For those of you preparing to make a pilgrimage to South Bend this football season, the weekend ahead presents you with an opportunity of a lifetime. Whether you've stood behind the Blue and Gold for decades, or even if you prefer to sport another school's colors, there is no better place to spend an All-American autumn afternoon than on campus at the University of Notre Dame.
As a former Fightin' Irish Leprechaun, I speak for all Notre Dame fans when I say that we would rather kill our opponents with kindness than make them feel unwelcome. With that in mind, this guide goes out to everyone who plans to visit South Bend this season in hopes that you will enjoy everything our mecca of tradition has to offer.
Spending your entire Friday on and around campus is highly recommended, so pack your bags and make your way to South Bend sometime on Thursday if you can. While you're at it, throw something green in your suitcase to wear inside Notre Dame Stadium during the game. If your wardrobe lacks emerald options, head to the goliath bookstore on the southern edge of campus where you will find pretty much anything and everything imaginable with a "ND" or a Leprechaun stamped on it.
Stadium Tunnel Tours: Even opposing fans can't help but respect the 11 banners lining the main tunnel inside Notre Dame Stadium. The north endzone gate, named after the greatest football coach of all time Knute Rockne, remains open between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. for those of you who wish to take a stroll down the tunnel and onto the field.
Pep Rally: The Band of the Fighting Irish marches from the Golden Dome to its practice location south of Notre Dame Stadium at 4:30 p.m. before heading into the Joyce Center for the pep rally at 6 p.m. All fans are welcome to watch Brian Kelly and the Leprechaun wake up the echoes together as co-emcees of the rally.
Dinner: Long and winding lines will already spill out from the doors of every local hot spot by the time the pep rally ends, facing fans with their first critical choices of the weekend: Either skip the rally and enjoy the best slice of pizza the Midwest has to offer at Rocco's (527 N. St. Louis Blvd., South Bend, IN), or stray from the beaten path by finding one of these hidden gems:
- Fiddler's Hearth (127 N. Main St., South Bend, IN): Fiddler's is the most authentic Irish pub you will find this side of the Atlantic. Owned by a family of Celts, they truly know how to pour perfect pints of the real good stuff while classic pub-session live music serenades patrons sitting at large wooden tables communal eating style.
- Maury's Pub (901 W. 4th St., Mishawaka, IN): Maury's makes the trip to neighboring Mishawaka more than worth it. Completely covered in Notre Dame memorabilia, this family style restaurant will come alive with flashing lights to the tune of the fight song at least three times before you finish your delicious home cooked meal.
- Joe's Tavern (1201 Dunham St., South Bend, IN): Located in the heart of a classic South Bend working-class neighborhood, Joe's stands as the only bar still in existence that was featured in the movie Rudy (Remember when Rudy's dad broke up the fight between his two sons?). Pull up a bar stool, order some deliciously greasy pub food, and chat with the realest local fans you will ever meet.
Favorite South Bend Bar
Friday Night: After enjoying dinner and the pep rally in whichever order you choose to experience them, you can either play it safe by heading to the closest bars to campus on Eddy St., or you can head downtown to the corner of E. Wayne St. and S. Michigan St. where you will find CJ's Pub and the Blarney Stone (known to students as Finny's). Beware of long lines, massive crowds, and hot sweaty students grinding all over the place while they spill cheap pitchers of long island ice tea on the floors of these dives. Don't wear nice shoes.
Start your game day off right with the Midnight Drummer Circle on the steps of the Golden Dome. Then hit the hay to rest up for a marathon of a Saturday.
Campus Traditions: Catch the Fightin' Irish Bagpipe Band in front of the Golden Dome at 11:30 a.m., then choose your own adventure for the rest of the day. Choose wisely, because even the most wily veteran fan has trouble fitting all of this into one day. Here are the highlights:
- The Player Walk: Watch Brian Kelly lead his team from the Guglielmino Complex through Library Quad (south of Touchdown Jesus) into Notre Dame Stadium at precisely 1:15 p.m.
- Bond Hall Concert: The Band of the Fighting Irish assembles on the steps of Bond Hall to play their traditional game day songs at 2:00 p.m.
- Step-Off Parade: The Leprechaun leads his cheerleaders and the band in a parade from the Golden Dome to Notre Dame Stadium at 2:30 p.m.
Tailgating: If you've already seen all there is to see on campus (which honestly takes more than one visit), join in the purely American revelry taking place all around you by heading to one of these popular tailgating areas:
- Stadium Lots: A bronze statue of the legendary four-time national championship winning coach Frank Leahy proudly overlooks the parking lots just south of Notre Dame Stadium. Frank wears a giant grin because he knows he is the king of college football tailgating, as made evident by the impressive festivities laid out before him.
- Legends: The only bar on campus stands 100 yards south of Notre Dame Stadium. The parking lot just behind it gets pretty rowdy, as does the row of RVs lined up along Holy Cross Drive.
- Library Lot: For fuller spreads and more polished partying, head to the parking lot just east of Hesburgh Library (to the right of Touchdown Jesus).
In-Game Traditions: Fighting Irish fans tend to use the "T" word a lot, but for good reason. We love our traditions here, and we've been doing them for a while now. If you have trouble catching on during the game, just follow the lead of the student section. They'll be the ones wearing green and standing on the tiny wooden planks they call "seats" all game long.
- "Here come the Irish!": The whole stadium begins to chant as the Leprechaun prepares to lead the football team out of the tunnel and onto the field. Watch for the flash of real 24k gold when their helmets hit the sunlight, and listen for the distinct voice of Mike Collins as he announces their arrival.
- The Jig: Link arms and dance along with the students whenever the band plays "Rakes of Mallow."
- The Celtic: The whole student section motions in unison to this song. If you get lost just watch the Leprechaun or fake it til you make it.
- 1812 Overture: Form the "Kelly K" with both hands and chop to the beat of Tchaikovsky's classic in honor of head coach Brian Kelly.
- Pushups: Get ready to crank one out for every point the Fighting Irish score after every touchdown. Don't act like a freshman by celebrating field goals with pushups. Hoist everyone around you into the air and send them flying in increments of seven, but make sure to save your lightest friends for the fourth quarter.
- Alma Mater: True loyal sons and daughters stay til the end of every game, win or lose. Link arms and sway gently to the Alma Mater as the football team approaches the student section in a gesture of solidarity.
Post-Game Celebration: Win or lose, we still like to have a good time. Celebrate with Touchdown Jesus himself at Mass in the Basilica 30 minutes after every home game, then head down the street to Mulligan's or the Linebacker on the corner of South Bend Ave. and Edison Rd. Be sure to let Pat and Sue Mulligan welcome you home, and kiss the lucky golden pole inside "The Backer."
Did I miss anything? Comment below, or tweet at me: @TheNDleprechaun Enjoy your visit to beautiful South Bend, IN!