Tuesday, September 18, 2012

#46. Tailgate with the clergy at a Notre Dame football game

In my experience it is football, not baseball, that is America's favorite pastime. Most people I know seem to prefer tailgates with grilled meat and music, violent tackles and the best cancelled TV show, Friday Night Lights, over long innings full of downtime. All of the best things about football (minus the TV show) can be found at a Notre Dame football game -- an event that was enjoyable even for someone with little interest in sports like myself.

Friday Night Lights cast
Coming from a family of football players and lovers, I have been to countless football games but oddly never really enjoyed them. They seemed barbaric and failed to catch my attention. But something about the Notre Dame vs Purdue game I attended was different. Maybe it was the excitement of being on a different campus and looking at college life from the outside. It could have been the 125 years of Notre Dame football tradition. Most likely it had to do with the shoulder-to-shoulder seating in the stadium which left me with no choice but to stand up and cheer along with everyone else. But no matter the cause, I quickly found myself swept up in a football game for the first time in my life.
the view from my seat
It seemed as though every Indiana college football fan attended the Notre Dame versus Purdue game. Massive crowds showed up for the sold-out game, and the tailgate lot showed this.

Notre Dame tailgate lot
A Notre Dame tailgate is extremely different from those at Indiana University. At IU, tailgating is divided into two categories:
1) tame family affairs in the parking lot with children playing touch football and parents lounging in folding chairs
2) the drunken anarchic mass of thousands of students in the grass area across the street from the stadium.

At Notre Dame, however, the two are combined. Parents and children tailgate alongside ND students wearing shirts saying things like "Drink 'Til You're Irish" and "Let's Get Weird." There is no obvious demarcation of students and non-students. While this may sound like a disaster waiting to happen, it all seemed to go smoothly. The ND students who were drinking were tempered by the nearby families and the families seem to enjoy themselves more by associating themselves with the carefree, joyful students. One key ingredient that I found missing from the tailgate lot were the clergy, the title of the blogpost. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see such a different tailgating culture.

After the tailgate fields, my family and I made our way to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, a truly awesome space. In an earlier post I wrote about the stunning St. Joseph's church in Jasper. While St. Joseph's was beautiful and worth seeing, the Basilica had an even greater effect on me. The ornate alter, huge organ, richly painted ceilings and marble sculptures put me in a hushed, reverent mood more so than any other church I have visited. 
Basilica of the Sacred Heart

 From there we visited the Grotto of our Lady of Lourdes. This prayer space is "one-seventh the size of the famed French shrine where the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette on 18 occasions in 1858," according to the Notre Dame website.

the Grotto
The religious sites did not end there. The Golden Dome, topped with a statue of Mary, the mother of God, could be seen from nearly every point on campus.
Mary statue atop the Golden Dome
The Dome and church spires at sunset

Similarly omnipresent was Touchdown Jesus, the "Word of Life" mural on the Hesburgh Library. Before the extension of the football stadium, fans could see the mural behind the north end zone. Since this addition in 1997, however, only a portion is visible from inside the stadium.

Word of Life mural aka Touchdown Jesus
Although Touchdown Jesus wasn't visible, the stadium experience is unlike any other I've encountered. I have been to many Colts, IU, Purdue and high school football games but never has a stadium lent itself so well to an engaging experience. Although the stadium seats 80,000, every seat has a great view. Even the highest rows seemed somewhat close to the field. The tight benches, ridiculously enthusiastic student section and hardcore fans created an intimate setting.

Notre Dame student section

The setting, paired with a great game in which Notre Dame won with a field goal in the last 10 seconds, made for a fantastic football experience that even a sports non-fan like myself enjoyed.

Final score: Notre Dame: 20, Purdue: 17