Notre Dame Football enhances fan experience like no other football stadium

By Betsy Ross, Contributing Writer and Proud ND Alumna

Here come the Irish! If you are a fan of Fighting Irish football, this is the season to travel to South Bend to catch a game and enjoy the idyllic college campus. But leave early, because the orange barrels are out, all the way through South Bend. 

Usually a tick over four hours to get there, the drive now from Cincinnati is closer to five, with work being done on I-74 just past Brookville, and several places along U.S. 31 north of Kokomo where traffic is down to one lane. Even in South Bend, you’ll see continuing work on Michigan Street as you make your way north to campus. Still, you can make your trip up and back in one day as most games kick at 3:30 p.m. (By the way, if you’re tailgating, move that timeline up a few hours as prime parking spots dwindle each year with new buildings on the N.D. campus.)

Once you are there, though, the ongoing stadium construction to renew the House that Rockne Built is finally over and the place is spectacular. With a giant video board and a sound system that can be heard across campus, wider concourses, more food choices and wall graphics that make you feel like you’re part of the action, it’s an exciting place to see a game.

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That’s even before you get inside! Once you walk into Notre Dame stadium, you’ll see a difference immediately. All the wooden bleachers have been replaced with wrapped galvanized steel. The seats (especially those in the upper level) give you a little more wiggle room so you don’t get to know your next-door seat neighbor intimately. And, of course, there are the sightlines—truly not a bad seat (80,795 capacity) in the place and if you’re in the upper, newer, section, you get the view of the Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus and the other campus landmarks that make the place so special. 

The Irish kicked off the home season with a win against Temple. The rest of the home schedule includes: 

  • Saturday, September 30, Miami of Ohio (5 p.m.)
  • Saturday, October 21, USC (7:30 p.m.)
  • Saturday, October 28, NC State (3:30 p.m.)
  • Saturday, November 4, Wake Forest (3:30 p.m.)
  • Saturday, November 18, Navy (3:30 p.m.)

If you decide to spend the night in South Bend, you should be able to get a place for a reasonable rate downtown. The DoubleTree by Hilton South Bend is right across from the Century Center and the old College Football Hall of Fame and about two miles from campus. Several downtown hotels are just as convenient, and many of the national chain hotels are on Michigan St. just north of campus. 

Our Uber driver knew the back streets so even 90 minutes before kickoff, we were able to be at the Morris Inn on campus in less than 10 minutes. (don’t take Michigan Street that close to kickoff—you’ll sit in traffic waiting to turn onto Angela Blvd. to campus) If you drive, there is parking, but as I mentioned, official campus parking dwindles each year. You can always do the front-yard parking for $40 at a house close to campus. 

If you’re not tailgating, the Morris Inn still is the place to hang out before and after the game. Right on campus, the Morris Inn has its own place in Notre Dame folklore. In 1902, Notre Dame student Ernest M. Morris could not pay his tuition. His dreams of a diploma slipping away, Morris asked the school president for two favors: To let him continue enrollment on credit, and to take care of his horse Dexter. Father John W. Cavanaugh graciously agreed. 

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Morris graduated and went on to found his own investment firm. He donated $1 million to aid the University in its post-war expansion, and Morris Inn was constructed in his honor. Following a $30 million renovation, Morris Inn reopened in late August 2013 and now offers 150 guest rooms, including 18 spacious suites. Hang outside on the terrace (weather permitting) and watch other college football games while you relax waiting for the traffic to thin out.

A trip to Notre Dame wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore. This is not your father’s campus bookstore—just a block south of the Morris Inn, this bookstore is a two-level shopping overload. Grab a shirt or banner and get in line—which looks daunting, but even with a pre-game crowd, it took less than 10 minutes to check out, thanks to 36 (!) cashiers. (retailers, take note!!)

And while you’re at the bookstore, might as well grab The Shirt for this year. The Shirt Project began in 1990 as a means to raise money to fund Notre Dame student activities. The shirt created for the fundraiser was also intended to unify the student body for the home-opener football game against Michigan on September 15, 1990. Over 9,000 shirts were sold and sales reached more than $17,000. 

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Even now, half of the funds raised from sales of The Shirt are allocated to The Shirt Charity Fund, which supports Notre Dame students who suffer from extraordinary medical conditions that require payment beyond their means. You can purchase The Shirt for the season, and now there are shirts designed for individual games. 

A visit to Notre Dame stadium on Game Day is truly a bucket list experience. Go early, wander campus and buy a steak sandwich or burger from one of the student organizations grilling on the commons. It’s a day to enjoy being a kid on campus again. 

Alex ReillyTRAVEL