October 8th, 2011

Oct 11

On the Notre Dame campus

We made it to Notre Dame with no incident. The Yankee and I are staying with a friend who is in a doctoral program here.

Before kickoff the stadium announcer, who injected just a bit too much personality into the job, announced the weather conditions as “Bottle it up and sell it. High of 79 degrees!” The crowd roared. At this point last year they were already bracing for snow.

Fortunately, we brought the warmth with us. This is Touchdown Jesus, enjoying the day:


I have the pleasure of doing a little work with this group, Gameday for Heroes, which takes donated college athletics tickets and sends veterans and servicemen and women to the games. Frank Julian — South Bend lawyer, Notre Dame man and a Navy veteran — organized the entire weekend and sent almost 100 members of the military to the Air Force-Notre Dame game:


And they saw an impressive game. Notre Dame scored more points at home than they have in 15 years, striking early and often against an Air Force defense that couldn’t keep their offense in the game. Seven members of the Irish squad scored touchdowns.

Turnovers were key. Air Force fumbled on their first play, after a 29-yard gain, and the Irish would turn that into a score. A sensational interception would turn into another touchdown. Notre Dame wouldn’t be stopped after that, finishing with a comfortable 59-33 win.

Sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees threw for 261 yards and four touchdowns:


Senior running back Jonas Gray led Notre Dame on the ground with 69 yards and two scores on just seven carries:


And those military members had a great day to see a game.

Notre Dame Stadium is a different atmosphere from the familiar SEC. They still have the old wooden bench seats — this part of the experience we could improve upon — but it is hard to argue about much else. The marching bands are crammed into the corners of the field. Some 80,000 people stayed until the end. During the breaks they announced award-winning teachers and departments on campus. There was no piped-in music and no jumbotron to distract you from the actual event. Cheerleaders took to the field during media timeouts, to keep the crowd in the game.

At the end of the game Notre Dame’s team ran to the student body and sang their alma mater. And then they turned, crossed the length of the field and stood behind the Air Force team as they sang with their band and fans.

You can take all of the NFL-minor league stuff straight out of the SEC. This is what college football should be like.

Tailgating in South Bend has nothing on what we’re used to. And the fans are generally a sedate bunch. A gentleman next to me quietly asked a young man standing in front of him to sit down. And he guy did, without complaint.

These are Midwestern people and Midwestern values.

Frank Julian, the lawyer, said he still had people bringing him tickets to donate until just before kickoff. In the end he almost had more tickets than military. That’s not a Midwestern thing. Gameday is an easy project to like and is becoming a big hit on college campuses nationwide.

These particular men and women weren’t recognized by the public address announcer today, but others were. The people in Notre Dame Stadium are proudly patriotic. Air Force being there helped, the (awesome) stealth bomber flyover wasn’t bad either. Taken as a whole, you count this as a special day in a beautiful place.

More pictures and details tomorrow.