By Bill Tamburrino
I have an athletic Bucket List. I have been fortunate enough to attend several famous athletic venues and events: Several World Series games, an MLB All Star Game, a Super Bowl (it wasn’t called the Super Bowl when the Chiefs played the Packers in the Coliseum), NFL Pro Bowl games, games in Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Rose Bowls, a World Series game in the Coliseum, Roy Campanella Night, The Indianapolis 500, an NCAA final four, finished a marathon, etc. But nothing I have ever done or experienced compares with the bucket list my daughters, Gina and Tina, gave me on Oct. 29.
I am and always have been a fan of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. My Irish Catholic grandfather and my Italian Catholic father drummed the “Victory March” into my head before I knew the national anthem or the “Hail Mary.”
Notre Dame’s motto may be “God, Country, Notre Dame,” but the university and its football program are really about tradition.
I have attended dozens of Notre Dame games at the Coliseum and one at Arizona State and I went to one at South Bend when I was 5 years old (well over 39 years ago), but I don’t remember much about the game.
My daughters, Gina and Tina, went to a silent auction that had a Notre Dame Football package and purchased the package last spring. So on Oct. 27, my daughters and my wife, Margaret, and this writer left sunny San Diego for fall in South Bend, Ind., via Chicago.
The actual game was only a part of the experience. Driving from Chicago to South Bend with a side trip to Gene & Judes for the world’s best hot dog was a treat. The colors of fall in the Midwest are majestic.
Upon arriving in South Bend we visited several restaurants (also watering holes that don’t sell water): The Linebacker, Mulligan’s, and then went for pizza at Rocco’s “Another South Bend tradition.”
On Friday we toured the Notre Dame campus. Pictures and the shots on NBC don’t do the Golden Dome, the Grotto, the Basilica, Touchdown Jesus, We’re Number One Moses or the stadium justice. One doesn’t have to be Catholic to appreciate the majesty of the Basilica or the Grotto.
We finished the day with a visit to the Notre Dame Bookstore. Notre Dame is about tradition. The Notre Dame Bookstore is about capitalism.
We did a lap around the stadium and went through the tunnel that leads onto the field. That is where one is hit by the awe of tradition of Notre Dame Football. The stadium is closed with gates that can be seen through. Through every gate one can see pictures and plaques, records, lists, statues and memorials. Tradition.
On the lap around the stadium there are statues of the Notre Dame coaches who are legends. There are statues of all five of the Notre Dame coaches who won national championships: Knute Rockne (3), Frank Leahy (4), Ara Parseghian (2), Dan Devine (1) and Lou Holtz (1). I had my picture taken in front of the statue of Frank Leahy in honor of Ramona businessman Sean Leahy.
Anybody who doesn’t understand capitalism only has to visit the Notre Dame Bookstore. It sells shirts, shoes, glasses, hats, magnets, games, balls, helmets, food, etc. I even saw a section where they had books! The four of us spent more than the Four Horsemen spent on four years of tuition in under an hour. We did not run out of time. We ran out of money.
We attended the pep rally on Friday night and it was amazing. There was a costume contest. Three finalists were named but the Notre Dame team was the final judge and they gave the prize to somebody else.
Notre Dame’s coach had been criticized for some remarks he had made about the team and the team’s captains addressed the controversy and said that the team was like a fist and could not be made into separate fingers. The band played the “Victory March” and the rally ended with the alma mater. The rally was attended by the entire student body and about 6,000 others. The arena was almost full. Only Notre Dame or the service academies could have a pep rally like that. Tradition.
We finished the day with a trip to O’Rourke’s Irish Pub for dinner.
Game Day is an event that is capitalized. Notre Dame has the biggest tailgate area in the world. The early comers start getting there on about Wednesday.
One has to have a hang tag to get to drive into the tailgate area. They go on eBay for about $250 a game. Many tailgaters have RVs; those who don’t have tents. Chairs, sofas, hammocks are not uncommon.
Most of the tailgaters had flags on flag poles. The flags had Notre Dame logos and had the date(s) of the ND graduate(s) and graduating class(es) on them. Three generations of dates were not uncommon. Several dates per family were the norm. Tradition.
A friend of my daughter Tina, Kristi, met us and brought experienced tailgate equipment coolers, chairs, table and food, but anybody who walked by knew that we were rookies. Since it was a 3:30 p.m. local time kickoff, we got there at 10 a.m. We got in but not much space was left. Tradition.
At about noon a storm front came through. Somebody yelled out a warning. “Storm in about five minutes. It will only last about a half an hour.” The blue-gray October sky (Grantland Rice’s line, tradition) turned black and for about an hour it rained and hailed. Rookies like us took cover in their cars. The hard core ignored the rain and hail.
Most were dressed warmly. Some work basketball uniforms and other Halloween costumes. All of the Notre Dame fans had some sort of Notre Dame gear or green Irish clothing. The others had Navy gear or uniforms. Tradition.
The Notre Dames were fanatical but they treated the Navy fans with respect. Navy and Notre Dame have been playing football since 1927 and have a contract that runs through 2026. Tradition.
The Notre Dame Band played the national anthem the way it is supposed to be played and as the “land of the free” was sounded two Navy jets conducted a flyby. It was announced after the anthem that one of the F/A 18 Hornets was flown by a crew of Naval Academy graduates. The other F/A 18 Hornet was flown by a crew of Notre Dame grads. After the grads landed their jets, they came to the game and were honored by the 80,000 in attendance.
Navy had won three of the last four previous games, but Notre Dame dominated the game. The score was not important. We sat behind the Notre Dame student section where over 8,000 students stood for the entire game. Some actually were passed around the section and others were thrown into the air as they were used for pushups after every Irish score. The Irish scored 56 points, so there were a lot of pushups. Tradition.
There was absolutely no trash talking or unsportsmanlike conduct during the game in the stands or on the field. After every score the player who made the touchdown gave the ball to the official and he was congratulated by his teammates.
The halftime show was amazing. The Fighting Irish Band paid tribute to Navy and all of our armed forces. They played numbers honoring every branch and asked the members of the audience to stand when their branch of the service was honored. Tradition.
During every television time out, graduates from both schools were honored on the field. One Notre Dame grad, a retired judge who was wounded at the Battle of Iwo Jima, was honored. He was wearing his Navy uniform, that of a full captain in the USN. Tradition.
After the game the Notre Dame team stood in front of the student section as the alma mater was sung. The Navy team stood behind them. The Midshipmen then went in front of their loyal following and the Irish stood behind them. Class and Tradition.
The fans, teams, coaches and students from both teams had a great time. Both schools not only preach but live the concept of family and teamwork. They are both relatively small schools that are very difficult to get into. They are both unique in concept and reality. Tradition.
The game experience was unique. It was not typical. It was what could be and should be, but is not the norm. Attending the game made me proud of my religion, my service to the country and my family. Everybody should have an experience like the one my family provided for me.