Notre Dame campus atmosphere ‘insane’ over football prowess
BY KARA SPAK Sun-Times Media November 18, 2012 8:51PM
A member of the Notre Dame band performs before an NCAA college football game between Notre Dame and Wake Forest in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Updated: December 20, 2012 6:33AM
SOUTH BEND, IND. — Here come the Irish.
And they are more pumped than a gaggle of wee leprechaun fortune hunters who stumbled onto a shiny pot of gold.
A win over Wake Forest on Saturday kept Notre Dame football, ranked No. 3 going into the game, undefeated. Losses by the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams Saturday pushed Notre Dame to a place it hasn’t been since 1993 — the country’s top-ranked college football program.
Students on campus — from freshman who weren’t born the last time the team was undefeated to seniors who weren’t born the last time the school won a national championship — described the atmosphere as “insane.” Professors are ending class emails with “Go Irish.” Fans by the thousands poured onto campus over the weekend to experience the heightened energy.
“Everyone is so excited, everyone is so invested in this season and cares so much,” said Bryce Burton, 22, a Notre Dame senior who spends every Saturday dancing an Irish jig in a tight green suit as the school’s leprechaun mascot. “The stadium is louder than I’ve ever heard it. The people are more excited than I’ve ever seen them.”
Even in off seasons — and there’s been plenty in the last 25 years — Fighting Irish fans like to think they’re part of something extra-special. They believe their fandom is such that other schools’ boosters in places like Ann Arbor, Mich., Pittsburgh and Southern California — especially southern California — simply can’t appreciate.
“I grew up around Ohio State and it’s a lot of fun,” said Allan Joseph, a medical school-bound Notre Dame senior who is the editor in chief of and a football writer for the campus newspaper. “It is different here. The people are different. It’s nothing against those other schools, but I think Notre Dame is just a special place. I couldn’t imagine a better place to spend a fall Saturday than Notre Dame stadium.”
He’s not alone. Notre Dame has sold out every home game for more than 30 consecutive years. Security isn’t tighter this year, said university spokesman Dennis Brown, because every game brings around 100,000 people to the stadium — 80,000 with tickets and another 20,000 without.
“We plan for that win, lose or draw,” he said. “Our full game day approach is the same for any game.”
Fans are loyal, including — full disclosure — this one. I was a student in 1993, the last time the Irish were ranked No. 1, and graduated in 1996.
Haters by the hundreds are out there, I know, and I was open to listening to their point of view. But if they were anywhere near campus Friday, I couldn’t find them.
“There are certain universities that have a massive following and Notre Dame is one of those schools,” said Cheryl Cooky, an interdisciplinary professor at Purdue who is a member of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport. “People are almost religious in their fervor, dedication and devotion. There’s kind of a cultural investment we have with football. It becomes more than it should be.”
The fanaticism of Notre Dame seems partially made and partially born. About one-quarter of every incoming freshman class are legacy students, those with a family member who graduated from Notre Dame.
“A lot of those kids, when they’re students, it isn’t new to them,” Brown said. “They understand the traditions, the loyalty and they carry it on.”
If you’re not born into Notre Dame fandom, it’s carefully cultivated in details big and small the moment students set foot on campus.
“Not every single one of them is interested in football or athletics as a whole,” Brown said. “They understand that is a part of Notre Dame that brings a sense of excitement, not more than any other school but as much as any other school in the country.”
Brown couldn’t quantify the excitement — it’s too early to tell if applications are up or if there’s been a dramatic impact on the already robust sale of licensed Notre Dame paraphernalia because of the winning season.
But on campus, he thinks people are simply happier.
“There’s a greater sense of energy and you can sense it if you’re here all the time,” he said.
Students aren’t the only ones on campus relishing the moment.
“It gets more intense every week,” said Judy Benchaar, 52, an administrative assistant in the university’s department of romance languages and literatures, who said a military fly-over on campus the Monday after the Boston College game was a highlight of the football season. “It’s definitely more crowded, everywhere.”
At the LaFortune Student Center on Friday, Adam Winter sat with three college friends, the group dressed in Irish regalia, ready for the game against Wake Forest. None of them is a student at Notre Dame; they all attend college in Iowa.
“You can go to any state and find a big group of Notre Dame fans,” said Winter, 20. “You can’t go to Iowa and find a big group of Alabama fans.”
They didn’t think it was odd that they were spending their weekend cheering for a team from a college they don’t attend.
“We have football,” said his friend Michael DeBates, 21, an Iowa State junior. “But it’s nothing like this at all.”