Monday, October 5, 2009

Notre Dame Stadium

I had my first opportunity to take in Notre Dame Stadium this past weekend. A lifelong buddy of mine is a huge Irish fan and I was able to come across a couple tickets through a work connection. Needless to say my friend was estatic about the news. Myself I am not a huge college football fan but I do follow it while waiting for the NFL to take the stage on Sunday. I usually follow the Texas Longhorns (born in TX), tOSU Buckeyes, and the Bearcats a little bit. My first college football game ever was UC/Miami last season. The atmosphere was delightful for that one and I was looking forward to see what all the hype was about in South Bend.

The road trip up was uneventful outside of a meeting with the Indiana State Police. The main drag from Indy to South Bend is US-31 and the speed limit is 60. $140- greenbacks later and I understand that.

We had lodgings in Elkhart. Most places in and around South Bend want you to stay for two nights. Best Western did not and the lodgings were comfortable. We enjoyed the food and the bar at the local Applebees for the evening. My compadre was in awe of all the Notre Dame 'love' in the air and on the walls. The only downer for him was the guy decked out in Michigan gear sitting at the bar.

Saturday game day we headed down to the campus around 9 AM. We parked in Mulligans on Edison Road. Across the way was the famous Linebacker Inn. The weather was wet and chilly with periods of rain and sun. The slow stroll around campus was great. They have parking right up against the stadium that is tailgate city. Seeing the band come through in the AM in front of the library and through the rest of campus was very cool. Some guys jumped in the pool in front of Touchdown Jesus in an attempt to get the band to take notice. No dice on that. The ND Band is pure class.

We returned to Mulligans and sat at the bar around 10:30 AM. There we stayed until an hour before kickoff. We met people from Dayton, Toledo, Allentown, PA, Elmira, NY, and a young Washington couple who were attending grad school at Michigan. Most of these folks were there each and every week. When they found out we were from Cincy the appreciation for Kyle Rudolph was apparent. Of course this sparked conversations about the GCL hotbed and inevitably Gerry Faust. I couldn't help but notice in Mulligans there was no room for Gerry's photo amongst all the Lou Holtz memorabilia. Lou is a legend there right along with Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy no doubt about that. We also met some Steelers and Packers fans which was great for chest thumping purposes until the talk of Superbowl's came about which then led to discussions of Joe Montana of course. They played the Notre Dame fight song just about every hour, it seemed like every 15 minutes to me. I can also officially declare I am no fan of Jameson's Whiskey but of course I am not Irish. All in all I appreciated the camraderie and shared brotherhood at Mulligans more than I enjoyed the facilities on campus. The bartenders derrier probably inched my decision to Mulligans for the record.

Once we got in Notre Dame Stadium and took a stroll around the first thing I noticed was the bench seats. The entire game day experience is paired down from the NFL sensory overload events I am used too. The lights at the top of the stadium didn't seem nearly sufficient enough. No video replay board. No luxury box seats, just an old school media press box. Their National Championship displays and All American wall is classic however. Seeing the band come into the stadium is something to take in also. Seeing the players rush onto the field gets the blood flowing. The student interaction between interludes was great as well. The fist pump simulating the Fighting Irish logo is a little goofy to me but hey whatever. What was really cool was seeing the pushups the students do after touchdowns in the crowd. Television doesn't do that justice. We were in section 133 just above the students and that was awesome to behold.

The game started with Washington going right down the field and scoring. There were way more Washington fans than I would have ever anticipated. Their band was in the house also. Hearing the bands and the percussion is a huge part of the college football atmosphere. Notre Dame answered with a field goal. End of first quarter.

About the start of the second quarter is when I let my buddy know he wasn't training for a MMA fight. Shortly after the second field goal I took several solid blows to the back and chest. He lets his emotions take over some time. The Irish went up 9-7 and then Claussen had a bone head play that led to Washington scoring a touchdown on defense. Golden Tate got that touchdown back in less than two minutes of game time to vault ND back on top. He finished the game with an amazing 244 receiving yards. However the Irish defense isn't as stout as some of the legends of the past and they allowed Washington to inch ahead on a field goal as the half expired. The rain really started to come down at this point. It was hot chocolate time at the half.

Returning to a cold wet wooden bench wasn't a highlight I will remember. Notre Dame recaptured the lead on a field goal. At this point it was becoming apparent whoever had the ball last was going to win. This is also about the time the rain really started to come down and the wind was a little cooler. Chris Polk was getting increasingly difficult for Irish defenders to bring down and they went ahead 24-19 on a Jake Locker touchdown pass. The third quarter ended and I discovered no more hot chocolate.

By the start of the fourth quarter the rain eased a bit. Both teams traded field goals to inch the score to 27-22. That set up some late game heroics for our guy Rudolph for a second week in a row. His twelve yard catch from Claussen pushed ND ahead 28-27. Joe Hughes tagged on a two point conversion. Around this time I am thinking the four and half hour ride back to Cincy will be enjoyable due to the heat and my friend being happy with a victory. About a minute later in game time I was having second thoughts. Washington went right down the field and thanks to another goal line stand by the Irish, Washington had to settle for a field goal and tied the game up at 30 all.

Notre Dame got the ball first in OT and scored in short order with Joe Hughes going in on a one yard run. Washington was unable to make it happen on their turn and the game ended with a jarring hit on a Huskie receiver by two Irish safeties. 37-30! Notre Dame wins in overtime!

Just a great experience overall. We plan on returning next season. Plenty of scalpers around on game day. We discovered many more things we can do and places to go before game day during our time there on Saturday.

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