As I mentioned in my Sunday Brunch review of The Mark, I made my annual pilgrimage to my beloved alma mater for a home football game last weekend. In case it hasn't been made clear enough yet, I adore Notre Dame and had a life-changing, unparalleled college experience. In my time at Notre Dame, I spent four football seasons as a member of the Band of the Fighting Irish, which dominated my falls then and my sweetest memories of college life now. Due in large part to its association with the band, I take Notre Dame football very seriously.
This year, our game of choice was the Navy game, a rivalry that, for my graduating class, has historically been fraught with peril. Prior to my freshman season (2007), Notre Dame had beaten Navy for 43 years straight--the longest streak in the history of college football against any one team. Of my four years on campus, however, three heralded extremely painful losses…including one after a triple overtime, and two victories (2007 and 2009) by less than 3 points. Needless to say, Notre Dame fans no longer look upon Navy as a cream-puff, easy win, which proved the case again this year.
I was lucky enough to have four of my very favorite people on the trip with me this year--Jon and I planned this for his second-ever game, and his former roommate Michael, a long-time ND fan, rode down with us. On the way, we stopped at O'Hare to make a very important pick-up--my best friend and senior year "roommate-soulmate," Kaitlin. The fourth member of our weekend crew was Life Coach Laura, a South Bend resident and ND employee who was gracious enough to host us.
The weekend started off with a fizzle as we arrived and raced right to the pep rally in Compton Arena, the brand new hockey facility. I had spent ages hyping up the pep rallies to Michael, who had never attended one--largely because I remember them being great when I was a student. This rally, however, was an unutterable let-down. No students attended, Brian Kelly barely strung three words together, and the highlight of the rally was Mike Brey, men's basketball coach, dressed up as Jackie Moon for Halloween. We ditched that rally like a bad habit and soothed our wounded Irish pride with a trip to the bookstore, followed by CJ's burgers for dinner and a chill night in at Laura's enjoying wine and "Ridiculousness" on MTV.
Our crew woke up on Saturday to iffy weather and immediately jumped into action. Laura, Jon and I ran to Studebagels for breakfast fortification for the day ahead, then Jon and Mike made a Meijer run to get adequate rain gear for us (best decision ever). We popped champagne and made mimosas, the girls got ready, and the guys threw a football around the backyard with Laura's precious pup, Fiona. After polishing off a few champagne bottles' worth of my favorite breakfast beverage, we headed to campus to get our Irish tailgate on.
Tailgating is still a novelty for me--as a band member, tailgates in uniform were expressly forbidden, and our football days were jam-packed with practice, brunch, and performing. I love hitting up the parking lots south of the stadium and checking out what everyone's grilling, listening to the music of choice (always an interesting blend of Top 40 and Irish reels), and of course taste-testing any libation passed my way. Laura has insane hookups due to her employment and many friends in the area, so we did some tailgate-hopping…visited some of her boyfriend's friends, and her college roommate's uncle's tailgate, where we were "offered" (conned into buying for $10) some sweet ND bracelets.
We rolled onto campus after spending several hours wandering the Joyce parking lot tailgates, and headed to Kaitlin's Mecca of football food traditions: the Knights of Columbus Steak Sandwich Tent. Look at the deliciousness right there. As if it wasn't already perfection on a hot hoagie bun, the proceeds all go to charity. Sign us up for one apiece. Of course, to offset the delicious barbecue-y goodness of our sandwiches, the skies chose the moment we got in line to open up, drenching all of us. Thank God for Jon and Mike's wise purchase of raincoats that morning…saved us all a miserably wet and cold football game!
Following our sandwiches, it was march out time. Kaitlin and Jon patiently endured watching me jump up and down with glee, tear up, and yell obnoxious hello's to every piccolo I could spot in the ranks. Literally one of my favorite parts of game day is watching the band march in and perform pre-game, and this week, it was made even more special by the spectacular fly-over by the Blue Angels. Unbelievable. Kaitlin and I were seated in the very top row of the stadium in the end zone, so our view was flawless…we could literally feel the heat off the planes as they flew overhead.
The game got off to a rapid start, and ND and Navy traded touchdowns and field goals through the entire first half. Halftime was a bit of a letdown for me--an homage to ACE, Notre Dame's answer to Teach For America, featuring a lot of vocalists and fire extinguishers as "smoke" and "exhaust" from cars. Thankfully, we had Ben's Pretzels and hot chocolate to ease the blow, and after halftime, Jon and Mike snuck over to our section to join us for the second half. We watched Notre Dame eke out a win, celebrated during the band's post-game show, and made our way home to Laura, who was waiting with Rocco's Pizza (oh my god, deliciousness in every way).
The party was far from over for these Irish faithful, however--in fact, I know some die-hards who would say the highlight of the weekend was still before us. If you have experienced it, it needs no explanation…and if you haven't, it defies all explanation. Campers, I'm talking about everyone's favorite shitty college dive bar…The Backer. Let's not even get into the number of memories I made (and/or failed to make, thanks Long Islands!) there over my college career. A weekend at ND wouldn't be complete without a trip. We prepped and pre-gamed at Laura's and rolled over around 11:30 for three hours of dance jam-fueled, Long Island-soaked, sludge-coated insanity of my favorite form. I saw so many alums and friends, including this year's crop of seniors, who were my freshmen when I graduated (and should NOT be old enough to go to bars!!). I loved every sweaty, exuberant minute of it.
We all rolled home, chowed on leftover Cambodia Thai (second dinner, mmmm), and stumbled to bed. The next morning, we dined at The Mark and braced ourselves for the long drive home to Minnesota. It's always so hard to see the Golden Dome in my rearview mirror, but this trip was so great with friends that truly feel like my campus family. I cannot WAIT to get back--in the meantime, I'll keep watching games on TV and loving those beautiful campus panoramas.
Love thee, Notre Dame. Thanks for a great weekend.
For more photos of the spirit and debauchery, check out the slideshow below. Go Irish!