While Chicago is a beautiful city, and we would have liked to explore its boundless historical, artistic, and culinary delights... we were on a mission. This mission would take us from the "Heart of the Midwest" to its sports mecca soul... South Bend Indiana. Why you ask? To see "The Fighting Irish" of Notre Dame, of course!
Ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper I rooted for Notre Dame. Perhaps it was after my parents purchased their first color tv and "The Fighting Irish" were broadcast nationally. Or, perhaps it was their uniforms, their history, or maybe, just maybe, it was that Notre Dame was a breeding ground for some of my all time favorite NFL players. Joe Montana, Dave Casper, Alan Page, Tim Brown, and Jerome Bettis (the bus) are just a few of the many "Hall of Famers" that have played on the legendary field at the University of Notre Dame.
Nancy and I rented a car which we picked up at the Midway Airport in Chicago to begin our pilgrimage to Indiana and the University of Notre Dame. We were on this mission to see one of the most storied rivalries in all of college football, Notre Dame vs. USC. Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of going to South Bend and watching Notre Dame play USC... and so this was a bucket list event that would transcend any sport spectacle I had witnessed in person up to this point in my life.
On our way to South Bend we discovered that Indiana (not the whole state) was in the Eastern Time Zone. Because we calculated for any unforeseen obstacles, and this was the reason for our trip, we were not going to succumb to any outside forces that would stand in our way of visiting the campus prior to the game and thereby realizing the full and total Notre Dame experience.
We had booked a room at the Double Tree in South Bend and were blessed to find out the Notre Dame football players were staying there too. So, prior to the game I saw some of my favorite Notre Dame players dressed in their classic blue blazer with a gold tie. In addition to seeing the players there was a pep rally (thought I was back in college) which was just more icing on a beautiful cake baked over the course of a lifetime and devoured moment by moment as game time approached.
On a side note... Don't ever stay at the Double Tree in South Bend. Their collective brains couldn't buy enough gas to power a fleas go cart around the inside of a Cheerio.
After a delayed check in (Nancy had to change in the parking garage) we were off to the game. Our shuttle dropped us off directly in front of the "Golden Dome". The Golden Dome was added to the main building on campus in 1882. Atop the dome you'll find a nineteen foot tall, 4,000 pound statue of Mary, the Mother of God, "Notre Dame". Notre Dame football players wear gold helmets in deference to the Dome.
I felt like Nancy and I were traversing holly ground as we walked the campus of Notre Dame. Besides the Golden Dome there was one other historical landmark I wanted to see... "Touchdown Jesus" (132 feet high and 65 feet wide).
Once the '64 football season started (the first year of head coach Ara Parseghians reign ) Heisman trophy candidate and eventual winner John Huarte was throwing touchdown passes to Jack Snow... and thus "Touchdown Jesus" was born. This amazing mural adorns the south side of the library building positioned for the cameras atop the west side press box in Notre Dame Stadium. The mural was beautiful with a pond in front which became the subject of many of our photographs en route to capturing this very special day.
Now it was time to walk to the stadium. I envisioned the prayer for the Notre Dame players prior to the game and then Knute Rockne Head Coach of Notre Dame 1918-1930 giving his now famous speech to cheer on his team to victory inside this beloved stadium. We entered the stadium through Gate D (the Lou Holtz Gate). Lou Holtz was the last Notre Dame coach to win a National Championship in 1988.
We meandered down to some wonderful seats (Thank You Brian) 20 rows from the field in perfect position to see the Jumbotron, the players, and of course the band. Prior to the game the Jumbotron showed the players kneeling in the locker room listening to the prayer and coaches speech. The intimacy of the stadium, the Notre Dame band blasting "The Fighting Irish" fight song, the energy from the players, coaches and fans, and the vivid memory of Rudy Ruettiger being carried off the field created for me an emotional tide that ebbed and flowed through-out this real life fairy-tale.
I was both humbled and elated to see such a tradition as this college football rivalry game between two storied programs as Notre Dame and USC. One funny thing happened during the game which I will never forget.
Right before halftime a fight broke out between the two teams. The head referee helped break up the fight and then gave the signal for un sportsman like conduct. He then said these now famous words," Un sportsman like conduct, Notre Dame... UCLA. Too bad he epically whiffed on that one as he failed to mention the team Notre Dame was actually playing that day, USC. So, through-out the game we were cheering on UCLA, a classic win-win. Speaking of win-win the Notre Dame "Fighting Irish" beat USC in a close game 30-27.
I will never forget that day, that game, that city, and the kind and wonderful Notre Dame fans that added historical facts and perspective to the events of that magical day.