Rudy and Touchdown Jesus – Field trip to South Bend.

Written Ramblings by DJ

Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!

Fortune: Hey kid! You’re not supposed to be here!
Rudy: Hey this place is really somethin else huh? Someday I’m gonna come out of that tunnel and I’m gonna run onto this field.
Fortune: Well it ain’t gonna be this day …

Rudy certainly cared more about Notre Dame than I do but nobody should turn down an opportunity to check out the Golden Dome. My buddy JS’s boss gave him two tickets for the Notre Dame – USC game on Saturday for face value. Attending a game at Notre Dame wasn’t that high on my bucket list of college football items but it is still a good one to get under my belt. Some of the other college football bucket list items include:

1. Attending a night game in Happy Valley (Penn State) for a “white out.” My team (Illinois) wouldn’t stand a chance on the road against JoePa’s crew during a whiteout but the trip will be worth it.

2. Rose Bowl, Pasadena. Illinois makes the Rose Bowl every 23 years, so I might have to wait until 2030. After a 20 year wait, I’ll fly out to Pasadena to see the Illini get hammered on ABC by Oregon or USC.

3. Michigan – Ohio State. This one is realistic … probably will check out over the next few years.

This is a short term list mainly focused around the Big Ten. Do I have any interest to check out an SEC game? I’ll wait until they come up to play a Bowl game in 20 degree weather in Soldier Field. So we headed out on Saturday afternoon towards the College Football Hall of Fame and arguably the Mecca of college football.

We stopped by a gas station before the St. Mary’s parking lot and I couldn’t find any liquor for tailgating. Being hopped up on DayQuill all day wasn’t enough for me so I figured all I needed was three to four beverages. It was a dry gas station. Uh oh, is it really a dry campus?? That is only a myth right? I guess we were about to find out as we headed towards the stadium. The campus certainly had an “Ivy League” feel to it. There are a ton of trees around and the dorms looked like they were part of The Social Network movie. We followed a crowd towards the stadium and most of them had Montana jerseys. Joe Montana is obviously a legend but I wonder if most of the fan base wasn’t upset about his kid not getting much playing time as freshman. It was smart on his part to transfer out of the program because there was no way he could leap Rees or Crist for playing time. There were also a ton of Bears hats within the crowd. There is a reason why ESPN Chicago always shows Notre Dame as one of the “Chicago teams.” The campus is only 90 minutes away from Chicago. Indianapolis is over 3 hours away from South Bend so one could argue that most of the locals would root for the Bears over the Colts. I am not sure I agree with that logic but it makes sense geographically. It is analogous to the folks from southern Illinois that root for the Cardinals and Rams over the Chicago teams. We finally make it to the Dome and check out the numerous tents set up for pre-gaming. There are usually three aspects of a program that are interesting to me when I go on the road.

Outside the stadium

Yep, Notre Dame is NOT a dry campus. I knew that but I had to find out myself. The tailgating scene outside of the stadium isn’t huge but it does exist. There is bar called “The Legends” right outside the stadium and this was the only one we found around there. I asked one of the folks on the shuttle from the parking lot about liquor stores and she said there aren’t that many around the campus which isn’t surprising.

Overall the lot outside the stadium reminded me of Ryan Field (Northwestern) in terms of the size. The crowd certainly seemed more into it with some music and much bigger grills. Talking about grills, we walked over to the “2 for 1” signs near a tent that was grilling brats and burgers. My buddy wanted to get a brat and a burger right before we went in. The guy at the cashier said the deal only applied to burgers or brats but you can’t mix the two of them. Now I was curious even though I wasn’t hungry. I looked at the prices listed and both of them were $4. They seemed to have the same amount of both items. I asked him why we couldn’t mix and match when they were priced the same. His response: “Well that’s the rule.” Did I mention that this tent was set up by the School of Business? He had an “MBA 2011” tag on his shirt. Of course my Notre Dame hatred came out for the first time that night when I said that “business school was clearly not helping” if they price these items the same way but didn’t allow the customers to buy one of each. Something didn’t add up with that system. My buddy asked the girl who was working the grill if that was possible and she gave him the brat/burger combination. Anyway, I took some more pictures of Touchdown Jesus and we headed into the stadium.

Inside the stadium

The hallways of the stadium had an old school look as expected. There were a ton of black and white pictures all across the walls of guys who looked like they were from “The Leatherheads” movie that came out a few years ago. Would that be a good recruiting pitch to younger students? Every tape that exists of these players is probably in fast forward mode b/c most of the black and white highlights on TV include only running plays and the kickers’ form being awkward. Tradition is an important recruiting pitch but most of the high school kids don’t know any of these players. None of them grew up watching these players. There aren’t many Notre Dame All Stars over the last 15 years. Joe Montana and Tim Brown played in the ‘80s. Who are the marquee skill position players from the ‘90s or the ‘00s?? Brady Quinn? He is third on the depth chart on an NFL team with two other mediocre quarterbacks. Jimmy Clausen just got passed after his rookie year for another quarterback (Newton) who is pretty awesome. Honestly I can’t name many NFL players from Notre Dame that can be used as a recruiting pitch for the high school kids nowadays. Urban Meyer mentioned on College Gameday earlier this year that the Irish finally brought all the Heisman trophies from the attic to show the recruits for a marketing pitch. High school juniors weren’t even born during the days of Tim Brown. Other traditional programs that are rebuilding such as Michigan at least have the Woodsons and the Howards around the football scene today that can be used in recruiting.

We got into the stadium about 15 minutes before kickoff. The SoCal band made it across the country for the big game. It was pretty sweet to see the USC mascot stick the sword in the middle of the field. The USC mascot vs. Chief Osceola would be a great mascot fight … full on against each other with horses and swords!! Chief Illiniwek would take on both of them I think but he isn’t around anymore.

During the game

It was a packed house for the game as expected b/c this is one of the oldest rivalries. But for some reason the game didn’t really feel like a rivalry. Obviously this was my first game in South Bend but I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the other games had a similar atmosphere. It got me to thinking about the intensity of this rivalry compared to other Dame rivals such as Michigan.

These schools are too far apart for the rivalry to be intense. There are road fans that travel to South Bend but they head back all the way to California. Is there more smack talk amongst the fans? Do they come from a common area? I don’t see it. Do fans talk smack on forums after this? Michigan vs. Notre Dame carries some weight b/c most of these alumni share some common ground around the Midwest. There could be a fair amount of Michigan folks heading to ND for school and vice-versa. Most of the fans from both of the schools probably end up in Chicago. Rivalries are beyond just the game on the field and the fans carry them forward. So if the fans don’t actually run into each other often, can the rivalry be very intense?? Compare this to Michigan vs. Ohio State where each school has kids from other state. Compare this rivalry to Oklahoma vs. Texas where both sets of players are recruited by each team throughout high school. Notre Dame doesn’t really have an intense rival compared to the other traditional programs. Stanford comes close but geographically it poses a similar issue as Southern California. The professional sports analogy is the Dallas – Washington rivalry. Those teams have faced in the playoffs in the 70s/80s which led to the animosity between the two franchises but it can’t match the intensity of the other NFC East rivalry of Philly – New York Giants. The Giants and Eagles fans travel easily for road games and that certainly adds juice to the matchup.

Having said all of that, there are several differences between these two schools. Notre Dame is a tightly run ship and the USC program has a “loose” feel, at least on the outside. The academic standards are very different between the two schools. Heck, the bands were playing different music on the field. The Fighting Irish band played the traditional tunes – their main fight song and the star wars imperial march. The USC band continuously played their main song but mixed it up with some hip hop tunes. I am fairly positive I heard some Rihanna during the night. This reminded me of the movie Drumline with Nick Cannon where one of the schools plays the old school tunes and the other plays all the hip hop pieces. Talking about Drumline, the Notre Dame helmets were EXTREMELY SHINY. The freshmen in the Drumline have to polish the drums before every game and I wonder if all practice squad had to polish the helmets for the Domers before this game. They didn’t show that in Rudy but he probably did it once in a while. The stadium did play a fair amount of stuff through the speakers which was a little odd. For a school that cherishes the tradition and the rustic nature of the game, one wouldn’t expect to hear Dropkick Murphy’s and Ozzy repeatedly cheering the student section to “get loud” for every third down. And yes, they played Seven Nation Army during the second half. What is with this song being played all over the stadiums?? JS thought it started last year but this is the third stadium that I have visited this year which played the song – Michigan (claims they started it), Northwestern and the Rudy field. This seems to be a fad this year similar to “who let the dogs out” that was played everywhere around 2001. This is slightly different b/c The White Stripes had more than the 12 minutes of fame than the other band who was merely a one hit wonder of the early ‘00s.

Seven Nation Army is sweeping through college stadiums across the country this year ...

The fans were into it during the whole game especially in the nosebleeds. Most of college football faithful despise Notre Dame but the history isn’t built without loyalty from the fans. These folks clearly knew their game and were very active throughout the game. In fact they were so zoned into the game so much that they didn’t even pay attention to the other games that night. There was a huge matchup taking place about seven hours east of South Bend with BCS implications especially in the Big Ten country – Bucky vs. Sparty.

Now this was interesting trend throughout the whole night. The stadium has no jumbo-trons and the scores were not displayed consistently. They showed all the scores from the earlier games, probably b/c the computers were programmed to show the earlier ones first. But the monitor got cut off every time the scores from the night games showed up. The fans didn’t seem to care either. My buddy and I were about the only ones who were even paying attention to the screen during the game. The student section didn’t seem to care except one minor boo that was directed towards Michigan State when they took the lead before the half time. This has to be the “independent” attitude of the fans. If you belong to a conference, you care about other games. You care about your competitors’ big games so your team can leap them in the standings. The Irish fans know that they have a spot in the BCS waiting for them every single year b/c they are not part of any specific conference. Why should they care about the Wisconsin game?? If Notre Dame runs the table and makes it into the BCS standings, they could get a bid b/c the bowl games love their $$$.

Talking about the game, it didn’t go well for the Irish. Apparently Laine Kiffin can coach a little bit b/c the game plan worked. By the way, did everybody forget about Matt Barkley??? Remember when he was super hyped up as a “true freshman” against Ohio State in Columbus two years ago?? He is only a junior and he is still freaking good. The bowl ineligibility of the Trojans hurts his exposure but he was ripping up the Irish defense. It shouldn’t come a surprise at all b/c Denard Robinson was floating passes against that secondary and threw for almost 300 yards. Barkley is a legit NFL prospect so he was supposed to and did shred the Notre Dame defense all night long. The Fighting Irish aren’t going anywhere without getting a solid defense. Rees looked good in the 2nd half once they got into a rhythm but the turnovers still seem to be a major issue especially if you don’t have a defensive line that can get a stop when needed.

We didn’t really go into the game with any specific rooting interest. Neither of us cared for either team particularly and there was no monetary implications either considering that Dame was favored by 9.5 at kickoff. I just tried to soak in the atmosphere and check out the legendary field. I may never get another chance to see a game in South Bend again. Unless they join the Big Ten … that has to happen at some point right??

2 Comments to “Rudy and Touchdown Jesus – Field trip to South Bend.”

  1. You guys should have spent more time around campus. Checking out the Basillica, Grotto, Administration Building, Golden Dome, etc is always the highlight of my ND trips. Its like visiting a mideival European city. Also following the band as they march to the stadium is a must. You guys missed out on the best parts!

  2. Yea, it was a short trip for the most part. We only had 1-2 hours before kickoff and we wanted to get into the stadium to check out the USC and ND bands so that cut our pre-gaming short.

    Maybe if ND gets into the Big Ten, we have a chance to go there every year!!

    Definitely a nice little campus. Very “small town” feel and the buildings were very nice … at least on our way to the field.

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