Over the years I have attended 100’s of sporting events. The anticipation of what is to happen and which team will win creates excitement before every competition. Will a spectacular play or fabulous finish make it a most memorable event? If that feeling ever fades, I will know it’s time to retire. Some events almost overshadow the competition itself. Such was the case with today’s assignment. Here I was walking onto the hallowed turf of Notre Dame Stadium. The experience can only be described as surreal.
Remember as a kid when it was hard to get to sleep the night before Christmas? That sums up my evening last night. Earlier I had tried to explain to my wife the thrill of going to this iconic venue. She gave me that look and said, “You’re going to freeze to death.” Quite often she accompanies me on road trips acting as travel companion and co-driver. Occasionally she will attend an event. For this trip to South Bend, Indiana, I offered to buy her a ticket to the game. “You can be in the stadium and even watch me work.” Her reply, “Nope, I’m going to get my hair and nails done.” Somehow she did not catch the significance of a Michigan vs Notre Dame game at Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame Stadium
There are only a few sporting venues in the entire country that truly deserve the designation of iconic. Some that come to mind are baseball stadiums such as, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and Yankee Stadium. Basketball and hockey arenas like Madison Square Garden and the Montreal Forum qualify. Professional football has “the frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field. For college football, you might consider the Rose Bowl and the “Big House” in Ann Arbor. But no venue holds the awe and reverence for the game that Notre Dame Stadium does.
Walking around at field level one of the first things you notice is that the mural, affectionally known as “Touchdown Jesus,” is not visible.
Neither is the “Golden Dome” atop the Main Administration Building.
As you walk up the tunnel that serves as the player’s entrance you pass the iron gate that locked down the field in the stadium’s original configuration.
Overhead banners of Notre Dame’s National Championship years hang down.
Further up the tunnel, the Knute Rockne gate offers a view of the Hesburgh Library and artist Millard Sheets rendering of the resurrected Christ.
Just inside the gate, the east wall bears the likenesses of Notre Dame’s Heisman Trophy-winning athletes.
On the west wall is a plaque embossed with Rockne’s famous locker room speech “we’re going inside of ’em, we’re going outside of ’em.”
Everywhere you look the place bleeds history. How amazing to just stand there and soak it in.
Oh yeah, the game, that’s why we’re here. Wait! It’s January 5th, 2019, there’s only one college football game left in the 2018 season. And it’s not being played in chilly Northern Indiana. On New Year’s day, the National Hockey League (NHL) held their annual Winter Classic on a rink constructed inside Notre Dame Stadium. The Boston Bruins defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-2.
The rink was left in place so the Fighting Irish could host the Michigan Wolverines in a college hockey match four days later. The event is part of Notre Dame’s celebration honoring its 50th season of collegiate hockey. It’s easy to imagine that Rockne might well have been a hockey fan. The physical aspect of the game would certainly have appealed to him. “Fight, Fight, Fight, Fight, Fight!” Sometimes they do.
Never the less, the “House that Rockne Built” was hosting a televised holiday spectacle that the NHL conceived. The Irish and Wolverine fans were reliving the days when Notre Dame Hockey was played outdoors at the current site of Badin Hall and Saint Mary’s Lake.
The Puck Drops
It did not take long to light the goal lamp. Michigan’s Joseph Cecconi scored the first goal of the game at 4:42 of the 1st period.
Just 16 seconds later the Wolverine’s Will Lockwood put one past Irish goalie Cale Morris. A third goal scored by Nolan Moyle sent Michigan to the locker room with a 3-0 lead.
Notre Dame’s Cam Morrison put the Irish on the board with a goal in the 2nd period. Things looked bleak for the home squad until the 14:37 mark of the 3rd period. Michigan’s Luke Morgan took a 2-minute penalty for interfering with a Notre Dame skater. Irish coach Jeff Jackson pulled his goalie to create a 2-man advantage. Notre Dame’s Alex Steeves scored on the power play.
With Michigan’s lead cut to 3-2, Jackson again pulled Morris out of the net in an attempt to tie it up and send the game to overtime. Dakota Raabe found the open net with a shot from center ice to seal the victory 4-2 for the Wolverines.
Wrapping Things Up
An enthusiastic crowd of 23,422 enjoyed a balmy 50-degree afternoon in the dead of winter, a new attendance record for Notre Dame Hockey. Although temperatures dropped as the game progressed, fans just cheered a little louder.
Thankfully, my wife’s prediction of me coming home with frostbite did not materialize. Despite spending 2 periods adjacent to the ice taking photos. The idea of visiting more iconic venues has taken root.
“Hey Honey, how about we take a trip to Boston this spring and see the Red Sox play at Fenway Park?”
“Nah, it’s cold there too. See if you can get credentials to the Rose Bowl. I want to see the Rose Parade.”
She thinks that I can just snap my fingers and make that happen.
Thanks to the folks in the Media Department at the University of Notre Dame for making this visit a reality. Hopefully, they invite us back for an Irish Football game. Every aspect of our interaction with them was very professional. The press facilities at the stadium are fantastic, only exceeded by the kindness of everyone we met from the hospitality staff.
Iconic Pictures From Notre Dame Stadium