NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
Before the Purdue Alumni Association barges through my door and takes away my PAA card, I must say that for a good part of my life, I’ve been a Notre Dame hater. It comes with the territory when you grow up in family of Boilermakers.To top things off, I grew up in northern Indiana, where all the local media, especially the TV stations, were all in as Irish cheerleaders. Notre Dame could do no wrong. Never did the Irish lose, but always had the game taken from them. It drove my dad, also a Purdue grad, absolutely nuts.
Somehow, I married into a family of rabid Notre Dame fans. Ann’s family has had season football tickets since 1965, and every one of them live and die for the Irish. I had grown up a Notre Dame hater. How would I handle being part of this new family? I wanted to see Notre Dame lose. I wanted to see them crushed. For many years, I had to keep it all to myself.
I had been to Notre Dame Stadium a few times as a news photographer while covering Purdue. I knew that the stadium was one of those special venues, like Wrigley Field or Yankee Stadium. I always respected history, and understood that, just as I had when I walked on the field at the Big House in Ann Arbor or The Horseshoe in Columbus.
Since my college football experiences were mostly in working situations, I had never been much of a tailgater. I missed out on the beer, brats, beer, burgers, beer, chips and beer. So the first time I went with Ann to actually sit in the stands for a game, the whole tailgate thing was a bit lost on me. She often reminds me of my words “We’re going to a football game, not a damn cocktail party.” It took some time, but I warmed up to the tailgate experience. Not until I left the newspaper business did I truly allow myself to go full fan mode and really embrace game day. When Ann’s sister and her husband moved to South Bend, tailgating became an entire weekend event, and I’ve become not only a willing, but eager, participant. I still haven’t embraced the Irish totally as a fan. Let’s just say that my burning hatred has simmered to lukewarm indifference. But Notre Dame has left me with a lot of terrific memories. I also don’t take for granted the opportunities I’ve had to see games in Notre Dame Stadium. There are people who would give anything to see just one game there, and I feel fortunate to sit in that stadium and understand the history. I’ve gone on road trips to see Notre Dame play, and even followed the team to Ireland, where they played Navy in Dublin in 2012.So I’ve learned to let myself enjoy the Notre Dame football experience. There are good Irish fans out there. They aren’t all obnoxious and arrogant. They give me crap about Purdue, but it’s all in fun, and I can dish it out to them as well.My dad died in 1991, never getting to meet Ann or her family or go to Notre Dame Stadium for a game or tailgate. I’m pretty sure he would have really enjoyed the experience as much as I’ve learned to do.
I suppose I could choose any one of those few times that Purdue beat Notre Dame in football, like the 1984 win in the Hoosier Dome. There was the game in 1999, when Purdue’s Mike Rose sacked ND quarterback Jarious Jackson in sight of the goal line to preserve the Boilers’ win at Ross-Ade Stadium. I was with my ND-fan brothers-in-law, and as soon as Jackson hit the ground, one of them said “Let’s go.” I decided I was going to hang around and sing “Hail Purdue” and soak in the rare win. I had driven all of us to the game, so they weren’t going anywhere until I was ready to go, anyway. Even today, we call it the "Let's Go Game." There was also the 2004 game, a 41-16 Purdue win, the only time I’ve seen the Boilers win in Notre Dame Stadium. In 2001, the Purdue-ND game at West Lafayette was moved to the final game of the year after the 9/11 attacks. It was clear the Notre Dame coach Bob Davie was going to be fired. I again was with my brothers-in-law, who were not exactly Davie fans. We were sitting near the ramp where the Irish team entered and exited the field. The crowd was sparse. And quiet. As Notre Dame was leaving the field following pregame warmups, my brother-in-law John stood up and yelled “Bob Davie, you suck!” Davie looked up, right at John, to which John added, “Yep, it was me!” Notre Dame won the game, but Davie was fired the next day.
All of those are great memories for me involving Notre Dame, but they are more about Irish failings rather than a nice Notre Dame memory. That would probably have to be the trip to Dublin in 2012. We had a great trip, taking extra time to drive around Ireland. A big group of family and friends also made the trip. On game day, there was a great crowd for the game between the Irish and Navy. It was a festive atmosphere, with Americans there for the contest, and the native Irish people could not have been nicer. They were curious about American football. Aviva Stadium is a beautiful structure, and we had terrific seats. There was plenty of Guinness flowing. We got to watch all the Midshipmen march into the stadium in a stirring display. At the end of the game, the Notre Dame band played the ND alma mater, followed by Navy playing their alma mater. The two teams stood together for both songs in a wonderfully emotional display of sportsmanship and respect. We all emptied out of the stadium and enjoyed a celebration on the streets of Dublin.