Here Come the Irish (A Weekend in the Life of a Notre Dame Fan)
With a long weekend and no Hokie football game what’s a man to do?
In my case I decided to drive 2,145 round-trip miles to experience football at the University of Notre Dame.
As a disclaimer, let me first say that I’ve never liked Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have always been viewed by the majority of the college football world as a team much like the New York Yankees, too good and too privileged to root for. Whether it’s their lucrative television contract with NBC or their bowl tie-in with the Big East (a conference they don’t play football in) there’s just always been something about them that turned me off.
Despite all that, I went into this trip with an open mind. Two of my high school friends go to Notre Dame, and they, as well as the rest of the Irish faithful, have always made it seem like something you have to experience.
While I was skeptical, I have to say it was one of the most amazing weekends I’ve ever had.
Everyone knows about the incredible amount of tradition the Irish have but you really have to see it up close and personal to truly “get it”.
The first thing you see when you exit the highway is the sun sparkling off the golden dome. Right away you realize you’ve arrived in an oasis at the end of a God-forsaken stretch of corn-bordered Indiana highway.
When you reach the gates of campus and drive up the tree-lined main road toward the dome it’s like entering another world entirely.
This particular weekend Notre Dame was hosting Stanford and it was a huge alumni weekend. Countless parents joined newcomers like myself and the Notre Dame band reunion, which saw over 700 band members join the 360 current members, in the halftime and pre game shows.
This made for an incredible number of fans, alumni and students on the campus and I was right there In the middle of it wandering around in my Virginia Tech sweatshirt trying to keep my jaw from scraping on the sidewalk.
From that point on there were quite a few “wow” moments.
The Stanford pep rally was held Friday evening in the Joyce Athletic Center where the Irish play basketball. The 11,418-seat arena was packed to the rafters for this event. The line waiting for tickets (yes you need a ticket for the pep rally if you aren’t a student) stretched halfway around Notre Dame Stadium. Amazing.
I was blown away by the Midnight Drummer’s Circle. This ritual consists of hundreds of Irish faithful gathering Friday at midnight near the Golden Dome to watch the drumline wake up the echoes with a number of rousing drum cadences. The fans all joined in the cheers I was still a stranger to and yelled like it was the fourth quarter. Awesome.
The next morning we awoke to find picture perfect gameday weather. We walked around campus, ending up at the famous Grotto. After looking around a few minutes, who walked over? Dick Vitale. His daughters went to Notre Dame and he makes it to as many games as he can. Crazy.
We then went to the stadium. How easy it is to forget there’s a game to be played when you’re lost in the magic of the campus. We arrived in our seats where we saw the dome and “Touchdown Jesus”, which is actually on the side of a library. Impressive.
The game attendance of 80,795 was Notre Dame’s 189th consecutive sellout. They’ve sold out 237 of their last 238 home games. Staggering.
Later we snuck into the student section, a mere 25 yards from Charlie Weis and Brady Quinn. It takes Notre Dame students four years to get those seats; I got there in a day and a half.
By the end of the game I was doing the cheers and singing the fight song as well as doing the unthinkable, rooting Notre Dame on to a 31-10 Irish victory.
What on Earth had happened to me? Well, I realized that there’s a little Irish in all of us and the magic of Notre Dame is real. It gets into you before you even realize it and no matter what your feelings are about the place before you get there, you see that it’s something very special indeed.
So if you think you hate Notre Dame, think twice. If you can make it out to a game or even just to visit the campus, do it. You’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.
Of course any Hokies still doubting me about Notre Dame can take solace in this note, the fifth commandment of the ND drumline is, “Thou shalt rock out to Metallica.”
I guess there’s a little Hokie in all of us too.