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What might have been
2006-10-23 21:34
by Bob Timmermann

When you get to the Notre Dame campus for a football game, it's pretty obvious that you are entering a different world of college football fandom.

However, it wasn't just seeing nuns outside the stadium that made it different. It is quite a different atmosphere than this Pac-10 fan is used to.

For the most part, the fans of Notre Dame are exceedingly, if not somewhat creepily polite to visitors. If you wear visiting colors to the game, you are continually greeted by Notre Dame fans saying "Welcome to South Bend, I hope you enjoy the game." For the most part, I think the fans were sincere. There might have been a few people putting on a show, but they were in a definite minority. The ushers at the stadium, who are headed by the estimable Cappy Gagnon to whom I owe many thanks for all his help in arranging tickets and parking for my brother and I, are definitely sincere in their good cheer. If my father had liked football (which he didn't) and lived in the South Bend area, he would have made a perfect usher at Notre Dame Stadium.

Not counting trips to the Coliseum to see USC games, I've only seen UCLA play on the road four times. Once against BYU at the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim, twice at Berkeley, and once at Stanford. In general, UCLA fans don't travel anywhere. They don't like to travel to Pasadena for home games. But UCLA sold out its full allotment of 5,000 tickets and there were likely a few more thousand than that squeezed into the 80,000 or so people at Notre Dame Stadium. It was quite a sight. Even the band made the trip.

The weather was supposed to be awful, but it turned out to be an almost perfect day for watching college football with temperatures in the high 50s to low 60s during the game. Prior to the game, the Notre Dame band played the UCLA fight song. Then the pregame festivities started with the PA announcer reciting the Preamble to the Consitution. Of course, being a child of the 1970s, I can only recite that this way. Then we got to hear the opening of the Declaration of Independence. And the band played "America the Beautiful". After that, I put my cap back on and sat down on my bench (which looks like it was sat on by people who watched the Four Horsemen play). Then my brother reminded me that they still were going to play the National Anthem. And after that and a flyover by a very loud jet, it was time to get started.

As for the details of the game, I think we all know what happened. I don't want to rehash it. It didn't feel like a punch in the gut to me. It was more like a bad dream. After all is a dream a lie that doesn't come true or is it something worse? Well, I think know the answer to that question now. It's something worse. (I didn't go down to any river though.)

I actually have much different memories to take back from the game. I remember the two guys sitting behind me who were straight out of a "Saturday Night Live" sketch with their Chicago accents. One guy was a fan of "Da Bears" and the fact that the winning touchdown was scored by Jeff Samardzija just made it a perfect day for them. They operated sort of like a Greek chorus during the game with their comments about the ineptitude of the Notre Dame offense for the first 58 minutes and 58 seconds of the game. At one point in the game, I felt one of the guys rubbing his hand on my back, which I found odd. He told me had spilled popcorn on me. I'm choosing to believe that explanation.

Another thing you don't hear too often over the PA system at a football game is an announcement of when Masses would be celebrated after the game. If you're ever at Notre Dame, remember that the shuttles to the parking lots run UNTIL all the Masses are over. Personally, I believe going to a football game on a Saturday afternoon should satisfy my Sunday Mass obligation, but I was not able to gain a lot of support for that position.

Notre Dame Stadium is supposed to be an intimidating place to play for visitors, but UCLA didn't seem scared at all during the game. Notre Dame does not have a crowd that is particularly loud, although that could have been because Notre Dame played so poorly for much of the game. Also, a few fans bailed out early on the game. Not to the same extent that UCLA fans leave the Rose Bowl early, but a few thousand fans headed out early by my estimate.

Needless to say, the Notre Dame fans who stayed were deliriously happy. And I didn't hear a single Notre Dame fan taunt me on the way out. I could say that if the situations were reversed, that UCLA fans would have been equally magnanimous, but I doubt it. UCLA fans are not exactly known for being gracious in victory. It's just not in our nature. It likely stems from playing second fiddle to USC in football for well, a long time combined with a sense of entitlement after winning 11 basketball championships.

I've been trying to think of slogans to describe the UCLA football experience:

"Underachieving since 1954!"
"UCLA Football! It's Sorta Good Most of the Time!"
"This Team is Never Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts!"
"Our Players Will Be Much More Famous Later!"

But maybe I should just imagine a happier ending to last Saturday's game.

Maybe something like this:

Thanks to reader tjshere for that bit of work. And another T.J. is sympathetic.

2006-10-23 21:43:02
1.   D4P
Thanks, Bob.
2006-10-23 21:57:51
2.   Bluebleeder87
how can you afford to travle so much on a libryarians salary!!??
2006-10-23 21:58:28
3.   Bluebleeder87
ps i'm jelous!
2006-10-23 22:02:30
4.   Bob Timmermann
I am actually a criminal who robs liquor stores in his spare time.
2006-10-23 22:11:50
5.   bhsportsguy
4 Actually he keeps all the nickels and dimes he collects for overdue books, he's that guy you see late a night at the change machines in Ralph's exchanging coins for cash.
2006-10-23 22:14:41
6.   Jeromy
As I do share with you a passion for the Dodgers (and discussion about baseball in general), I'm not a SoCal guy, so I was actually rooting for ND vs. UCLA. An upset would have put a dagger in ND's BCS hopes. I'm Catholic and work at the University of Portland, a fellow Holy Cross school. This is nice, because about once per year I get to travel back to South Bend on "business."

Therefore, I will be in South Bend for the Nov. 18 Notre Dame game against Army, tailgating with some priests under a flag that represents the Vatican. They make really great chili! And yes, I will be rushing with my group to attend Mass at the Basilica just after the game--most likely we will have to sit on the floor because it will be standing room only.

The game should be a blowout! Hopefully, I will get to see as good of weather as you did, but I'm preparing for much worse. It may strange for folks to be that nice--gracious hosts even--at a modern sporting event, but you know, isn't that the way it should be? Many of the bleacher folks at Dodger Stadium could learn a lot from attending a game where Touchdown Jesus observes the festivities.

2006-10-23 22:17:52
7.   Greg Brock
What a great experience, and a fantastic recap. Wish I could have been there to be kicked in the face by my football team.
2006-10-23 22:18:47
8.   Ravenscar

I do miss a few things about California.

Of course, when I lived in LA, we bought food at a bulk food supermarket somewhere in the barrio, not too far from our house on 23rd between Hoover and Fig. Ralph's was too expensive for our grad student commune.

2006-10-23 22:50:27
9.   bhsportsguy
I was watching the game with some other posters on one of UCLA fan sites that has the words Bruins Online and Report in its name.

Anyway, it was interesting to see how are faith on what might be happening rise and fall during the game.

1. Second play, Chris Horton makes a big hit for a fumble that UCLA recovers, lots of cheers to be followed by general cursing about play calling and then depression when the field goal gets disallowed by penalty and then UCLA misses the second try.
2. Notre Dame goes ahead 7-0, people are beginning to wonder if the game is about to go out of control.
3. But then a fluke play and UCLA scores to tie up the game and hopes springs eternal.
4. Another defensive stand and then another drive with a former DE catching a pass to give the Bruins the lead that would hold until the last 27 seconds.
5. To skip ahead to the ND going for it on 4th down, they had converted 5 or 6 it seemed by then but this time no, it is stuffed and people are really beginning to think that the Bruins are going to be kings of LA for the day.
6. One of the guys there says that he thinks UCLA will pass during the first 3 plays of this crucial set of downs. I take him up on it and bet a dollar. Unfortunately I win the dollar and UCLA has to punt.
7. Then I say those faithful words to another fan, the way this season has gone, which side of the ball would want to be on the field at this point of the game, he agreed with me, the defense.
8. Those next 35 seconds seem like a blur and then seeing the ND receivor hop skip and jump into the endzone, well there was more stunned silence than cursing but in the end, everyone who had started to have a collective moment of joy was left to grieve on their own.
9. It seems weird to me to say because these are not close to being equal in terms of the stakes, but it reminded of Game 5 in the ALCS when the Angels were a few outs away from going to the World Series, again the coach played by the book but it just did not work out and they lost. And even now, everyone of those decisions can get scrutinized and dissected but the simple fact is that if someone had done their job, the Bruins and Angels might have won that day and life would be a little different than we know it.
10. Bob, I am glad you and brother got to have a good time and no matter what, you will always know what it felt like just when you thought you could taste the fruits of victory.

2006-10-23 23:02:30
10.   Bob Timmermann
My brother didn't go to UCLA either so it was a little easier on him.
2006-10-23 23:07:05
11.   D4P
Is he frumpy...?
2006-10-23 23:07:48
12.   Bob Timmermann
He doesn't live in St. Louis.
2006-10-24 12:34:21
13.   Jacob L
Wow! The Notre Dame played the Cal fight song in South Bend. Wish I could have heard that. ;)
2006-10-24 13:24:10
14.   Bob Timmermann
When you enter Notre Dame Stadium, they play a taped loop of fight songs from a whole bunch of schools, including USC, Cal, and Michigan.
2006-10-26 10:40:09
15.   Monterey Chris
I went to Michigan. Part of the weekly home pre-game routine is that the Michigan band always plays the opposing school's fight song. I thought it was tradition at all the comments here, I'm wondering if it is just tradition at Midwest schools. Or maybe just Michigan and Notre Dame.

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