Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 11/2/2019, 2:41pm

Final Score: Fighting Irish 21 – Hokies 20; Attendance: 77,622

Weather: Cold and Cloudy, 41; Ticket: $10 son hook job, Face: $80, Parking: $200

Review: “An Instant Classic” by Tree

The Site:

The Fighting Irish play at Notre Dame Stadium, but the experience extends way beyond just the stadium. The Notre Dame campus and much of the town of South Bend, Indiana cater to visiting fans. Since Notre Dame is a bucket list item for many fans, it should not be surprising that the game day experience is well coordinated. What is surprising is that they actually provide an entire weekend’s worth of planned activities. As we had multiple folks coming in from various parts of the country, our weekend started in earnest at an AirBnb House we had rented. I highly recommend it for large groups, but as expected we had late cancellations that pretty much eliminated our anticipated savings.  Instead we headed over to the Linebacker to enjoy some beers and good natured fellowship. While most of us were wearing Hokie gear, we were welcomed by all and many drinks were shared. It was a great way to kick off the weekend. It did mean that we really weren’t able to make the Saturday morning 5k run or yoga session.

Given the gravitas of Notre Dame, I purchased a parking pass for the Joyce lot which put us right in front of the stadium. At $200 on Stubhub, it wasn’t exactly cheap but it was worth the investment. Despite the cold weather and a 2:30 kickoff, it was felt an early start was important to make sure we got a prime spot. Thanks to our Chi Town Crew, a 7:30 arrival got us right in front of the stadium and an interview on local South Bend TV. Lauren Becker from WSBT Channel 22 gave me a great interview and my buddy Jeff plugged the website. It was definitely some of the best media coverage we have gotten which I was reminded often by members of our tailgating crew. After our fifteen minutes of fame, we feasted on some breakfast sandwiches and beer. With so much time prior to the game we were able to tour the campus, getting the obligatory photo op with Touchdown Jesus, visiting the chapel and chatting it up the ND Ambassadors. There were additional scheduled activities, but instead we wandered back to our spot to eat and drink some more prior to game time. By noon, the lots were pretty well filled and the tailgating started in earnest. We found the Notre Dame fans to be very welcoming and we had a number of visitors come see us. I, usually find ND fans to be, well how can I say this politically? The Irish fans and their enthusiasm can be tiresome. However in South Bend, with the exception of a few loudmouths at the game, they were as fun as any fans we have encountered elsewhere. The lots were well managed with plenty of portapotties, trash cans, and good natured support staff. I saw some pretty elaborate set ups, but I would not characterize it as top tier. That being said, given the conditions, the overall tailgating was strong.

We had not bought our tickets yet but there had been couple of offers from some rather long in the tooth scalpers. I wouldn’t say these folks were old, but I am pretty sure they were roommates of Frank Leahy back in the day. They were looking for around $100 a head for the game, but we knew with the weather that price was way too high. Luckily my son Trent had an angle with a fellow Hokie who had access to a number of tickets. Ultimately, we paid about $10 a ticket for seats that ranged from the 25 yard line in the lower level to upper tier end zone seats. Despite the stadium being fairly large at a capacity of nearly 80,000, everyone seemed to feel their seats were good enough. One problem with the continued expansion is that you can no longer see Touchdown Jesus from the stadium itself. Not unlike modifications to the USC Coliseum, the increased capacity of Notre Dame Stadium comes at the price of tradition. Inside, the stadium is very clean and appeared to be recently painted. While there is only one jumbotron, the screen is serviceable. The concessions were fairly standard but the souvenir cup came in at a reasonable $6. Surprisingly, alcohol is not sold at the stadium. Since when do Irish Catholics have a problem with booze? It’s practically one of their four food groups.

Inside the stadium, it was not as loud as I would have expected. Perhaps it was the forty degree weather or the surprisingly strong game the Hokies were giving the Irish, but I have definitely been in louder stadiums. Other than the fight song, I didn’t hear or see any coordinated cheers. On the flip side, the Notre Dame band was very good.

The Logistics:

Located in South Bend, a visit to there will generally require a flight in Chicago and then a minimum two hour drive over to Notre Dame. I say minimum because traffic out of O’Hare is unpredictable and unappealing. So while getting to South Bend is not difficult, it is not a lot of fun either. Getting around the city, and I use that term loosely, is easy enough. We took Ubers around at night. The drive over to the stadium was simple while post-game traffic was no better or worse than other big games I have been to.

The Game:

Both teams were coming in at 5 – 2 but that’s where the similarities ended. Notre Dame was ranked #16 after getting blown out by Michigan the week before and Virginia Tech was on a slight win streak with a number of weak wins. The Irish were a 17 point favorite and we had concerns if this would be a game at all. The teams traded the first two series with ND slowly gaining a field position advantage. Starting from the Hokie 26 yard line, it took the Irish all of two plays to go up by seven in the first quarter. Again after trading a couple more possessions, the Hokies managed to score before the end the first quarter to tie the game up. Notre Dame immediately answered with a long touchdown drive to go ahead 14 – 7 at the start of the second quarter. It was more offensive ineptitude at that point, particularly by the Hokies who couldn’t get anything together. They were more like the Rockettes – one, two, three, kick. Notre Dame was not doing much better against Tech’s defense. The Hokie offense had finally managed to put a drive together late in the half, but the Irish forced a turnover at their own 38 yard line. This seemed to wake up the ND offense and they drove the length of the field with the Hokie’s calling a desperation timeout with ND at 3rd and goal from the one yard line with twenty four seconds left in the half.
At this point, it looked like this would be the beginning of the end for the Hokies. Instead, with a play reminiscent of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison’s legendary 99 yard Super Bowl interception touchdown return against the Phoenix Cardinal, the Hokie defense forced a fumble and Divine Deablo returned it 98 yards for a touchdown. It was a 14 point swing and the Hokies and Irish went into halftime tied at 14.
A fired up Virginia Tech offense came out and drove down for a field goal. Notre Dame then had a good drive going only to Deablo continuing his heroics by making a pick of Irish QB Ian Book’s pass deep in Hokie territory. I guess with a name like Divine, it was his destiny to have a great game in front of Touchdown Jesus. The remainder of the third quarter was more sloppy play and ineffective offenses. At the start of the 4th quarter, VT’s Quincy Patterson finally connected on a deep pass. It was a 50 yard bomb that put the Hokies on the ND twelve yard line. Alas, VT had to settle for a field goal and a six point lead that did not feel nearly big enough to win with an entire quarter of football left to be played. For a while though, it looked like it might be enough as the Irish seemingly wanted to give the game away. After driving to a first and goal at the VT three yard line, ND self-destructed with a block in the back followed by a missed field goal. However, the Hokies could not put the game away, managing only one first down on their next possession.
The Irish started their final drive at their own 13 yard line and a mere 3:22 left on the clock. In a truly “Perils of Pauline” drive, the Irish managed to convert two 4th downs, the second one being a fourth and ten that was converted with a 26 yard pass putting them at first and goal on the VT seven yard line. After two in-completions, Book went on a mad scramble to score the winning touchdown with 23 seconds left. The collective of Notre Dame Stadium breathed a sigh of relief, while the Hokie Faithful shook their heads with what could have been a signature win. Luck of the Irish, indeed.
While the game was a sloppy one, it was intense. It was refreshing to see a game where it was all about two programs with strong traditions rather than flashy uniforms or gimmicky offenses. Somewhere Knute Rockne was smiling.

Personal Notes:

Speaking of Knute Rockne, one tradition we missed was having a drink at his grave in South Bend. But that was about probably the only thing we regretted that weekend. We had a great time Friday night, where we had drinks with lots of different characters, from both Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. The nostalgia is infectious at South Bend, so much so that several in our group insisted that we put Rudy on the TV at one a.m. despite the 6 a.m. start the next morning. Of course, those clamoring the loudest for movie feel asleep within five minutes of the start. Luckily our Airbnb host felt the purchase of Rudy should be covered in our rate and didn’t charge us extra.

I will say this for our crew. With age comes wisdom, we may have been old but we were warm. The oldsters in the group were far more comfortable then the youngsters in their skinny jeans and hipster flannels – we didn’t look good, but we felt good. I even managed to meet up with a buddy from my college playing days. While we hadn’t seen each other in years and were both a bit rounder with a lot less hair, it took only minutes to feel like we were back on the practice field laughing with our teammates.

As I mentioned earlier, Notre Dame is whole weekend’s worth of entertainment. It won’t be cheap, but it is not to be missed. It may not be my number one, but it is way, way up there. My guess is I will find my way back there again someday. After all, I still owe Rockne a shot of whiskey.

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