A little over a year ago I had my first South Bend football experience. It was a stunning day, one that I’ll never forget. Saturday I returned for the big Notre Dame – Purdue contest. I can’t say it was as glorious a day as my first trip, but it was still a fine way to spend a fall day.
We departed from Indy around 6:30, and after two straight nights with less than five hours of sleep, I was dragging a little to say the least. While the other guys in our van were cracking open beers by 8:30, I held out until we were encamped in our tailgating spot in South Bend. I thought it better to wait and actually see that game than be ready for a nap at kickoff. We met up with a friend of the group who now lives in Chicago at his parents’ tailgate. They have a primo spot in the lot right next to the stadium. Hearing that a bunch of guys from Indy were coming up, his mom put some serious effort into the pre-game food. Sandwiches made on focaccia bread. Deviled eggs. Brownies. Two different home made dips. Cookies. Two different kinds of store-bought wings. It was ridiculous. We all stood around hungrily eyeing the food, thinking it was for a larger group that us. She said, “Boys, I made all this food for you, so you’d better eat it.” Very nice. We proceeded to engorge ourselves.
One of the more interesting things to watch on game day in South Bend is the nearly endless stream of private aircraft that fly in all morning. At least every 30 seconds another small jet would sail over the stadium towards the airport. If Sean Murray weren’t on his honeymoon, I’m sure he’d make a crack about the Pope somehow being involved. It was quite impressive to see all the air traffic, though. During the game, once commercial traffic resumed, planes came just over the edge of the stadium. I think that would be a pretty cool site to fly into South Bend during a game.
When you have nearly four hours to tailgate, you have to pace yourself. So naturally the one hard partier in our group handed us shots of what we thought were Jagermeister as soon as we set up shop. We all wrinkled our noses and tried to protest, but he insisted. Thankfully, they were half Jager, half Red Bull and they went down fairly smoothly. There were Purdue fans everywhere, so there was lots of trash talking, some of it friendly, some of it not so nice. What cracks me up about ND games are how many people with other affiliations you see. I saw shirts from almost every Big 10 school, four Big 12 schools, ACC schools, Pac 10 schools, etc. It’s as if people want you to know that they’re there for the spectacle more than to root for the Irish.
We survived four hours in the rather brisk parking lot and moved towards the stadium just before kick off. Our eight tickets we split into groups of 4-2-2, and I was paired up with a Purdue guy. We made a pit stop at the restroom near our section before we took our seats. It was like Opening Day at Kaufman Stadium in there: packed to the back walls. Guys, fueled by their liquid breakfasts, were yelling out, “GO IRISH!” “GO BOILERS!” back and forth. There were plenty of crude comments hurled by cowards as they exited the restroom. I was able to just stand there and enjoy it. Most fun, for me, was standing next to an older guy who was absolutely hammered. When we got to the urinal, he was making all kinds of inappropriate comments about the genetics and intelligence of Purdue players. I noticed, as I politely nodded my head at his yammering, that the windbreaker he was holding was hanging into the urinal and getting drenched. Served him right.
We took our seats, about five rows from the top in the south end zone. Purdue comes up short on third down and kick a field goal to take the lead. Notre Dame marches downfield to tie it. On the ensuing kick off, Purdue takes it back 100 yards for a touchdown. We were right on the edge of the Purdue section, and the Domers to my left got very quiet. Through the entire first half, it was obvious that Purdue was much, much better than Notre Dame. Purdue’s rather suspect defense was giving ND hope, though, despite leading 20-3 at halftime. Early in the third quarter, Purdue faced third and long from their own three. The ND student section behind them was at a fever pitch, sensing a chance to get back in the game with a stop or turnover. Kyle Orton lofted a beautiful pass that landed in Taylor Stubblefield’s hands at the 25. The Notre Dame defender slipped and fell, leaving Stubblefield with 75 yards of green. Stubblefied raced towards the end zone, pumping his fist in the air in the traditional Purdue train whistle fashion. The north side of the stadium went dead silent while the south end exploded. It was a phenomenal play, and one of the coolest changes of momentum I’ve ever seen. The game was pretty much over at that point, although ND Coach Willingham kept calling time outs in the fourth quarter which stretched the game out to four hours.
As the clock ran down, the Purdue team ran to the corner in front of us, where the band played their fight song and the 10,000 or so Purdue fans went nuts. On our way out of the stadium, down the tunnels that lead from the new upper deck to the ground, the Purdue fans let out huge roars that echoed against the concrete and were scary they were so loud. 30 years is a long time to wait for a win at a rival stadium.
There was a lot of settling of bets in the parking lot after the game. Many dejected Domers now afraid their season is again in the shitter. Lots of exceptionally happy Boiler fans now wondering aloud about a BCS bid. And for the innocent bystanders like me, just a gorgeous day of college football.