Review originally published on StadiumJourney.com
If you made a top 10 list of college football stadiums that you would like to visit, which venues would make the list? For me, a trip to Notre Dame Stadium is a no-brainer when putting together a list like that. As I crossed I-80 on the Indiana Toll Road, I began to wonder if the experience could live up to the expectations that I had in my mind. Let me tell you, unequivocally, it sure did.
Food & Beverage: 4 (out of 5)
As I attended during the debut game for head coach Brian Kelly, there was one concession vendor who yelled out, “Try a Brian Kelly Brat! A BK Brat, that’s what you need!” I took him up on the enthusiastic offer, and I must say it was quite good. Some re-branding may be in order.
Everything seems to be just a little overpriced, but they seem to be able to get away with it. One item is called “Irish Nachos.” When I asked what made them Irish nachos, I was told they were just like regular nachos. “Except you can charge a dollar more, “ I answered. That remark was met with a knowing laugh.
The Irish Steak sandwich is quite good, albeit one of the pricier items in the stadium at $7.00. The South Bend Polish Dog goes for $5.50, looked and smelled quite good. Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite are available in four different sizes. Popcorn seemed to be a popular choice as did the classic hot dog.
Notre Dame Stadium has all the classic elements that make you feel as if you have stepped into one of the truly classic stadiums in all of sport. It starts when you get to the stadium and see the four gates named after legendary coaches, all of whom won National Championships during their tenure (Knute Rockne, Ara Parseghian, Frank Leahy, and Lou Holtz). As you enter the concourse, you’ll see further tributes to the teams that won championships and some of the greats that helped Notre Dame achieve that greatness. With 11 National Championships in school history, you can imagine, there are plenty of tributes to go around.
Finally you see the field, and even an hour before kickoff, the stadium is nearly half full. I was greeted at least four times by ushers starting from the gate to my seat with, “Welcome to Notre Dame.” Very classy. From your seat you’ll find that with the bowl seating structure, there is a great view from any of the wooden bleachers filling the stadium.
Past the packed student section, you will see Touchdown Jesus off in the distance. If you ever forget where you are, this landmark quickly takes you back to reality. In front of the student section, you’ll see the marching band wrapped around the end zone at field level.
There is nothing fancy about this stadium. The seats are wooden benches, the field is grass, and the scoreboards are incredibly low tech in this era of jumbo HD. And it is all absolutely perfect.
Tailgating is definitely the way to go if you’re going to Notre Dame Stadium. The sheer size of individual set-ups and the vast expanse of cars, grills, tables, and refreshments go on for miles. You’ll also find student organizations throughout campus selling sausages and other tasty encased meats, so there’s that option as well.
If you want to have someone do all of the work, you can try Legends of Notre Dame, located outside the stadium near the Lou Holtz gate. Get there early if you want to find a seat without a long wait, but the food is pretty good, with many entrees named after or in homage to the Notre Dame greats.
Along South Bend Avenue (S.R. 23) you’ll find several options where you can grab a drink or some grub, and you can also park your car (for $20.00) if you aren’t planning on tailgating. The Linebacker Inn is a popular spot at the corner of South Bend and Edison. I had a pretty decent olive burger, which came up fast, but this place is better known as a place to grab a drink before your last march to the stadium.
Mulligan’s is a fun and friendly little spot that offers up giant beers for very good prices on gameday. If you’re just looking to tie one on, this is the place for you. They were busy enough to be fun, but so busy that you won’t get what you need in a reasonable time.
Further down South Bend Avenue is Between the Buns. A beer will cost you twice as much as Mulligan’s, but they do also have giant bloody mary’s and other huge mixed drinks. They seemed pretty disorganized on game day, and the service suffered because of it. Be prepared to deal with some attitude from the servers and bartenders if you want to spend some time here.
The most important part of the neighborhood is the campus itself. Spend some time rambling aimlessly, especially if it’s a nice day. It truly is a beautiful campus. If you like museums, you may want to stop in at the Snite Museum of Art. They have an extensive collection of religious art, including many works of the Virgin Mary, as well as rotating special exhibits. It is free to enter.
The fans at Notre Dame Stadium are truly special. Young and old, local residents or past alumni, and most of all a passionate student section all contribute to an unforgettable experience. I loved hearing the chatter around me, discussions of the past, the present, and the future abound. All of those conversations center around the football squad, and old Notre Dame. The stands are full of passionate and long-time fans, and you almost feel out of place without a little history around your neck. Don’t try too hard, just take it in and enjoy it.
It is absolute madness and chaos surrounding a Notre Dame football game, but it feels positive and energetic. Keep it simple, find a lot, and walk to where you need to go. Lines for bathrooms are incredibly long during peak times, so sneak out early if you need to use a restroom.
Return on Investment: 5
A trip to Notre Dame will cost you some money, but believe me, it’s all worth it. I found a ticket on Stub Hub for about $150.00, and it was one of the worst seats in the house. That being said, let me reiterate that there are no bad views at Notre Dame Stadium. Add in the $20.00 for parking, $20.00 for a souvenir shirt, $10.00 for in-stadium food, $30.00 in pregame eating and drinking, and you have a grand total of $230.00 for one person. It’s a steep trip, but this section isn’t about total cost, it’s about whether the experience is worth the cost. The fact is, I would gladly pay more to go to a Notre Dame game.
Extra points awarded for the unparalleled fans, the immensity of the tailgating scene, the many traditions of the Notre Dame game day experience, and most of all for the overwhelming amount of history you feel in this building.
Paul Swaney is the Co-Founder of Stadium Journey