September 17. The date had been marked on my calendar even before graduation in May.
Moving to my new city, starting my first job, a lot of unknowns. What plans could a then-almost-graduate have that far in advance?
Notre Dame v. Michigan State.
That weekend the Irish would be hosting the Spartans. And when applying for tickets in the alumni lottery, my close friends — plus the rest of our class, apparently — decided Michigan State was the game to come back for: a rival opponent, most likely good weather, basically a guaranteed Irish win, and now as “adults,” enough time to request off work.
So, tickets were purchased, travel plans were booked and housing arrangements were made. (Lucky for me, my brother, a current senior, was willing to put me up for the weekend.)
The Michigan State weekend would be my first time back on campus since graduation and the first time my Notre Dame roommates would all be together as alumni, too. To say I was excited would have been an understatement.
I wasn’t too thrilled, though, about the final outcome, a 36-28 Irish loss. As a member of winningest home-game class in Notre Dame football history I didn’t see that one coming.
Loss aside, that weekend I felt like I had never left Notre Dame. Friday night we had headed to our go-to bar, Finni’s, where the bouncers immediately recognized us and welcomed us back by letting us cut the massive line. The Chainsmokers’ “Roses” blasted and the bar closed, as always, with everyone singing a poor rendition of “Piano Man.” Then we grabbed slices of Vesuvio’s pizza.
The next morning my old roommates and I stopped by our senior-year house in Legacy Village for “Kegs and Eggs” and a check-in visit with this year’s residents. We weren’t the only alumni crashing the game day festivities there, either. One resident pointed out that we outnumbered the students.
We eventually made our way to Joyce Lot, hit up our usual tailgates at Pole 2 and Legends, “cheersed” with our friends and their parents, headed into the stadium, pretended we didn’t lose to the Spartans and found ourselves back at Finni’s.
In other words, we picked up right where we left off, and it was great.
The next day as the game-day buzz and energy died down, an unfamiliar feeling set in. When I was a student at Notre Dame, I couldn’t imagine the University without me. Notre Dame is my roommates and friends, my classes and professors, the buildings I’d walk by, the bars I’d go to on the weekends, the Sunday breakfasts at Overlook Cafe, the student section at football games, dorm Masses.
And yet, walking around campus that Sunday, I realized Notre Dame goes on without me. Different students are admitted and take my place in the classroom, on the quad, in the student section, new buildings are constructed, popular weekend activities change, football teams can (and do) lose. Suddenly I felt removed.
But still, something keeps me connected. That weekend experiencing my first game as an alum, Notre Dame football took on a different meaning.
On the surface we might look like die-hard fans, post-grads flocking back to campus, wrapped up in the win-or-lose outcome. The truth is we’re not really here for the football. It may sound sacrilegious, but there’s more to it than all the first downs, touchdowns, Hail Mary passes and Irish wins.
Football is what brings us together. My friends and I are now in cities from New York to Los Angeles, busy with our new responsibilities. Yet somehow we all found the time to gather to watch a football game in South Bend. The game keeps us in touch with each other, our Notre Dame family, whether we’re five months — or five years — out of school. Maybe it’s our way of refusing to graduate, but in the transition from college to the real world, football is that consistent thing connecting us.
Win or lose, we’ll always have that.
Kit Loughran , a public relations/social account coordinator at Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago, was this magazine’s spring 2016 intern.