Severe thunderstorms were brewing Monday night, but hundreds of determined Notre Dame fans still showed up to buy the new line of Notre Dame sideline gear, designed by Under Armour, which debuted early Tuesday morning.
A line of people begins to form more than an hour and a half before the midnight premiere outside the Leep Varsity Shop in the lobby of the Joyce Center. I arrive with the impression that the purpose of the grand unveiling is to debut Notre Dame’s new team uniforms, but I soon figure out we’re all waiting for nothing more than a glorified shopping spree, a chance to be the first lucky fans to purchase the new Under Armour gear. Because Under Armour’s contract does not officially start until July 1, 2014, the University is forbidden to sell any merchandise before then, hence the middle-of-the-night madness.
By 11:30 p.m., more than 300 people stand in a line that snakes around the lobby area. I marvel at the number of people who left their warm homes and drove to Notre Dame’s campus at such a late hour on this rainy, cold Monday. That’s Notre Dame fan dedication. While waiting for the clock to strike midnight, patient students, athletes, staff members and local fans snack on free popcorn, enter their names in a raffle and spin a wheel-of-fortune for a chance to win a gift card. Music and a light show from the D.J. booth help heighten the excitement of the Fighting Irish fans and the few lucky children who were allowed to stay awake past their bedtime for the big reveal.
At 11:55, a minute-by-minute countdown begins. Five! Four! Three! Two! One! As soon as both hands of the clock point to 12, the lights go out and “Here Come the Irish” blares from the speakers. A ceremonial entry into the store begins. Each member of the crowd is handed a free Under Armour coffee mug as they cross the threshold into newly claimed Under Armour territory. The frenzy begins.
A blonde young man races straight back to the wall of hats, removes his faded, worn out Adidas cap and replaces it with a brand new gold visor with a navy blue Under Armour emblem showing on the side. Next to the hat wall, a dad holds up a T-shirt and admires the design with his teenage son. To the right, a woman helps her son take off the T-shirt he’s wearing and try on a gray Under Armour tech tee with the PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION TODAY logo on the front. Even I can’t help but be drawn to the new women’s apparel, despite my closet full of Notre Dame gear at home. In minutes, I can barely move around the store without knocking into someone. People swarm every inch of the space, hastily grabbing the correct size of whatever apparel catches their eye. I pick out a T-shirt and look around to find the checkout. My jaw drops when I see that the line for the checkout counter already stretches almost to the back of the store.
About 20 minutes after the doors to the Leep Varsity Shop opened, I feel my cell phone buzz. I pull it out of my purse and see a slew of concerned text messages. “Have you heard about this crazy weather we’re about to get?” a friend wrote. “Hey, are you okay? You should come home soon, there are tornado warnings west of us and it’s headed this way,” my roommate sent. I read through the rest of the messages and learn there is, in fact, a tornado heading for South Bend. The storm is reportedly passing through LaPorte (I’ve driven from Chicago to South Bend enough times to recognize that name from a sign not-so-far from here.). My friends are scared, and the newscasters aren’t helping them feel any better. I assure them I’ll be home soon.
I look up from my cell phone to see the customers in the gear shop are largely, if not completely, unaware of this impending state of emergency. The crowd is preoccupied wondering whether the medium or the large pants fit better and whether they will make it through the checkout line and into the lobby before the raffle winners are announced. I peek out the window and see that it is merely drizzling outside. Business as usual carries on. I ask the woman standing next to me if she’s heard about the storm coming. She seems relatively unconcerned, replying, “Oh, it’ll be fine.”
At 12:34 a.m., my phone buzzes again. “ND Alert! A tornado warning has been issued for our area. Please take cover. This is a tornado warning.” At the same instant, the campus-wide alarm begins blaring through the Joyce Center. The D.J. cuts the music and announces the weather warning. I look up, caught off guard at the seriousness of the storm warning. I realize it’s time to leave. The customers standing around me understand the gravity of the situation as quickly as I do. Most of them have paid for their items and immediately exit the Joyce Center for their cars. A few determined customers remain in line to buy their goods, but others set their clothes down on tables and leave. In the same manner that the crowd flooded into the store, they are now pouring out of the store into the parking lot.
The drive from the Joyce Center to my apartment shouldn’t take longer than five minutes, but tonight it goes slower. I grip the steering wheel and navigate through the maze of cars, all heading out of the parking lot with extreme caution. Once I turn onto a main road off campus, the rain begins picking up. I continue to grip the steering wheel, leaning all the way forward in my seat, driving no more than 15 miles per hour. I make my way to Irish Crossings and feel relieved when I turn into my driveway. I quickly exit the car and run into the house. Hearing the door open, my roommate runs upstairs from her temporary hide-out in the basement to make sure I’m alright. However, the minute she spots the shopping bag in my hand, she forgets about the storm outside. “Ah, show me what you bought! How’s the Under Armour stuff?”
The storm began sweeping through South Bend no more than 10 minutes after I made it back. I watch through the back window as the roads flood in a matter of minutes and the wind sweeps the water, creating strong currents through the streets. Around 1:15 a.m., I join the thousands of people in St. Joseph County who lose power in the storm. The chaos ends just after 1:30 a.m., though the power remains down. I carry my shopping bag upstairs and open my closet, placing my new Under Armour t-shirt on top of a pile of old Adidas clothing before drifting off to sleep.
Meg Handelman is a senior at Notre Dame pursing a degree in American Studies with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She is the summer 2014 intern for this magazine.