Location: Cincinnati, OH
States visited: Indiana, Michigan, Ohio
My departure from Chicago was of course more complicated than it needed to be, but that’s probably not a surprise. As stated previously, there were many tasks to complete and people to contact and stuff to pack. I had made it all the way to Hyde Park by the time I realized that my toiletry bag was not among the luggage I loaded into the car. Just minutes from the Skyway entrance, I made the snap decision to go back home for the bag. That brain fart set me back over an hour. Consequently, there was no visit to the college football hall of fame.With all appropriate gear now in tow, the trip to South Bend was quick and easy. This did not prove true once I got there. I have a Garmin GPS navigational system and it certainly has its strengths. But it has no idea where you’re supposed to park for the Notre Dame pep rally. After doing a long lap around South Bend, I finally figured out where I was supposed to be and was greeted by the marching band playing the Virginia Tech fight song in the parking lot outside of Notre Dame Stadium. With the pep rally due to start in one hour, I scrambled to get in line for my free ticket. The lap around town proved to be a potentially major setback as the ticket queue stretched nearly the complete circumference of Notre Dame Stadium. It was amazing. Either Irish fans are really into getting something for free or they’re ridiculously devoted to the team. The Joyce Convocation Center was packed to the rafters with people prepared to scream wildly in celebration of the season’s commencement. Students arrived from their dorms dressed in customized matching shirts, chanting and cheering as they walked across the campus. In the arena, the noise was deafening as fans welcomed Charlie Weis, Joe Theisman, Chris Zorich, and the 2007 football team. Two guys wore gigantic paper mache masks resembling Weis and Lou Holtz, though they couldn’t see very well and kept bumping into one another while trying to find their seats. As the crowd filed out on the last echoes of The Victory March, all seemed confident that they would indeed crush the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets tomorrow.Tailgating began pretty early for some – I arrived at 8:00 am and many folks were already set up. I strolled around campus for a bit and then joined Jay of Blue Gray Sky for a breakfast burrito and a bloody mary. Now that’s how you start a football Saturday. Most fans donned the new “official” T-shirt - green with the words “Together as One” over the leprechaun logo – or a Notre Dame jersey. There was an astonishing amount of cornhole being played. Apparently this game is gonna make it…I strolled around the grounds, trying to get the hang of this whole “Hi, I’m here to crash your tailgate and write down every thing you say” routine. For the most part, people were very nice and certainly up for talking to me. I even met a few former Notre Dame players who, at this point, blend in with everyone else. When they heard I went to Michigan, nobody got on my case about it. “Well, that’s a good school!” was probably the most frequent response.
However, as the day wore on, people began to inform me that Michigan was struggling to keep pace with Appalachian State. This was certainly distracting news. Then text messages from my Michigan friends came through saying things like, “I am having an effen meltdown with this team! SERENITY NOW!” and “Heisman – what?” I was faced with my first major dilemma of this project (well, aside from the whole quitting my career thing). The Michigan/Appalachian state game was on at a few tailgates. I could plunk myself down and watch – or I could keep working. After much internal struggle, I chose to keep doing interviews and talking with people about Notre Dame.
After entering the stadium, I called my friend Mike to get a status report. I could barely hear him, but I learned that we had taken the lead. He tried to give me play-by-play, but it just came out, “Oooorp! Uyyyyp! DoH!” I couldn’t hang on any longer. It was time for Notre Dame to start playing. I learned the news of Michigan’s ultimate defeat along with 86,000 other people from the Notre Dame Stadium public address announcer. It was the only thing they would be able to cheer about all day, and not the place I would pick to hear such news. I was totally distracted for the entire first quarter (along with the Notre Dame offensive line, apparently). Inner conflict swelled. Had I let my team down by not watching, and was this the punishment? Or did I simply pick the right year to go out on the road instead of remaining entrenched in my normal devotion to Michigan? As time passed, I leaned towards the latter. I am glad I didn’t watch that game.
Things didn’t go much better for the Irish faithful in South Bend. It was an ugly game featuring fumbles galore and not much in the way of downfield passing. I scrambled out of there once there was no remaining chance for an Irish comeback and hit the road. I’m spending Saturday night with my aunt and uncle in Cincinnati. Then it’s off to Clemson for another game. I just hope I’m not cursed. After the disasters in Ann Arbor and South Bend, I have to start wondering.
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