Describing college football is a challenging task without uttering Notre Dame in the same breath. No sports tour of any kind is complete without a stop in South Bend, Indiana. The gameday experience here is rich with eye-opening appeal. With the first step on these hallowed grounds, fans truly feel the history of former players, Heisman winners, and legendary coaches who made this game famous. Strolling around the campus prior to kickoff is where these traditions get pieced together – it’s college football’s theme park.
The experience starts with the Golden Dome and “Touchdown Jesus” – the famous mosaic that decorates the side of Hesburgh Library. From here, fans converge at the Grotto to light a candle and reflect on life or perhaps the upcoming football contest. The Grotto naturally leads to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart where Notre Dame players and coaches kneel down for one last prayer before gametime. Afterwards, the players file out and are greeted by a human tunnel of fans cheering their Irish to victory.
Moving onward, a nearby concert performed by the marching band sends chills down the loyal golden domers with the playing of the “Notre Dame Victory March” – undoubtedly the most well-known fight song in all of sports. Sprint quickly back to the Golden Dome in order to catch “Trumpets Under the Dome,” – a growing tradition where the trumpets from the marching band line the circumference of the third and fourth floors and play to the fans below who gaze up at the stunning rotunda while listening to the alma mater and victory march one more time before kickoff.
The stadium itself has undergone major renovations increasing capacity from 59,000 to 80,000 while the outside displays a classic brick facade. As kickoff grows near, the Irish Guard, dressed in traditional kilts, leads the band onto the field while the team explodes out of the tunnel. Every stadium emphasizes a grand entrance, but Notre Dame’s is particularly special because of the history that surrounds the experience. Players are urged to think of those that came before them – the ones who built this program and made it legendary. The fans are active throughout the game – especially the students who highlight their section by wearing the “the shirt.” The post-game magic continues as fans flood the bookstore. Memorabilia attached to each Fighting Irish experience is a must. The entrance to the store during one of my visits had Regis Philbin’s new book “Who Wants to be Me?” practically wallpapering the bookshelves. Famous alumni, such as Philbin, make it a point to be solid spokespeople of their treasured alma mater. And why not? Notre Dame is truly one of the most magical places to visit. Football fan or not, everyone takes away something more than just a bookstore trinket.