Football Weekend

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Friday

 

Noon: What in the world possesses these people?

 

No, not those people — not the 2,400 people dressed in green and gold and blue spread out at an endless expanse of round tables on the floor of the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center fieldhouse here on the Notre Dame campus. We know what possesses them: They are members of the Quarterback Club, here to eat a roast beef lunch with other very serious football fans and then to push back from their tables and listen to a round of comforting gridiron platitudes.

 

Bj 8Brian Kelly and members of the football team kicked off the 2018 ND-Michigan weekend with a pep rally on Friday, August 31. 

 

I mean these people way back here: this genial, middle-aged couple sitting on the top row of the bleachers that rise in the rear of the great hall, on beyond the tables, on beyond a high green curtain, well across the hockey rink — 100 yards or so from the dais at which Lou Holtz will soon hold forth. What possesses them?

 

"I'm not sure," admits Carl Hieber, taking his eyes off the distant scene for just a moment when he is pressed on the point. "I didn't go to this school. And," he adds after a moment's puzzled reflection, "I'm Lutheran."

 

But here he is — having taken two days off from work and driven nearly 10 hours from his home in Williamsport, Pennsylvania — sitting with his wife, Beverly, in the cheapest of cheap seats just to gaze upon the Quarterback Club luncheon. It is the first official event of the elaborate, multi-faceted carnival that is a football weekend at Notre Dame, and even though the lunch has long been sold out at $11 a plate and the only seats available are in this distant spectator's gallery, the Hiebers have arrived well before the speeches and are now simply watching other people eat.

 

Oh, sure, Notre Dame has a fine football program and all, but why don't the Hiebers get nutty for a team closer to home, like Pitt? Penn State? Temple? Rutgers? Even Slippery Rock State?

 

"I've been for Notre Dame since I was a kid," says Carl. "I guess because I could always get their games on the radio."

 

Beverly Hieber, who also did not go to school here, adds happily, "I just like the excitement of being on campus."

 

 

Good thing, too. She has more than 24 hours to kill before kickoff, and the lucky people way down there at the luncheon have yet to start on dessert. You can't see from here, but it's brownies and cookies.

 

12:15 p.m.: Several souvenir stands on the perimeter are loaded up and ready to go. They offer Notre Dame golf umbrellas, $42. Notre Dame baby jerseys, 6-month-size, $15. Notre Dame hand towels, $12. Notre Dame boxer shorts, $9. A limited-edition, framed set of the "historical trilogy" paintings featuring such great moments in Notre Dame football history as Joe Montana leading the comeback in the 1979 Cotton Bowl, $6,000.

 

Twenty such paintings are available, at a total price of $29,800 purchased individually or $13,000 if you buy the full set right now. They are, quite deliberately and unapologetically, icons. Artist Steven Csorba has handpainted these football images onto a flat, weathered, gold background sharply reminiscent of ancient religious art. Faces and quotations appear on tablets. What rumpus room is really complete without a graven image of Lou Holtz over such words as, "The only reason a person should exist is to be the best he can"?

 

12:30 p.m.: "I am always amazed," says Lou Holtz in the flesh, having stepped up to the dais, "with the great way, the articulate way, that our athletes get up here and talk about their experiences at Notre Dame. We give them no thoughts, no ideas whatsoever. We just say, 'Get up and speak from your heart.’”

 

"I'd like to share a few things with you from my heart," begins senior tight end Irv Smith after Holtz concludes his introduction. "Because of what Coach Holtz has instilled in each and every one of us, I've been able to grow through each of my four years, and it's given me the opportunity to be the best human being I possibly can be."

 

Holtz returns to the podium at the end of Smith's brief remarks. The banty amateur magician is a crisp emcee, his sentences even, quick and regular, with a predictable rise at the beginning and fall at the end.

 

"We have an unbelievable student body," he says. "Their enthusiasm, their love of life are just an inspiration to me, and I say that sincerely."

 

1:20 p.m.: Holtz's final words to the Quarterback Club serve as a preamble for this weekend and for every home football weekend at Notre Dame.

 

"I love being at Notre Dame," he says with that matter-of-fact passion of his. "The only thing I truly regret is that more people can't experience what Notre Dame is all about on a weekend. Not the game, but going into Sacred Heart, going down by the Grotto, coming to the luncheon, walking on campus, seeing the people, visiting with the students, etc. The Notre Dame football team is not the most important thing—the most important thing is really and truly being part of the Notre Dame spirit."

 

1:25 p.m.: Bill Schafer '49 flew yesterday from his home in Riverside, California, to Chicago, where he rented a car and drove two more hours to South Bend. He carries in his wallet the ticket stub from the first Notre Dame football game he ever attended, on November 23, 1935. He is wearing his "ND Fighting Irish" sweater and he is, at this moment, gazing delightedly at his own tiny, blurry image in a 360-degree photographic panorama from the 1989 Fiesta Bowl.

 

The panorama, set up on tall panels around a circle of artificial turf near the exit to the Quarterback Club luncheon, shows the moment before Notre Dame kicked off to West Virginia as it appeared from midfield. Schafer has spotted himself high in the end zone behind the Irish: "Look! There I am!"

 

If you were in the class of '49 and don't recognize Schafer's name, don't worry—it wasn't the Notre Dame class of '49; it was the DePaul University class of '49. Schafer, the Hiebers and literally thousands of others now crawling over the campus are the notorious "subway alumni." And yes, reports the Alumni Association, many of them do actually donate money to their unalma mater.

 

1:50 p.m.: "I just want to look," begs Jim Harty, a 34-year-old fan. "Please. Just one picture?"

 

Security Guard Tom Boykins says no, no, no, no, sorry, but no. He's standing watch outside stadium gate 1, and Harty is one in a stream of fans who approach him, trying to wheedle their way in. They tell him how long they have been following the Irish (". . . since I was a little kid," says Harty), how far they have come (". . . we're all the way from Jamestown, North Dakota," says Harty) and how humble their request really is ("we'll just peek at the field for a second"). But Boykins remains unmoved.

 

Serious work is taking place inside the stadium. Telephone and television crews are laying cable and plugging things into other things. At the 50-yard line, veteran groundskeeper Galen Berger fusses over the numbers on the field with a product called Pioneer Brite Stripe. "I'm touching up the zeros," he explains. "From one angle they look fine, but because of the way the grass is lying, they look bad from the other angle."

 

2:30 p.m.: It is a peaceful afternoon in the recreational vehicle parking area south of the JACC. The first of the RVs began arriving very early this morning, and by now at least 100 of them have staked out territory in what is quickly becoming a thriving little community.

 

"We rent this thing for five days for $900," explains Ed Small, 25, a Philadelphian in a Gumby T-shirt, of his 30-foot Winnebago camper. He is here with eight friends. "We've got our roller blades and our kegs," he says. "We're planning to drink all day here, go to the pep rally, then party all night."

 

Outside a nearby 35-foot Crown Imperial camper, five guys in their 50s from the East Coast are polluting the immediate air with smelly cigars while blasting the Notre Dame Glee Club's "Shake Down the Thunder" album from the stereo. "It's the build-up we love, not so much the game," says Harold Weber of Seneca Falls, New York. "The whole point is to socialize with all the other animals," adds Dennis Coggins of Pittsford, New York.

 

Did they bring their wives or girlfriends along? Don Plourde of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, almost swallows his cheroot. "What's your next silly question?" he demands.

 

3 p.m.: Grown men and women in gaudy clothing they'd be embarrassed to wear anywhere else are strolling the campus in groups of two, three and four. They point out buildings to one another. They read the hand-painted banners hanging from dormitory windows — "The Best Defense is a Great Offense" dangling from a window on Cavanaugh Hall, for instance. They sit on benches by the Clarke Memorial Fountain near Nieuwland Science Hall and experience again — or perhaps for the first time — a sense of belonging at Notre Dame. At the Hammes Bookstore, the line to get in at this moment is 30 yards long. Even sportscaster-provocateur Dick Vitale isn't getting cuts.

 

"I'm a fan," says Ward Maloney, 70, of Struthers, Ohio, who is near the back of the line. "But she—" he thumbs to his wife, "—is a nut." Helen "Nunchie" Mahoney, wearing a green visor and an "Irish Fever, Catch It" T-shirt, accepts this assessment as a compliment. She proceeds to recite from memory a 12-stanza poem about the 1946 Notre Dame football team. Here is just one stanza:

 

Hats off to Urban, Fallon

Ashbaugh, Skoglund and Panelli

To Meter, Potter, Cowhig, Clatt

Signaigo and Cifelli

 

3:30 p.m.: Inside the jammed bookstore, Jay Mondry '61, a district court judge from Park Rapids, Minnesota, is shouldering down the aisles with armloads of merchandise and insatiably looking for more.

 

"A Notre Dame cap, $15," he says, showing it off. "It's always nice to have some extras around. And here's a Notre Dame flag, $19. I had one before, but gave it away."

 

And? "Notre Dame golf shirt for myself, $33. Two little Notre Dame shirts for my grandchildren, $11 each. A double-X Notre Dame T-shirt for me, $15, a Notre Dame sweatshirt, $34, and a Notre Dame, what would you call this . . . warm-up undershirt? $33."

 

A district court judge, mind you. One hesitates to estimate the purchasing habits of less sober and restrained individuals, and the Hammes Bookstore management refuses to release even a rough approximation of how many extra tens of thousands of dollars they'll see on a weekend like this.

 

4 p.m.: A man wearing a sandwich board walks slowly through the crowd outside the bookstore. "ND '63 grad, drove from Dallas," the sign reads. "Needs two tickets. Go Irish."

 

Another man has fastened a "Need 4" sign to the front of his T-shirt with duct tape. Others simply hold their signs and rely on the sales pitch — "Need 2 tickets for the Gipper." "Will pay best price for 2." And simply, "Please."

 

Action is very slow. The going rate, report the needy, is still $150 a ticket — steep because tomorrow's opponent happens to be highly ranked Michigan, and the winner stands to end up No. 1 in the early-season polls.

 

Halfway across campus, the football players carry their equipment from the locker room at Loftus Sports Center over to the stadium.

 

Mc 9ESPN's College Gameday program filmed its September 1, 2018, broadcast on campus in honor of the highly anticipated season-opening matchup between Notre Dame and the University of Michigan. 

 

4:30 p.m.: A man in bright green pants and a 1992 Sugar Bowl, ND-39, Florida-28 T-shirt is lighting a candle at the Grotto of our Lady of Lourdes. For world peace? For a departed family member? For a smashing victory tomorrow? He keeps his secret.

 

As he gets up from the kneeler to leave, marching band members can be heard in the distance warming up with a Scott Joplin rag. A small ensemble will make a circuit of the campus while the rest of the band meets on Green Field for a rehearsal.

 

5 p.m.: Well, of course, wouldn't you know the hot water heater would break on this day of all days?

Notre Dame senior Justin Jakovac, 22, from Allegany, New York, has emerged from a brief, tepid shower and is standing in the living room of his off-campus apartment, consulting with one of his roommates, James Ashburn, 21, from McMinnville, Tennessee, on plans for their pre-game party tonight. Who will buy the steaks? Who will pick up the beer? Who's going to stay behind during the pep rally to greet early guests?

 

At least the apartment is relatively clean. Justin and James have stuffed as much furniture as possible into the bedroom occupied by their third roommate, Matt Helminiak, 20, from Sykesville, Maryland, and pushed everything else flush to the wall. This exposes great, unappetizing expanses of brown carpeting bearing sticky, discolored reminders of previous soirees.

 

This apartment is an anthropological specimen — the habitat of homo collegiatus: a two-bedroom, two-story, $545-a-month unit in the Turtle Creek Apartments complex just east of campus, decorated with posters celebrating beer, music and football as well as scores of photographs of fashion models clipped from magazines. One prominent sign reads, "To survive you need four things — food, sex, shelter, guitars. Make that two things."

 

A set of cardboard tablets in the corner states the Ten Commandments by which these young men live. Many of them are in-jokes, but the first two are simple enough:

 

I. Notre Dame is thy school. Thou shalt have no other schools before it.

II. Keep holy football Saturdays.

 

Football is a unifying element on campus, a common cause, a social catalyst. It is not, however, what drew Justin to Notre Dame, not exactly. What he liked when he visited here in March of his senior high school year, he says, was "the aura, the mystique and the tradition" of the place, some of which is intertwined, even confused with football. “It sure wasn't the weather," he adds.

 

6 p.m.: The boys expect 90 guests tonight, so Justin buys three kegs of Budweiser at Citywide Liquors. Each $40 keg holds the equivalent of 216 12-ounce glasses of beer — seven beers per guest. He also buys four bags of ice and several stacks of plastic cups which he and his roommates will later "sell" to guests for $2 to help cover the cost of the party.

 

Justin and an employee of Citywide load the kegs into the back of the truck and Justin drives back to the apartment. The day has been a good one so far — a diverting study of Anglo-Saxon poetry in his British Lit class in DeBartolo Hall, then a workout in the weight room at Rockne Memorial.

 

The literature classes are something new for Justin. Over last summer, he dropped engineering and switched to English, a change of majors that did not go over well with his family, he says. He drew a cartoon for The Scholastic about the conversation he had with his father. "I can get a job with an English degree," the character representing Justin says. "Yeah, right," says the father's character. "Look, I'll put you through school. But when I see you on a street in 10 years begging quarters from passers-by, I'll kick the bottle of Nighttrain out of your hands and laugh my ass off."

 

6:15 p.m.: Justin and James unload the kegs, and James stays behind while Justin heads toward campus to catch Zahm Hall's 23rd annual freshman initiation conducted on the evening before the first home football game.

 

"The male-female ratio here is always a problem," he says sadly. “They say it's improving, and I guess it is. But last year we were at a party where there were six guys to every girl and we said, ‘Hey, we're doing all right!’”

 

Of the three roommates, only Justin is unencumbered by entangling alliances. James has a serious long-distance girlfriend, and Matt has an on-campus steady with whom he is puzzling out the future.

 

6:30 p.m.: At the Hesburgh Library, some 100 men dressed in bedsheet togas are wading disconsolately into the chilly reflecting pool in two parallel lines, their heads down.

 

"All hail Odin," they chant. Each year, an elder dorm resident is selected to play Odin, a wise and all-knowing Nordic god. He dresses in lordly regalia and leads the initiates in ritual debasement.

"On your knees," commands Odin, played this year by junior Doug Scholer in a flowing robe and warrior's hat. The freshmen comply.

 

Odin's footsoldiers wade up and down the lines, liberally applying shaving cream to the heads of the initiates. "And now," Odin thunders, "we will sing Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star! I know you all know it."

 

This draws a laugh from the rapidly growing crowd of students and alumni standing three and four deep around the pool. The song begins, tentatively, pathetically, and Odin forces up the volume with repeated cries of "I can't hear you!"

 

When they are done, Odin commands the initiates to proceed, doubletime, to the mud pit. So the freshmen run east, crossing Juniper Road at exactly the same moment that the marching band is crossing in the other direction a hundred yards north, drums rattling, children following behind, on their circuitous way to the pep rally.

 

The men in robes end their mad dash behind the Band Building, where a sprinkler has turned a 30-foot long patch of naked soil into swamp. Two by two they scream "I love Zahm" and dive — mostly head first — then come up gasping for air, swallowing slop.

 

"What a beautiful display," says Justin, who stands just far enough back to avoid getting spattered.

 

7 p.m.: The pep rally crowd fills the basketball arena in the JACC — the muddy men of Zahm hall take a block of seats close to the back row, far from the floor where the team members, cheerleaders and marching band are assembling. Justin is interested to hear that such pep rallies are not common at other universities anymore — for big games, yes, from time to time, but routinely, with such vigor? No.

 

The band plays The Victory March, the leprechaun dances and the crowd claps. Paul Hornung '57 is the first to speak: "I guarantee you these kids will play the game of their lives tomorrow," he says.

 

The other remarks echo those heard earlier in the day at the Quarterback Club: "We'll come through for you," promises defensive tackle Bryant Young. "I hope you all wear your green tomorrow and get fired up for us," says quarterback Rick Mirer.

 

The muddy men of Zahm interrupt Mirer to begin the chant, "We are (clap, clap) ND (clap, clap), We are (clap, clap) ND (clap, clap)." It spreads through the arena.

 

8 p.m.: "Aww, I miss this," says Mark Donahue '92, one of nine young men in Justin Jakovic's apartment when he returns from the rally. "Notre Dame was the best four years of my life." He is now a first-year medical student at the University of Cincinnati and is back for a football weekend.

 

"It's very weird," he says. "I walk around campus and these annoying alumni come up because they think I'm a student and want to ask me what I think about Demetrius DuBose or Rick Mirer. I have to tell them, 'Sorry, I graduated.'" Mark makes a face; “’I'm one of you now.’”

 

Justin's roommate James, who is clearly the rudder to the ship of this apartment, is serving "steak dinners" to everyone. "Steak dinner," in the lexicon of male college seniors, is a piece of meat on a clean plate. No garnish. No vegetable. No bread. No soup. No napkin.

 

Ben Moore and Chris Queensbury are among the dinner guests who will also be spending the weekend flopped somewhere in the apartment. The two are roommates in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina; Ben’s grandfather attended Notre Dame, and he once worked with Justin’s sister. Even with this thin connection, the two are welcomed like family.

 

8:30 p.m.: The first women begin to arrive at the party. Among them is Erin Kenny, Matt’s girlfriend. She has brought along her father, of all people, but nobody minds because they all agree that ol’ Charlie Kenny ’63 is the coolest dad there is.

 

His daughter is at Notre Dame because he went to Notre Dame, and he went to Notre Dame because, in 1927, his father saw the Irish play in Yankee Stadium. “He was so impressed,” Kenny says. “He told everyone, ‘If I ever have a son, he’s got to go to Notre Dame.’ He was like a lot of people. And the reason this university is so important to them is because it represents the American dream and the American ideal to most of the nation. Harvard?” — he laughs — “You don’t want your kid to go to Harvard. Harvard represents godlessness, which is absolutely antithetical to the values of Notre Dame. At Notre Dame you learn that you are special without being better than other people. Does that make sense?”

 

9 p.m.: More and more girls are arriving in groups of three and four, and although no one is dancing yet, the party is about to reach critical mass.

 

A card game has broken out around the dining room table. The name of the game is “Beeramid,” and it begins with 10 cards laid out in a pyramid formation. No skill is required. The point is to take the number of sips of beer that corresponds with the face value of the cards that are turning up.

 

9:20 p.m.: Renee Street, a lively, dark-haired sophomore from Mount Vernon, Ohio, who is studying anthropology and psychology, quits Beeramid after a losing streak (or is that a winning streak) and repairs to the kitchen where the conversation turns to what football weekend means to students.

 

“One good thing is that you can walk around with open cans of beer and nobody bothers you because nobody knows who’s a student and who isn’t and they don’t want to make people mad,” she says. “Another is that it puts everyone into a good mood. Like this afternoon I had a fight with my rectress and I thought ‘I hate this school,’ but then I went to the pep rally and I was like, ‘God, I love this school.’ And also, the food is a lot better. They know the parents are coming in, so like, tonight they had sirloin tips and spinach and cheese tortellini. You never get that on a regular day.

 

But with the tortellini, as sort of an unwanted side-dish, comes tighter enforcement of the male-female visitation rules, Renee says. The thinking is that parents like to see virtue as well as good nutrition. Hence the popularity of these off-campus parties, where it remains easy to “scam” and “hook up.”

 

These are very important terms to know, Renee says. To scam someone is not, as an older person might assume, to repave his driveway for a ridiculously low price, then simply coat it with think black oil. Rather, to scam is to pursue, to circle, to flirt, to put the moves on.

 

Hooking up is about what you might guess.

 

10 p.m.: Marlene Zloza ’75 is at home at this hour in rural Lowell, Indiana, 80 miles west of South Bend. She is chopping vegetables and slicing cheese into neat, squares to get a head start on tomorrow. She is an editor and reporter for the weekly Lowell Tribune, and she’s missed only one Notre Dame home game since graduation. But going to the game involves more than just hopping in the car and heading to South Bend; it means joining in an elaborate pilgrimage that includes friends and food and requires careful planning and preparation.

 

Her mother and housemate, Elsie, made the dip while Marlene was out covering a high school football game this evening. Now the two are jamming the soda pop into the refrigerator and loading the trunk of the car with folding tables and coolers.

 

It will be an early morning tomorrow.

 

11:30 p.m.: On the 10th floor of Flanner Hall, a small party is cranking in room 1016. A boy and a girl, each holding cans of Miller High Life, are kissing passionately to Jumpin’ Jack Flash by the Rolling Stones on the stereo. Others are giving their intimacy a wide berth, though they are heedless of their surroundings, defiantly, proudly affectionate, sloppy, goofy, giggly.

 

It looks like fun, to tell you the truth. It looks like the kind of time everyone should have at least once, the kind of time you can have only when you’re young enough that desire can totally eclipse reason, block out your surroundings, turn you into a spectacle and you don’t even care.

 

Saturday

 

Bj 91992: Zahm expats host Kegs and Eggs at their off-campus apartment. 2018: Another probable Zahm guy shows up to the season opener wearing this.

 

Midnight: Rick Bowen, a 40-year-old welder from nearby Bremen, Indiana, knows himself well enough to shut down the compressor that operates his air horn when the clock strikes 12 in the RV parking lot.

 

“I have a tendency to get a little wasted, start blowing it loud and really irritating people,” he says, speaking up to be heard over the sound of Eric Clapton’s Hand Jive slamming out of his 1,200-watt stereo system. His custom-built RV is 22 feet long with a sweeping awning out front, a buzzing blue neon ND sign and a distinctive observation tower thrusting 20 feet into the air. Bowen does not have tickets for tomorrow’s game, but the TV is ready and when the time comes the air horn will be too.

 

Just down the row from Bowen, Notre Dame Police Officer Cori Bair is refereeing a dispute between a group of frisky young revelers and a woman wearing an “I (Heart) my Grandchildren” T-shirt. The young people have been running pass patterns in the lot, every so often hitting the side of the woman’s RV with an errant ball. “Partying is one thing,” the woman snarls, “but being rowdy is something else.”

 

“Figure it out,” Bair says to the kids. “Are you partying all night or are you sleeping? If you’re partying, go down there.” He points toward Rick Bowen’s stately pleasure dome.

 

When the disputing factions have drifted off, Bair adds, “You’d think there’d be some way to arrange this so the sleepers aren’t mixed in with partiers. I mean, we’ll be running around out here all night.”

 

1 a.m.: The lights in the living room at Turtle Creek go down at last. You Make Me Feel Like Dancing causes the cluster of young men and women caught between the speakers to begin bobbing up and down with mild abandon.

 

Justin seems to have narrowed his scamming for the evening down to one girl, Jenny, a friend of a friend. She now has his full attention, which isn’t saying a lot because he is experiencing what wags used to call the Heineken Uncertainty Principle — he can’t be sure how many beers he has had tonight.

 

1:30 a.m.: The left speaker has blown. Cecelia by Simon and Garfunkel, which was a hit in 1970 when most of these kids weren’t even born, is at full volume on the right speaker and, at last, putting this party over the top.

 

Everyone sings along. Then they start in with Brown Eyed Girl (1967) and American Pie (1972): all the words, not just the choruses.

 

"The players tried to take the field, but the marching band refused to yield. . . .”

 

"Everyone plays this song at every ND party," Matt says as it ends. "This and Only the Good Die Young by Billy Joel. People just don't like that much from today."

 

3 a.m.: The third keg offers up its last beer and a desultory game of darts ends inconclusively. Renee and the other remaining guests stumble for the door, while those who are left behind begin to maneuver for floor and couch space.

 

5:45 a.m.: At just under seven hours before kickoff, Marlene Zloza's alarm clock shatters the pre-dawn darkness back in Lowell. She showers, puts on her Notre Dame Sesquicentennial T-shirt and her leprechaun earrings, then unfurls the Notre Dame flag on the front porch.

 

She wakes her mother and they make a final review of a 40-item checklist: chairs, cups, paper towels, camera, Triscuits, forks, lunch meat. . . . They improve on the list as they go along. Tortilla chips, shrimp and cocktail sauce, Vlasic pickles.

 

Check, check, check, check. Tailgate picnicking is equal parts science and art. Forget the decorative flags or the mayonnaise, and the entire business is compromised.

 

7:15 a.m.: At the Plymouth Holiday Inn, the wake-up call goes out to the Notre Dame football players. In 45 minutes they must be showered and ready to leave for the North Dining Hall for the pre-game meal.

 

9 a.m.: At about the time the Zloza car reaches the Indiana Toll Road for the long final leg of the journey, James rolls over in his bed in the Turtle Creek apartment and says his first words of the day: "I can't believe we didn't get busted last night!"

 

When the South Bend police never even stop by to ask you to turn down the volume, then your party is, in some respects, a failure. But a look around at the morning-after entropy suggests the event was not a total bust — five other people are asleep in James and Justin's room, four have crashed in Matt's room, and three more are sprawled in the living room.

 

Mark Donahue, the medical student, walks bleary-eyed to the VCR and sticks in a tape that consists of nothing but old episodes of The Simpsons. It will serve as background entertainment most of the morning.

 

At this same hour, the Notre Dame Alumni baseball game is getting underway at Jake Kline field, and the alumni hospitality center is opening its doors in the JACC. All classes of Notre Dame, Saint Mary's and Holy Cross are welcome, though '42, '54, and '86 are holding special reunions this weekend.

 

In the North Dining Hall, a breakfast briefing is ending for approximately 300 state, county, city and University law enforcement officers. They'll be keeping order and directing traffic all day.

 

9:30 a.m.: It is a tradition that every home football Saturday, the boys in the Turtle Creek apartment start the morning with "Kegs and Eggs," beer and omelets. But with the kegs having run dry, they are having to substitute wine for beer. "It's pretty bad," says Mark, his mouth half full. Matt is skipping eggs and eating dry Quaker Instant Oatmeal directly out of the pouch.

 

10 a.m.: As usual — of course, no really big deal — Marlene and Elsie Zloza and the relatives and friends they have picked up along the way are caught in a traffic jam entering South Bend. U.S. Highway 33 is one-way inbound for three hours before the game to accommodate the 14,000 vehicles that converge on the stadium, but even now the cars are crawling and the ticket-seekers are hoping to take advantage of the situation. "Need two," "Need two," the signs say. No one seems to be selling.

 

In Keenan Hall on the campus, the players are beginning the pre-game Mass.

 

10:15 a.m.: Justin cannot stand to see tradition despoiled, so to salvage Kegs and Eggs he takes a short walk through the apartment complex to Belmont Beverages. A policeman stands outside the front doors, carding customers even before they enter the store so as to speed the action at the register.

 

10:45 a.m.: The Irish arrive at the stadium in their street clothes.

 

11 a.m.: The Zloza car finally takes its place among 4,000 other cars in the red field parking lot. The passes to this prime lot are prized like heirlooms and nearly impossible to get — the Zlozas have one only because Elsie knew someone at the University who was able to grease the way for her application back in the early '70s. Other people have been waiting 30 years and more.

 

Their picnic tables unfold out of impressively small briefcases. A blue tablecloth goes on one, yellow on the other. The centerpiece is a bouquet of yellow and blue flowers that is actually a clever arrangement of boutonnieres and corsages, each with tiny plastic footballs in the middle.

 

As soon as they are set up and ready to eat, Marlene heads over to the stadium to rendezvous at Gate 10 with Dennis Casey '76, from Chicago, and his friend Dorn Deans. Dorn, a Michigan grad, will become the party's token member of the opposition; he has taken the red-eye flight in from Los Angeles to catch the game, a 12-year tradition he and Dennis share, even though it means he is missing his son's first organized soccer game.

 

Notre Dame people are nice to the Dorn Deanses who now inhabit their world. Obscene anti-Michigan T-shirts here and there notwithstanding, the rivalry is friendly and the teasing incessant but good-natured.

 

Most students today are wearing the green T-shirt featuring a mock-up of Mount Rushmore with former Notre Dame coaches Rockne, Parseghian, Devine and Leahy carved in the stone. The image of Lou Holtz is in the foreground with the legend, "The tradition continues."

 

Many students and faculty make a pre-game stop at the Grotto — in her undergraduate days, Marlene Zloza used to go there before every game to pray that no player would be hurt.

 

Justin's group, which includes his roommates, several assorted girlfriends and a handful of hangers-on, joins in the stream of students flowing toward the stadium. They are looking for a tailgate party, any old tailgate party. Very few of these picnics literally use the tailgates of station wagons as tables these days—in fact, several of the picnics are not assembled around any vehicle at all. Justin Is adamant that one can throw a tailgater inside an apartment if one is so inclined.

 

11:30 a.m.: The teams are limbering up, practicing field goals and such on the stadium field. The TV blimp is putt-putting overhead. Outside the stadium, a giant barbecue kettle with dozens of hotdogs smokes furiously. A dog wears a custom-tailored Notre Dame T-shirt. A potato chip bowl looks like a Notre Dame helmet—the dip is in the mouthguard. A proud sign on an RV reads "Foleys — '15, '50, '74." There are six-foot submarine sandwiches sliced into dozens of pieces, candelabras, cloth napkins. Little children sell candy for the Kiwanis.

 

Justin's group ends up in the red lot at a three-table tailgate party hosted by the parents of his friend Amy Shaw, a junior from South Bend. They are within 100 yards of Marlene and Elsie Zloza's tailgater, but, of course, so are hundreds of others, so they never meet or even see one another.

 

To the spread of Oreo cookies, Cheez Whiz, Tastibuddy pretzels, Sociable crackers, burgers and bratwurst, Justin, James, and Matt contribute their remaining cans of Miller Genuine Draft. The conversation is desultory and has very little to do with football. Football is what brings everyone here, true, but it is not, in a larger sense, why they are here.

 

Noon: With a little more than half an hour left until kickoff, the tailgate parties are breaking down. Marlene and Elsie stow the grub back in the trunk and disassemble the centerpiece.

 

Elsie slips her hand into a football-player hand puppet and puts on her lucky hat, a fisherman's cap festooned with souvenir pins such as "Notre Dame Mom" and "1988 National Champs."

 

Not far away, James leads the Turtle Creek crew in song: "Head ’em up, move ’em out, Rawhide!" he cries, and they are out of there.

 

Bj 9Students cheer in unison during the ND-Michigan game on Saturday, September 1, 2018.

 

12:23 p.m.: The alumni and faculty seating sections of the stadium are calm, uneventful, quietly anticipatory as the clock blinks down toward gametime. But the students who fill the northeast corner are already standing, clapping and chanting.

 

Justin, James and Matt shoulder their way into row 49 of section 28, which is kind of, sort of where their tickets say they should be. The fact is, no one in the student section pays the least bit of attention to the numbers painted on the seats. This allows friends to stay together and a certain exciting density to develop, though the informality tends to confuse some older folks who have bought tickets from students and were clearly hoping for a peaceful vantage point.

 

Fat chance. They are right on the 40-yard line where the humanity is densest and the expectations are highest. "Let's go I-rish, let's go I-rish!"

 

12:37 p.m.: It's here: Game time. The fans stand, whirl their fingers in the air and drone "Go-oooooooooooooooo" as Notre Dame kicks off. When the kicker's foot meets the ball they shout "Irish!" in a disorganized splash of sound.

 

12:48 p.m.: Michigan has turned the ball over, and the Irish have possession at midfield, third and 7. This is the game's first key play, and the students take their keys out of their pockets and shake them overhead. Many of them, like Justin, carry only the two or three keys a college kid needs, so the noise is hardly deafening. It's a nice tradition, harmless and somewhat clever, but Notre Dame students are not in the vanguard of college-crowd hijinks. They almost never pass students up the rows overhead or throw food at each other during games (marshmallows are a favorite at many schools), and touchdowns do not prompt a white cloudburst of toilet tissue. They are not given to swearing in unison.

 

They can't get a wave going in the stadium to save themselves, not that the freshmen don't try from time to time. "We used to get so mad at the seniors," says Justin. "They'd never keep our waves going. ‘Course now that we're seniors we just look at them and say ‘naaaah.’”

 

12:50 p.m.: Nicholas Mester, the captain of the ushers, is eating a hotdog and watching the game from his vantage point in the press box. He grew up in South Bend and has been a fan all his 72 years — has copies of all the game programs, home and away, dating back to 1930.

 

He was a banker when he started ushering in 1952 and worked his way up to the press box in the mid-1960s. His job now is basically to make sure no one is in the press box who shouldn't be there.

 

“Touchdown!” he yells suddenly as senior tailback Reggie Brooks slips into the end zone after shedding no fewer than five Michigan tacklers. "You can't beat the excitement! I get so wound up it takes me several hours afterwards to wind down."

 

12:55 p.m.: Justin, James, Matt, Erin and 30 or 40 other seniors have discovered something very interesting. Movie star Julia Roberts and her movie star boyfriend Jason Patric are somewhat discreetly trying to blend into the crowd one row behind them and four seats away. Roberts, the better known of the two, is wearing sunglasses, an ND cap and very understated makeup; Patric has on a weathered Notre Dame sweatshirt. Neither are Notre Dame grads. He is cheering and swearing with the best of them, while she is politely following the action.

 

The students are very cool about this. A few of them invent excuses to squeeze past the famous couple on the way to the concession stand, and one or two approach for autographs, but the prevailing attitude is to respect their privacy and allow them to enjoy the game as though they were ordinary fans.

 

And, to be perfectly honest, Julia Roberts is not a starlet whose bathwater Justin would be proud to drink — he has scores of photographs of beautiful women clipped from magazines taped to the walls around his desk and bed, and Roberts is not among them.

 

"I mean, she's all right . . . ” he says. Then he looks at her again.

 

1:05 p.m.: As the quarter winds down, the first banner appears overhead being pulled behind an airplane circling the stadium. The planes take off from the Michiana Airport about six miles away and advertisers pay Gary's Banners, Inc., up to $300 for six laps. Arby's is today's first customer, and as the game goes on we will hear from GMC trucks, Kickers Sports Bar, the Wharf, the Heartland Club, on and on, around and around.

 

2 p.m.: Halftime. Tie score. The students decide to sit down at last, but when they do, the word about Julia Roberts and Jason Patric flashes through the entire section. Ten rows, 20 rows, 30 rows down, people stand, turn around and stare.

 

This is very uncool, so Justin, James, Matt and several of the others who are sitting close to the stars decide to do the gallant thing: They stand to form a human shield that blocks the view of the curious.

 

2:40 p.m.: The third quarter of a football game often has a lazy quality when you're in the stands—the initial bloom of excitement has faded, halftime has left the fans well fed and contemplative, and it's still a little early to begin to build to the final crescendo. But if it's contemplation you want, try the library. Here in the huge reference and study area on the second floor, two lonely students are bent over their books. "I was going to go to the game," says sophomore Michael Gayles, who is prepping for a biology exam on Wednesday. "But last night I changed my mind. I didn't even try to sell my tickets, they make it so hard to do."

 

His companion, sophomore Eboni Price, is studying for a physics exam. "I love football," she says. "But I skipped one game at the end of last season to study and it really paid off."

 

Gayles nods purposefully. "It's a sacrifice," he says.

 

No one shushes them.

 

3:20 p.m.: Just over 11 minutes left in the game, and the student section is rollicking after a pass interference call against Michigan keeps a critical Irish catch-up drive alive. Justin leaps sideways into the air, heedless of where he will land, touches a high-five with Matt, then crumples harmlessly into an unsteady, delirious throng. The scene repeats with twice the energy two minutes later when a Notre Dame touchdown narrows Michigan's lead to three. The air is filled with flying plastic souvenir cups, most of them empty.

 

3:23 p.m.: And now for the moment Justin has been waiting for — the safe-driving warning from the Indiana State Police. Retired Trooper Tim McCarthy has been writing and delivering these warnings for 20 years or more, and each week they seem to get cornier — a brush with the law can be a hair-raising experience, and like that. You can't beat it for entertainment, even when the game is close.

 

"Remember," McCarthy booms now. "Not using a shade of caution could be curtains." The lusty cheer drips with sarcasm.

 

3:30 p.m.: The palpable shift in the momentum of the game is playing well out in the parking lots, where hundreds of ticketless fans are happy to be watching the action on TV.

 

A group from Decatur, Michigan, has created a living room atmosphere by hauling down two full-sized couches in a bus and placing them out on the asphalt in front of a TV set. Joel Stambeck and his mother, Emma, are part owners of the bus, which has made nearly every home game in the past four years. No matter what the Irish do on the field, Emma is always the big winner in the parking lot because she charges viewers a dollar for every F-word she hears.

 

3:38 p.m.: Julia Roberts finally sits down for a rest. She misses seeing the Irish interception that leads to the field goal that ties the game with 5:28 to go.

 

4 p.m.: Too quickly, the game is over, the first tie here since a game against Southern Cal in 1969. No one seems to know how to react — on one hand, the tie was lucky, given the way Michigan had been moving the ball in the last few minutes; on the other hand, the Irish made a lackluster effort after intercepting with 1:05 to go in the game, so. . . .

 

"I feel empty," says James, hanging his hands to his sides.

 

"Do we clap or boo?" asks Marlene in her seats directly across the field.

 

Bj 9In their 2018 matchup, the Irish defeated the Wolverines 24-17, leading to this post-game celebration by a member of the marching band.

 

5:20 p.m.: The parking lot is emptying out. Smoke from bottle rockets and barbecues hangs in the still air. From a distance, with the flags, debris and little clouds, the scene suggests a Civil War battlefield at dusk.

 

Downtown South Bend is a ghost town, but crowds are starting to form at the Sunny Italy restaurant across the river on Niles Avenue. The Zloza crew has just barely beaten the dinner rush at this popular alumni hang-out, and the hostess tells them their table will be ready any minute.

 

6:15 p.m.: It looks as though someone has fired a canister of nerve gas into the Turtle Creek apartment. Six young men are sprawled out asleep in front of the television set, no covers, no pillows. Ben Moore, Chris Queensbury, Mark Donahue, Justin, Dave Anderson (a recent grad who's been sleeping on the couch here, on and off, for a couple of weeks) and another guy who apparently is a stranger to these parts.

 

8 p.m.: After dinner at Sunny Italy, Marlene and Elsie have one more stop — the Grotto. "I have to drop her off at Badin," Elsie lies to the guard at the campus gate, gesturing to her 39-year-old daughter. The guard buys it and waves them through.

 

So many visitors have come by to light candles today that the Grotto seems aglow from a distance, an impressive sight. Marlene pays 50 cents for a small candle for her father, who died 16 years ago; Elsie lights the large $2 candle.

 

8:30 p.m.: Restored by his nap, Justin is vertical again and doing the accumulated dishes from the weekend. The U.S. Open tennis tournament is on the TV, but no one is really watching. Tonight feels unfocused, drab.

 

10:45 p.m.: Marlene and Elsie arrive home in Lowell just as Justin, showered and dressed, heads out the door to check out the action at Senior Bar. As he walks briskly across the now-vacant parking field near his house, he passes the first reminder he's seen all weekend of a Real World beyond this charmed milieu: Carl Jones, a 66-year-old raggedy man in a torn coat, an unlit cigarette hanging from his lips, is picking up aluminum cans and stuffing them into a canvas sack.

 

"I'm just passing time," Jones says evasively. He'll get 16 cents a pound for the cans (about 25 cans to the pound) when he takes them to the recyclers. He'll walk, because he doesn't own a car.

 

11:05 p.m.: The dance floor at the Alumni-Senior Bar south of the stadium is muddy from dirty shoes and slopped beer. People are packed in here, screaming to be heard above the Bachman-Turner Overdrive on the speakers. The beer garden outside is far less crowded and noisy, so Justin repairs there for a second beer.

 

"If Julia Roberts hadn't been with her boyfriend today, I'd have asked her out," Justin says. "I'd have just gone up to her and said, 'Will you go to dinner with me?' I know it's a one in a million chance, but why not?"

 

Sunday

 

Midnight: The littered parking lot is still dotted with quietly humming RVs, but the parties have nearly all collapsed. At Turtle Creek apartment, Erin is taking a chocolate cake out of the oven. "It's not very good," she warns Justin.

 

4:20 a.m.: Two voices in the darkness of Justin and James's very crowded bedroom:

 

"Hey, where can we crash?"

 

"Who's sleeping where?"

 

"Any spot for us in here?"

 

6:30 a.m.: Justin is fully clothed, as is a friend of Renee's who is nestled sweetly in his arms on his single bed. They are both asleep, as are the five other people who have staked out territory in the room.

 

In this moment of repose, the light seems to fall for the first time on Justin's academic schedule, posted over his desk. Fifteen credit hours: World Literature, British Literary Traditions, American Literary Traditions, Elementary French, and War, Law and Ethics. No one has spoken of these things since Friday, but they will seem important and dreadful again soon enough.

 


This account was written and reported by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, with reporting and research assistance from Johanna Zorn. The story was originally published with accompanying images shot by Chicago photographer Lloyd DeGrane. We republish it here with photos taken by University photographers Matt Cashore '94 and Barbara Johnston during Notre Dame-Michigan weekend 2018.


 

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