It’s been a while since I’ve been in the House that Rockne Built and Jack & Jack Renovated. I’m pretty sure it was the last NDN tailgater on campus, which would make it the lovely 38-3 whomping of Texas in 2015. That’s a 22-game streak, easily the longest in my life as a Notre Dame alumnus. In fact, other than the return trip to Austin in 2016, I don’t think I’ve watched an ND football game in person in that span at all.
There’s a variety of reasons, to be sure. When your kids get into high school age, you want to follow their activities and participate in their successes, particularly when your son is playing in the band at your alma mater just as you did. When your ND alumnus dad is in failing health, you want to make sure he’s got a place to watch the game and watch it with him while the opportunity remains.
And that’s not to say I wasn’t in South Bend. When I was able to get east once or twice a season, I got into the habit of meeting up with Mike Frank in Granger, attending the Irish Sports Daily tailgater, then going back to his place to watch the game, where the beer was cold, the bathrooms accessible, and the post-game podcast always entertaining.
But there always was that other matzo ball hanging out there … or should I say, hanging on the building.
When Crossroads was first announced, a big-screen TV wasn’t part of the package. But as I predicted, it quickly came to pass. When that decision was made, my decision was made — if I had to sit and watch a Notre Dame home game with a garishly large television screen in the venue, I’d either do it in my living room or my favorite bar, because seizure-inducing exhortations for LOUD CONTINUOUS NOISE was a bridge too far for my experience in a place that had meant so much to me.
So I (politely) declined a couple invitations. Based on some of the reports I got from last season, it seemed a good decision on my part. When my uncle told me he was giving up the season tickets that had been in my family since his freshman year in 1960 due to the garish noise, it was simultaneously heartbreaking and validating.
But friends continued to poke me about it. Don’t judge it until you’ve seen it, they said. Do you really want to spend (hopefully) 40+ years on this planet never setting foot in the place again?
That was indeed the plan, one I was 100 percent fine sticking to. I could continue to tailgate, I could enjoy watching the games with friends, and all without rewarding what I felt was an absolutely terrible decision that, unlike the turf (which doesn’t thrill me, but as long as it doesn’t affect the players’ ability to stay uninjured, isn’t something I’m going to war over), really can’t be undone at this point.
Last spring, though, two things happened on the same day (in what my mother would have called Rupert Sheldrake-like coincidence) which had an effect.
Right before my wife and I left for Ireland, I stopped in the hospital to visit Dad, who was in for some tests and observation. Our conversations ranged over the two hours that followed, but one thing he wanted to know was which games I was taking on his Monogram Club application. Since 1993, we had an agreement stating I would pay his Club dues and get control of the app, and although that hadn’t been all that useful in the last 15 years (cough, coaching, cough), it was still handy.
I explained to him I wasn’t planning on attending any games, and he got a sad look on his face. “You should think about it,” he said. “I know you think that screen is stupid, but there’s more to the place than the screen.”
Knowing what a stubborn child he’d raised, he didn’t push further than that, but when I left, I told him I’d think it over. Arriving home, sitting right on top of the day’s mail was an envelope from the band office, reminding my wife and I about the alumni reunion taking place in October.
“Message received, Rupert” I thought. Three weeks later when his scheduled time arrived, I logged in to the website for Dad’s app and picked up two pickets to … well, you get it.
When Saturday dawns, I’ll be driving out to South Bend. The primary purpose will be to reconnect with band friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in a while. But I’ll also take the opportunity to evaluate the dreaded changes, including that big flashing thing in the south end zone — an evaluation I promised Dad would be made with an open mind, so that’s what’s going to happen.
Maybe it won’t be so bad. The reports on the boards say they’re running it much better this year than last. The use of the “Michigan can’t hear” video clip certainly was very effective.
But there are still folks who say the seats in the south end zone suck now thanks to the noise. And the concept that Notre Dame fans need visual stimulation as a reminder of when to cheer still rankles.
I guess we’ll see what happens.