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  • Adult Swim

    by Mike Coffey

    My dad was a Notre Dame graduate, and before he spent 12 straight years paying ND tuition for my brother, sister and me and got a little burned out on the practice, he went to plenty of ND football games. He’d head eastbound on Friday nights or Saturday mornings. Sometimes he’d return in the evenings, and sometimes he got to spend the night at my grandparents’ house in Long Beach, IN, near Frank Leahy’s old place. Either way, he usually returned happy to have spent time with his classmates and friends watching ND football.

    As I reached the age of reason, I also reached the conclusion this was something I wanted to be a part of. So I began lobbying my father to attend these games with him. Needless to say, it was not a favor immediately granted. I had to meet a number of conditions, not the least of which was proving I could sit for the requisite period while paying the proper level of attention. The “ooh, something shiny” nature of my personality meant this was much easier said than done. But I was determined to overcome it, and in September of 1980, I found my 10-year-old self in the back seat of my grandfather’s Cadillac on a Friday evening, heading for my first weekend of Notre Dame football with excitement in my soul.

    That excitement was tempered a little after dinner Friday night, though, when I got my dad’s version of a pregame pep talk. This trip was something reserved for people who were (or could at least act) grown up, he told me. There would be a lot of walking involved. I would spend a lot of time before the game looking at buildings and other sights on campus. We would be visiting with a number of his friends, and he expected me to act my age (if not older) and treat them respectfully. I might hear “colorful language”, and while such words were not suitable for my use, people of a more mature vintage were entitled to speak however they wished. As far as I was concerned, the words “I’m bored” were removed from the English language for 24 hours. If I was not willing to accept these things, I was told, I could stay at the house with my grandmother. But if I put my butt in that car the next morning, I was on the hook and would be held accountable.

    I was no quitter, and had spent too much time proving I deserved to be there. So that car saw my butt in it 12 hours later.

    My dad hadn’t pulled any punches. We parked over at St. Mary’s and walked the mile and a half to campus. We said prayers at the Grotto, went over to Sorin to see dad’s old room, and stood for over an hour at the (non-Barnes-and-Nobleized) Bookstore to buy stuff for my siblings who hadn’t made the trip. We walked around the then-closed Fieldhouse to relive some of dad’s track memories. We stopped by Bob Feely’s tailgater in Green Field, mere steps from the student entrance to the Stadium. I tossed a football around with some of the other kids whose parents were in attendance, while the adults wondered if Dan Devine could recapture the magic of three seasons before in his final go-around, and how good this Blair Kiel kid was. They tossed down some beers over the course of our visit, and while some of them got well-lubricated, none of them got profane or out of control … although I did learn a new word or two.

    Kickoff time arrived, and we headed for our seats in Section 36. I’d like to think my reaction walking into the Stadium was similar to Ned Beatty’s in Rudy, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, given that I was sunburned and a little tired. But I’d committed, and dammit, I was going to see it through. Three hours later, Harry O’s kick crept over the crossbar, ND sent Bo and his boys back to Ann Armpit losers, and I was glad I’d stuck it out.

    Having seen one of the greatest games in ND history certainly made an impression on me. But even if the kick had fallen short, the whole thing would have been worth it to me because I’d proven myself worthy of it. As Ara Parseghian said in Wake Up The Echoes, anything in life really worth having, you have to pay a price for. I’d paid my dues by acting like the adult I needed to be to experience Notre Dame football, and it made the experience all the sweeter.

    Which is why I’ve never been able to understand (and probably never will) the continued kid-ification of Notre Dame football, the latest example of which appeared in the recently-released list of football weekend improvements. The new “Rally on the Green” area — itself probably a good idea, given the previous lack of utilization of the space and its ability to connect the new Eddy Street Commons area more solidly to campus — will include “roaming ‘kid-friendly’ entertainment throughout the grounds.” This follows the inclusion of child-focused areas at the Blue-Gold game, including things like jumping jacks. The goal of a more “family-friendly” Notre Dame has been cited as justification for changes ranging from pep rally location and content to the overzealous rule enforcement by Indiana state law enforcement, Cappy Gagnon and some of his ushers that prompted the backlash and resulting “improvements list” in the first place.

    While places like LSU and Miami and Michigan seem to pride themselves on creating an antagonistic atmosphere seemingly from the moment you exit your car, that’s too far in the other direction, and doesn’t represent a solution to me. So I have no problem with ND making an effort to keep things civil.

    There’s a lot of space, however, between civil and where the administration is pushing things. When you buff out the rough edges, you detract from what makes the experience special, and that lessens Notre Dame in the process. Zero-tolerance isn’t a solution either, and a generation of kids who used to be content tossing the pigskin around apparently now have to get non-stop protection and stimulation, even if it costs long-time fans in the value of their experience.

    Part of what made that Michigan game in 1980 special for me was that I’d earned the right to attend. I’d proven no one outside or inside the Stadium had to change their behavior simply because I was there. It didn’t give them license to act like idiots, but it didn’t mean they had to bend over backwards special just for little old me. They could participate in the experience just as they always had, and I would be along for the ride and experience it with them.

    How much cheaper would that experience have been for me if I would have spent the hours jumping around in an inflatable, or getting my face painted, or other things I usually saw at the parish carnival? Would I have been as impressed by the tens of thousands sitting in their seats and clapping politely for three hours as I was by the fact we spent at least half the game and most of the fourth quarter standing up and yelling ourselves hoarse?

    My father spent enough time catering to me the other 360 days of the year, so I hardly begrudged him the five ND football games. I was included there when I proved I didn’t need the catering. I guess I don’t understand why that is now a bad thing.

    20 Responses to “Adult Swim”

    1. Blah, blah, blah, blah…..
      How many ways can I sum this up :

      1. "Back in my day…."
      2. "My ND was never like this…"
      3. "All change is bad…"
      4. "ND, though not like any other place, should be like every other place…"

      Really, why the obsession with maintaining ND as a relic of a bygone era? Times change. Mathematics dictate that there are more families with younger kids that attend ND games than ever before, so why not do something that might be fun for kids?

      Why can't the University try and provide a welcoming atmosphere to everyone? Does that prevent ND fans from standing, cheering, and making the game-time atmosphere inhospitable for opposing teams? No, it doesn't. Change is neither good nor bad, it is merely change.

      There is nothing that says you can't still treat your kids like you were born in the 1950's, ND is still an all-male institution, and women belong at home. You still can, only the University is no longer pretending that any of that is true.

    2. In many ways, I agree. It's not just the gameday experience; I've witnessed several experiences of watering down Notre Dame's unique character in my relatively short relationship with Our Lady (class of '02). I have seen the demise of Sophomore Siblings Weekend, SYRs, and the ability of students to tailgate w/out fear of getting arrested to name a few.

      However, there's no reason the gameday experience can't be fun for all ages. Young children that can't stay still for 4 hours probably don't belong in the stadium. But I don't see any problem with a 10yr old kid having a place to play before the game starts.

      One example of "kiddification" that I wish they would allow is for infants to enter the stadium w/o a ticket. My daughter is only a few months old, and lacks the ability to sit up…so a $70 ticket for her own seat seem pretty crazy. Airlines let you bring a lap child, so why can't the stadium. She'll sleep through anything when she's tired, so I wouldn't be worried about everyone being too loud or anything. Since we'd be coming from out of town, the logistics of what to do with the child mean that my wife and I unfortunately aren't likely to be able to attend any games this year.

    3. Why would you bring a child less than a year old into the Stadium? It's loud, so napping will be difficult, and changing/feeding space is extremely limited. I realize the child is being carried, but ND tries to justify the goofy things it's been doing by saying they need to "protect" people who do things like that.

      That's part of the baggage that comes with having children. We all went through it.

    4. Anonymous says:

      I love the article. Last year at the Notre Dame Syracuse game I was yelled at on numerous occassions to sit down. Near the end of the game when Syracuse was rallying to take the lead, a man in front of me told me to sit down because his kids could not see. I, like the author of this article, recalled my first games as a child at ND. My dad would NEVER ask someone to sit down, or quiet down, for my sake. Profanity is completely different, and to this day I refrain from ever cursing (not that I have a problem with it, but there are women and children in attendance and it is not called for.) But, my father would put me on his shoulders at the end of the game, or have me stand on the bench. I would stretch, lean, jump in the air, and do whatever my body could handle to see the last plays of the game. It is inconceivable to me that I now have to be less of a fan because of someone else's kids. So now people don't have to yell "down in front." They can text an Usher and get me thrown out. Like the first commenter noted, some of us still like to be "fans" not spectators. When are they going to make announcements and send out press releases that let people it's okay to make noise on third down? Like the last time I was told to sit down by an usher I say: "This is football game, not a daycare center!"

    5. Anonymous says:

      I also have a problem with why our children always need constant entertainment. Why can't it be fun to be outside on a fall day having a picnic, walking around, running through the grass/quad, and throwing a football. Our whole extended family will go the the games, and then my mother-in-law and sister-in-law gets to hang with the kids, walk to the lake, etc, while we go into the game. But the kids don't need blow up slides and such, it is just as fun for them to watch the ducks at the lake, listen to the birds in the silence of the grotto, and just run and play in the grass.

    6. Anonymous says:

      Different University, similar experience. I went to my first Ohio State game with my best friend, his Dad and his uncle. I was 10 as well. My parents gave me a very similar lecture as your father and it was repeated by my friend's father and uncle. In a way it was fortunate that I was ten because I was excited at a game as an adult I admit I might lose focus on. We played Minnesota and beat them 47-0. We toured the campus before the game, tossed the football on the Oval, etc. We didn't need inflatables and slides.

      My son is 6 and has not been to a regular game at the Horseshoe yet. He has enough trouble sitting through Mass or a movie. 🙂 I love him, but like your Dad, he needs to prove to me he can sit through the game. I have taken him to the stadium before games I did not have tickets to so he can see the band at Skull Session and he can get the atmosphere of college football. Sadly I have had to use it on a couple of occasions, as a learning opportunity of how not to behave or treat opposing fans. My fellow brethren are getting better, but we still have too many fans who need to learn some class.

      Anyhow, I agree with you. I take my son to pregame to see things he doesn't see elsewhere (hey, nice thoughts, please) and not for ball pits and slides. If I wanted him to see that I would take him to the park or a place that had those kind of activities.

    7. Honsasubwayalum says:

      I cried like a baby reading your article. I am five years your junior and remember Blair Keil and Walley Klein as the first players I knew the names of. It was so familiar. It's remarkable to me how the Notre Dame experience of one translates so perfectly to that of another. I feel that Notre Dame is based in tradition, and that some things should stay the same. There is something very powerful about tradition. It moves people and makes them rise to overcome adversity. Respect of this tradition can only be achieved by OBSERVING IT. I could only hope that my children in this new "sanitized" ND culture can draw on this same feeling of tradition and strength that has inspired me to excel when I could find no other motivation do so. Seriously though, this is Mecca. This is a place to rejoice, lament, bang your chest, and get crazy for the Irish!! If the kids, or rather the self-conscious parents can't handle it, there is a safe place about 75 yards east called the ACC that has huge screens that televise the games. Conveniently, it's right next to the blow-up toys and it can give you a near-beer sort of experience.
      Secondly, there is such a thing as not getting mad AT you but rather NEAR you. Getting thrown out or worse for standing up and expressing emotion while you're old and aware enough to FOLLOW THE GAME AND REACT APPROPRIATELY is simply ridiculous. Don't go to war in a prom dress…yeah, ruined in the first then minutes or so. Dead people are for morgues; not Notre Dame Stadium.
      This is real life baby…this is not your livingroom…this is how people react about something they are very passionate about, and this is the proper place to display the emotion. If anything, it can be a learning experience to show children how to acceptably be entusiastic and agressive AT the game…what it means to be a true fan who cares deeply about the success and failures of their team. It will teach them what it means to support something they're passionate about without wavering. Jeez…I'm sounding like Ditka…

    8. Good article – a lot of interesting points and very reminiscent for me.

      I need to ask the obvious and important question here: Mike, do you have kids?

    9. Yes, I have two children. Thus far, they've only been to three Blue and Gold games.

    10. Leave the kids home this should be adult entertainment PERIOD!!! Church is for Sundays not Sat afternoons in the fall at ND stadium Damit!!!! I am stoked I can go and see them next season twice and never have to leave Manhattan because in NYC you can actually party and not be afraid to upset the little kids!

    11. I enjoyed your article very much. It makes a comment on a problem that I believe exists "now-a-days" and that is parents cannot take care of their own children, so it becomes everyone else's responsibility. Parents just cannot bring themselves to ensure that their children are well behaved. Additionally, children grow up on video games and constant sensory input and therefore don't know what to do just "sight-seeing". I took my boys to each of their first ND games when they were 12 for exactly the same reasons cited in your article, I wanted them to enjoy the overall experience of a game day on campus. I am glad to say that they didn't let me down. My daughter is now 10, she may get to go at age 11, but the jury is still out.

    12. Good post, however, I think you are using kids as an excuse for other things. The reason for some of the changes inside the stadium as well as outside are obvious. Were you at the Syracuse game last year? Do you witness OUR fans throwing snowballs at OUR players? Is that your memory of ND games of past? Fans should yell, scream and cheer as loud as they want. They should not be asked to sit either. The changes being made have nothing to do with a family atmosphere and everything to do with unruly fans who think it is funny to pelt your own team with snow balls. There is a big diffence between being a fanatic fan and an unruly fan. Right or wrong, there are a lot more kids attending games now than ever before and they pay the same $70 as you and I. People are not being quiet because of families, it has more to do with what has been going on in the game. Hopefully we are on the right track and this will blow over. I have brought my grandson to at least one game a year since he was 18 months old. He is now 6 and can't wait for this years game. I am not an Alumni, nor do I have the finances to attend the games easily. Each game is a challenge to come up with the funds to get tickets and get there (we live 10 hours away). It is a family event for us and we cherish every trip we make. Yell and scream and stand up all you want. We will be doing the same thing. Just act like a human being and a representative of Notre Dame, not some drunken BC or Michigan fan.

    13. I think your mixing your arguments. I'd agree that the loss of tailgate space close to the stadium is a shame and has changed the game-day experience for the worse. But that has little to do with the actions taken to make game-day more 'family friendly'.

      It sounds to me like the new Rally on the Green area is a great place for visitors who don't have a tailgate to go to to have some fun beyond just taking the self-guided tour of campus. If there's diversions for the youngsters, even better. We tailgated at the Nevada game and there was no way we were bringing our kids into the game so the band stepping off and the RontheG became highlights for the youngsters.

      Nowadays families rarely eat together so the idea of Dad heading out to the football game by himself — or with one kid in tow — is pretty rare. Families are choosing to do these kinds of things together. Which is a good thing, although it is a consequence perhaps of spending less time together during the week. College football, particularly at Notre Dame, is no longer a 'boys club'.

      Further, the experience inside the stadium is hardly compromised. Sure, people sit on their hands more than I care for but try going to an NFL, MLB, etc game these days. It's like trying to watch a sport in a shopping mall.

    14. It's always something with you guys. Who cares what you, I, or our kids do at the games? Lets get back to playing some Irish football and forget the small stuff.

    15. I think the key phrase in this discussion is "maturity level."
      Little Contrarian is 6 years old and when he asked if he could come with me to a ND football game, I replied "only if you could stand in the stadium for 4 hours without saying 'I'm bored.'" He thought about it for a minute and then agreed that he'd have more fun at home playing with his toys.

    16. Anonymous says:

      Thanks for this enlightening article. Seems like ND has gone the way of all the other limp-wristed sensitive-oriented secular organizations. Kids do not need access to everything. I see parents who bring their kid to a pub to watch the game when most of the people there came there to get away from the kids. Why should others be put out because some "to-cheap-for-a-babysitter" wants to drag their kid to an adult location.

      I took my 3 year-old to the ND-Air Force game in 2006. He tailgated, threw the ball and went to the bathroom at half-time. The rest of the time he yelled Go Irish! amongst all the Air Force fans. No special accomodations were made because he was a kid. Nor did I even think to expect it. They did have all that kid friendly bouncy junk, we just didn't go over there. I have my own child and do not want to be around hundreds of screaming kids on my day off while trying to enjoy a great football game.

      Society, in general has become a gathering of people who are either the "can't help its" or the helpers of the people who "can't help it."

      Makes me wonder what traditions are left at ND and if I should waste my time working to send my kid there in the future? To me, especially after the last commencement fiasco, that standards and traditions are taking a beating by progressivism and the path of least resistance.

      Did anyone text message to the security last year when "fans" threw snowballs at the team after the loss? Shameful, simply unacceptable for what I hope is still a great institution.

    17. Anonymous says:

      Some very valid points – – nice job.
      Clarification of Facts: I attended the 2008 Syracuse game (sec 27; row 27). The so-called "fans" throwing snow balls at the Irish players were seated in the middle of the ND student sections to my left. This pre-pubescent activity was continuous throughout the game (start-to-finish), not just at the end when the agonizing loss was in the books. Is this an indictment of the ND student body and their inability to self police themselves/others?
      ……I still think so eleven months after their ridiculous display of infantile behavior.

    18. I went to my 1st ND game when I was 20 and my (future-at-the-time) wife was a smic-chick. That was in the late '80s. We went to the grotto, had a steak sandwich at the KofC, watched the band step off and saw some great football. I've been to a game or 2 almost every year since. I still stand for most of the game whether those around me are standing or not. It's part of ND football.
      Last year I took my then 11 year old son to his first ND game (after having 'the talk' about paying more attention to the game than the band and no 'I'm bored'). He loved it and stood for most of the game, cheering and screaming himself horse. He still loves his Zbikowski jersey, and even loves that it is now a Rudolph jersey.
      This year, due to some very unusual circumstances, I wound up taking all 4 of my kids (ages 12, 10, 6 and 4) to the Washington game. I was pleasantly surprised at how well they all behaved, and felt sorry for my wife when she left in the rain at half time to take them to the ACC (I swear it was her idea, and she told me I didn't need to go with her). I was surprised during the game when the woman (Washington fan) behind me asked my 4 year old to sit down so she could see the game. To be clear, my 4 year old standing on the bench is the same size as me sitting on the bench. I was very close to telling the woman to stand up if she wanted to watch the game, but found myself trying not to be 'that guy'. As I said before, I stand for most of the game and I would never think it acceptable to ask someone in front of me to sit because I or my kid couldn't see. Standing is part of ND football. It's fortunate for the Washington fan behind my daughter that I did have all 4 of my kids there, because I would have stood, mostly out of excitement for my team, and partly out of spite for her asking my 3ft tall child to sit down. Instead I sat and screamed myself horse along with all my kids.
      To address the article, my wife mentioned that there was a 'kid' area on campus. She never indicated any desire to go see it. I think she was told about it from some of her old classmates when they found out we were taking all our kids to the game. I never saw the kid area, I never heard the kid area. I don't really know where it is. It didn't seem to have any effect on my — or my kids — experience. As it turned out, we went to the grotto, had a steak sandwich at the KofC, watched the band step off and saw a great football game. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

      In God's name, Go Irish

    19. Anonymous says:

      I have taken my son to a game when he was 3 or 4 years old—he still remembers going to these games a few years ago with me. The key is being realistic—he has very vivid memories of getting pizza at the JACC during the second half. I have also taken my family to ND without me and without my kids actually going to the game. The flip side of it being an all day event, having a young family, and a busy work schedule, is that it is nice to have something for them to do too, and then I don't have to spend a whole day without them. It is also a lot different taking my kids when the team is mediocre and facing a mediocre opponent in good weather—say SDSU—versus a "big game" like USC, etc.

    20. There are some valid points here mixed together with a lot of irrelevant carping. Honestly, who cares if they add some kid-friendly stuff for the Blue-Gold game? For crying out loud. It's the freaking spring scrimmage, and the stadium is not exactly full. The atmosphere is not exactly electric, and there's obviously no opponent to intimidate.

      The general Disney-like atmosphere promoted by the university to visitors is annoying, I think – so I agree with you as far as that goes. That has less to do with pandering to kids and more to do with soaking the tourists for every last dollar.

      And there's no correlation between people sitting in their seats and kids coming to the game. There are many kids in the grad and law student section, and everybody stands the whole time on the benches. (Not as loud as the other student sections, but still – standing and yelling the whole game.) I fail to see how a bouncy house at an edge-of-campus rally has anything whatsoever to do with people standing up and making noise inside the stadium. If you have specific evidence that the powers-that-be are trying to quiet down fans during the actual game, in the name of being family-friendly, then that's a problem. If the point is just that things ain't the way they used to be when you were a kid – "we didn't need no damn bouncy houses, and it snowed more then, too" – then that's a fairly uninteresting fact having more to do with your nostalgia than anything of general interest.

      I echo Mike's point above in the comments – when any kid, no matter how small or portable, has to have a full-priced seat, then I have a hard time thinking that all these problems with the game atmosphere have much to do with pandering to the kiddies. I was an ND grad student for five years, and I wasn't too cheap for a babysitter, I was too poor. I could have taken one of my kids and held him on my back (while standing through the game, mind you) if it hadn't been fiscally impossible to do so. Not that I think it's essential that they make it easy to bring small kids to the game – the atmosphere isn't really geared to that, and shouldn't be – but it's hard to take your argument seriously. It's not kids, it's the administration turning the whole thing into a lucrative tourist experience.