With kickoff a mere 35 days a way, legions of fans will soon be flocking once again to a little town in Indiana known as South Bend. But this small town is nothing like the hundreds of small towns you'll find while aimlessly driving through Indiana.
South Bend is home to the University of Notre Dame.
It's not worth the time to argue that Notre Dame is one of the most prestigious universities in our country, and it is just as foolish to try and validate the impact its athletic programs have had as well.
Of course, one athletic program stands out and it's probably not the fencing team.
Notre Dame football, loved or hated by millions, is an undeniable force in the NCAA and the college football world. Their stadium is as legendary as the teams and games it has hosted.
I'd like to cover what makes Notre Dame Stadium so amazing. It has been a very special place for my family and I since I was a little kid, wearing an over-sized No. 3 jersey to home games.
Back then, just walking into the stadium told me that something very unique was happening; the air was so dense with history, I could breath it in.
Heisman Trophy winners played there. NFL legends played there. Now I was there.
Though I was only watching twenty-something athletes play, I felt like I was witnessing a Super Bowl—the atmosphere, the fans, the scenery.
The smile on my face was brighter than the Golden Dome in the sun. I've made at least one game every year since I was seven, and I can honestly say the experience gets better and better each time.
To highlight all the reasons Notre Dame Stadium is special is a tough task, but I will give it my best effort.
In no particular order, my favorite aspects of Notre Dame Stadium.
The Golden Dome
Seeing this from the highway is often the first indication that you're nearing South Bend. And what a way to start your ND experience.
The Golden Dome, when hit by sunlight, will take your breath away.
It sits atop the Administration Building on Notre Dame's campus and is painted with actual fragments of gold.
The Dome is technically not part of the stadium, but it is viewable from just about anywhere inside the stadium.
It gives the backdrop of any game a beautiful feel.
The Hesburgh Library is home to the most impressive mural any college campus can offer.
The image of Jesus with his arms raised, as if to signify a touchdown, can be seen from the south end zone at Notre Dame Stadium.
This is another sight that you have to experience with your own eyes.
Officer McCarthy's 4th-quarter Joke
Before the fourth-quarter begins, the stadium grows eerily quiet; the first time you experience this, you'll likely think something is wrong.
All is well, and Sheriff McCarthy is there to offer a reassuring, humorous joke.
He is with the Indiana State Police Department, and he uses corny jokes to remind people to be safe while driving.
The jokes always draw a laugh from the crowd of 80,795. What's amazing about this special tradition is that, according to what I have been told, McCarthy has never repeated a joke in his dozens of years as the fourth-quarter joke man.
The Marching Band
Most say the Notre Dame Marching Band is among the greatest in the nation, but surely everyone will at least say it is among the top two or three.
The band flows together as one and plays a variety of music that will please everyone's interests.
One song that always pleases the crowd is the most famous of all victory marches, the Notre Dame Fight Song.
When the song is played, it is your duty as a fan to stand and clap along with your fellow Irish fans.
One of the greatest events happens a half hour before kickoff, when the band marches through the campus and into the stadium, drawing thousands to watch.
The band is known for their Irish jig, played throughout the game, and a piece by Beethoven, which is played at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
The Irish Guard
Accompanied with the band, the Irish Guard is a 10-member unit comprised of university students.
The members are donned in a traditional Scottish kilt and a shako, or long hat.
When in full uniform, the members of the Irish Guard stand about eight-feet tall—to even be considered for the Guard one must be at least 6'2".
The Irish Guard is a stoic, mentally-tough unit that adds to the pageantry of college football and the Fighting Irish.
Among their many responsibilities, the Irish Guard raises the American Flag during the national anthem.
Hearing 80,795 fans chanting in unison can give you the chills, and it often does for me.
Chants of "N...D" or "Here come the Irish" make the atmosphere take on a life of its own during the game.
My favorite chant involves all four corners of the stadium, when fans in one corner will say "we", followed by "are...N...D."
Hearing this, it is impossible not to get revved up and ready to back the boys in blue and gold.
The Student Body
One of the more colorful student bodies in all of college football, Notre Dame students do not sit during the game...ever.
Whether up for 40 or down by 40, students remain standing for the duration. It is that kind of support that often gives the team that little edge that is the difference in a win or a loss.
The student body can be quite creative with their chants, and are never too shy to join in push-ups to help everyone count how many points the Fighting Irish have.
The Irish jig will then play, and students are literally dancing in the aisles and celebrating what is hopefully another Irish win.
The Gold Helmets
The gold helmets shine like the Golden Dome as the players exit the tunnel and take the field.
These helmets are painted with real gold as well, and theirs is truly one of the most unique helmets in all of sports.
It is fitting that I save this for last, because this is the last impression one gets from a game at Notre Dame Stadium.
After the game has ended, the team will join the student body and together sway to the rhythm of the school's alma-mater song, as it is performed by the band.
It is a peaceful, calming song that is a perfect time to savor one last image of the stadium, the fans, and the team.
The players all sing as they rock back and forth, the outcome of the game of little importance.
At the very end of the song comes its most famous line, "and our hearts will always...Love Thee Notre Dame!"
An exclamation point on a song that is an exclamation point on a beautiful, passionate experience at Notre Dame Stadium.
The previous nine aspects of Notre Dame Stadium all add up to my No. 10 favorite part of Notre Dame Stadium: the experience as a whole.
Though I certainly have not witnessed all of college football's stadiums and their gameday traditions, I can say with confidence that Notre Dame Stadium is a place like no other.
I hold and cherish many wonderful memories from the stadium, and I truly feel that I have grown with each encounter. Through the wins and losses, I have gained a profound sense of respect and admiration for "The House That Rockne Built."
In no other stadium in the country can a player truly "play like a champion today."
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