Sunday, April 22, 2007

I went to South Bend... | by Mike

...and all I got was this hellacious sunburn.

Actually, that's not all I got, but I don't think I saw enough to draw any real substantive conclusions regarding the 2007 edition of the Fighting Irish. It was enjoyable to see Junior Jabbie garner offensive MVP honors following his 87 rushing yards on 13 carries, and we certainly hope Jabbie has a great season. However, Charles Stafford and Chris Olsen have demonstrated that a strong spring game performance does not necessarily portend fall stardom.

Given my limited expectations from a football standpoint, I was drawn to a weekend in the Bend by the surrounding revelry - and in these respects I was not let down. The weather was as good as it gets in South Bend. The cloudless sky, mid-70s temperature, and slight breeze combined to produce perfect tailgating weather. After a long winter, it was nice to be reminded of the simple joy of simultaneously soaking up sun and spirits.

As the morning passed, it became apparent that we could expect a Blue & Gold attendance record. The rapidly filling tailgating lots were a testament to the considerable buzz generated by the wide open QB race, the unveiling of Corwin Brown's new defense, and the return of the legendary Ara and Lou. Yet even after witnessing the multitudes outside, the number of people inside the stadium still surprised me. For starters, it was hard just finding an accessible section. At section entrance after section entrance, the ushers turned our merry band of late-arriving tailgaters away, telling us their section was full. When we finally reached the stands, I was amazed at how many people were in the upper level. This was due in part to the decision to close off some of the sections in the tunnel endzone, but the crowd still dwarfed any I had seen at a Blue & Gold game.

The announced attendance was indeed a Blue & Gold record: 51,800. I was actually expecting a slightly higher figure and would be interested to know how the students were counted, since they simply had to flash their IDs. While this figure is significantly below the totals at the Alabama and Ohio State spring games, the Notre Dame fanbase is far less provincial than that of schools whose student body is overwhelmingly composed of in-state residents. In light of the geographic dispersion of ND Nation, getting almost 52,000 to travel to a game designed to reveal little of substance speaks volumes about the excitement surrounding Irish football these days.

The real stars of the game were Ara and Lou. I was talking to my father before the game, and he was pretty fired up about Ara's return. When I found out that yesterday's game was Ara's first time through the tunnel since my father was a student, I once again thanked Charlie Weis for his efforts to bring the family together. Holtz really seemed to enjoy the game, and when a yelling Holtz ran out on the field at one point, the crowd responded with an enthusiastic "Louuuuuuu!"

I hope the experience made quite an impression on the visiting recruits, and the early returns indicate that this is the case.