates, so she was able to attend a few of them. She also disclosed one of her father’s favorite things: singing. A lot of it. Bruce Springsteen and others.
“He’s a great singer,” she said. “Right now he’s liking the new Sam Smith song from the James Bond movie.”
Christie is a March Madness honk, just like you and me. He thinks the first round is some of the best American sports can offer.
“The first four days in this tournament are about as exciting as anything you’re gonna see, because of the real difference of these teams,” Christie said. “You’ve got these big teams that are looking like they’ll win every year and these small teams that knock them off. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, and knowing baseball is about to start, and we’re happy about that too.”
And, yes, I did ask him about Trump. He said he won’t speak at any Trump events for at least the next two weeks, and whenever the time comes, Donald will simply put in the phone call and ask him. For now, New Jersey’s governor is all-in on the most American campaign of all: The NCAA Tournament.