An outsider's review of Notre Dame Stadium

College Contributor Network

Notre Dame football thrives on the self-belief in the program's mystique, glory and history.

The team that blessed America with Knute Rockne, George Gipp and Rudy Ruettiger doesn't downplay its own importance. According to outside perception at least, modesty is not part of the Notre Dame way.

Best I can tell, that's why the nation collectively roots against the Fighting Irish: Their supposed grandeur is constantly rubbed in our faces. Alums all but paint their houses blue and gold, "Rudy" depicts South Bend as something between the lost city of Atlantis and Heaven itself, and the football team apparently considers itself too special to join a conference like everyone else.

And they act as if their simple uniforms and un-decorated end zones represent a holy and unbreakable tradition of superiority.

It's not exactly tough to grasp why outsiders resent Notre Dame, its football program most of all.

I visited South Bend and Notre Dame Stadium for the first time Saturday (for Northwestern's thrilling upset of the No. 18 home team) and I must report that despite all the hype, the experience was...

Ah man, it was actually pretty cool.

It wasn't so much that Notre Dame had the craziest tailgate scene or loudest fans (not that it scores poorly in either category). Nor that Catholicism (Touchdown Jesus) and the Dropkick Murphys ("Shipping Up to Boston") added quite as much to my experience as they might to others'.

What I loved was the frill-free simplicity of it all, that very old-school tradition that sometimes rubs me as aloof.

Notre Dame Stadium forms a single bowl that seats 80,000 people but looks to fit half that. When the stadium is empty, rusted and discolored bleachers appear every bit their 84-year-old age.

The whole enterprise feels transported from 1937.

In an age of sophisticated stadium design and sponsored seating sections, Notre Dame Stadium, as much as any venue, maintains a simple ethos: pack as many people as possible into a tight space and turn them loose.

When Rockne, the legendary football coach and pioneer, designed the stadium in 1930, he set the stands perilously close to the field, leaving the fans nearly on top of the end zone. The Notre Dame band, meanwhile, sits on the turf itself, just outside the white lines.

Everyone packs in so tight and so close. The scene evokes old-timey baseball imagery of spectators watching games from on the playing field.

This compact structure yields a wonderful, of-another-time atmosphere.

Of course that old-school identity is all part of the Notre Dame brand. The experience is designed so I'll feel like Rudy standing on the sideline.

There's no video board at Notre Dame Stadium, just two scoreboards on opposite ends of the field offering only fundamentals: score, time, down, etc. No major advertisements either, just grass surrounded by occupied bleachers.

Those uniforms are famously simple, with solid blue jerseys and golden helmets. The field's end zones are paints with dashes instead of letters or logos.

There's no reason not to decorate the end zones more interestingly, with the name of the school or a leprechaun or anything really. No reason, that is, besides preserving that old-timey feel. In that sense, The Notre Dame Stadium experience serves as a type of living museum, constructed and maintained not to optimize modern design and technology but to freeze a moment in time.

Several times during the game between Northwestern and Notre Dame, when a close call was being reviewed, fans at the top of the bowl turned around and banged on the press box window. With no video board, they didn't have replay access and sought input from those who did. That seemed a symbolic counterargument to pretending to live in another century, magical as that may be.

But Notre Dame needs to maintain its anachronism because that's what sets this school apart. The fans are loud, as they are at many stadiums. The in-game traditions are entertaining, as they are at many stadiums.

What defines the Notre Dame football experience is 1) a giant mural of Jesus staring down on games and 2) the nostalgia of previous eras, preserved in an active stadium.

Notre Dame haters criticize the Irish for scoffing at fancy uniforms and advanced architecture in the name of tradition. For again and again setting themselves apart from everyone else, their superiority implicit.

The problem with these objections is that the Notre Dame throwback experience works so well. Just well enough, in fact, for Fighting Irish fans and alums to continue bugging the rest of us with incessant talk about how great it is.

Alex Putterman is a junior Journalism major at Northwestern University and sports editor of the Daily Northwestern student newspaper. He has fairly eclectic interests but loves baseball above all. Follow him on Twitter: @AlexPutt02
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