SOUTH BEND, INDIANA – It’s just after 1 p.m. on a sunny Thursday afternoon, and the inside of Notre Dame Stadium is pin-drop quiet.
In just over 48 hours, the Fighting Irish will host one of its oldest and fiercest rivals for a midseason matchup under the lights. The tension and excitement in the crisp October air is palpable, if not audible, as a handful of student managers preps the field for afternoon practice. The sky above is clear and sunny, signaling the calm before the storm, so to speak.
“Notre Dame and USC… it doesn’t get any better or bigger,” says Jack Nolan from the south end zone bleachers, referring to his team’s opponent-to-be, the University of Southern California Trojans. “You can feel it building. As you get closer to game day, more and more people will be here on campus. There will be banners on the dorms. Everybody will be talking about it. And by tomorrow, you'll be able to hear the buzz.”
“This is a special place.”
And it’s a place Nolan knows well. He has covered Notre Dame athletics for the last 35 years and currently hosts and coordinates the official Notre Dame Football Postgame Show and the basketball and football coaches' TV and radio shows for Fighting Irish Media. He also handles the radio play-by-play for the Notre Dame men's basketball team.
Notre Dame Stadium is a place that has become even more “special” this season. A major renovation efforts known as the Crossroads Project integrated 800,000 square feet of classroom, research, student life, media, performance and event space into buildings adjacent and attached to Notre Dame Stadium.
These recent enhancements are meant preserve the university’s rich history while preparing it for the future. For example, the stadium’s signature wood bleachers, replaced with weatherproof plastic as part of the renovation, are enjoying a second life as panels in the new academic facilities. And the brown brick enveloping the “House Rockne Built” intentionally matches the Gothic aesthetic of Notre Dame’s scenic campus.
“Tradition really is the cornerstone of Notre Dame football,” Nolan said. “History is very important... and it's important to value and honor that history. But you don't want to be buried or lost in your history. You want to build on it.”
Coca-Cola – a Notre Dame partner since the 1920s – is helping to celebrate the Fighting Irish football legacy with a special exhibit chronicling the game day experience through the years. Cases filled with vintage memorabilia and antiques from the
“We wanted to capture what fans would see and experience as they tailgated outside the stadium, and what they would see and experience inside the stadium,” said
Coke also partnered with Notre Dame to redesign its stadium concession areas with throwback signage as part of the Crossroads Project. Tasteful nods to the program’s storied history can be found throughout the modernized concourse. Because while the stadium and campus have seen their share of changes over the years, most past times have remained intact from generation to generation. From campus landmarks like the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus, to the iconic “Victory March” Notre Dame fight song, to the “Play Like a Champion Today” sign players slap as they take the field, countless elements both seen and unseen continue to create new memories on Saturdays in the fall.
“Tradition is part of the fabric of the entire Notre Dame experience,” Nolan said. “The social event of a Notre Dame football game hasn’t changed. Families come back and have reunions. You go to mass in the Basilica. You go to the Grotto. You meet your old classmates. It’s about sharing what you experienced here and reliving that each and every year.
“People want to be here. They want to be on this campus. They want to feel the excitement and the energy. They want to see the cheerleaders and the leprechaun walk through the parking lots and cheer the Notre Dame buses and boo the buses of the other team as they come through. Even in this day and age of every game being on TV and lots of distractions and demands on everybody's time, this is still the place to be.”