BYU football: Going to Notre Dame is more than a game, it's an 'experience'

Published: Sunday, June 24 2012 10:27 p.m. MDT

One of the things fans should see if they travel to Notre Dame for a game is theGrotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Editor's note: This is the second in a four-part series examining the relationship between BYU and Notre Dame and the impending start of a six-game football series between the Cougars and the Fighting Irish. Read part 1. Read part 3. Today: The Notre Dame Experience

Related top list: BYU football: Seven must see sites in South Bend, Ind. when playing Notre Dame.

PROVO — BYU fan Justin Bradshaw and some friends from Alabama traveled to South Bend, Ind., to attend a BYU-Notre Dame football game years ago knowing they didn't have a way to get into historic Notre Dame Stadium.

So the group hatched a creative solution, carrying a sign saying, "3 Mormons from Alabama will go to Mass for tickets."

Understandably, they drew considerable attention on the Notre Dame campus.

"We were instant celebrities," Bradshaw remembered. "We were probably offered 50 or so tickets, and we had to turn people away. Many of the Notre Dame fans asked to have their picture taken with us. They were the friendliest fans I've ever met."

At one point, a Catholic priest approached them and handed them tickets on the fifth row near the 20-yard line.

"You don't have to go to mass," the priest told them. "You are forgiven."

It may sound like the punch line of a joke, but Bradshaw insists that it is true.

"I believe they actually published a story about us in the Notre Dame Alumni magazine," he said.

A bevy of BYU fans who have visited Notre Dame Stadium has a story to tell.

Call it the "Notre Dame Experience."

BYU has played in South Bend four times, with the most recent meeting in 2005. The Cougars and Fighting Irish will play six times between 2012 and 2020, a series that was announced the day BYU declared its independence in 2010. The two teams renew acquaintances on Oct. 20, and Cougar fans are expected to flock to Notre Dame once again.

One of them is Joseph Houston from Missoula, Mont., who said the trip to South Bend in 2005 "was absolutely worth it," despite the Cougars' blowout loss to the Irish.

At the time, Houston lived in Columbia, Mo., where he was attending school.

"Six of us piled in a minivan the Friday evening before the game," Houston said. "We stopped at a hotel for a few hours, got to South Bend in the morning. Took it all in and drove right after the game in order to make it back for Sunday morning (church) meetings."

Houston and his party took advantage of every minute at Notre Dame.

"Not only did we tour the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, take in the tailgating, and check out the marching band, but just walking through the Notre Dame campus and sitting in the stadium gave me a euphoric sense that I was at the center of all that is college football," Houston said. "Hard to describe. I have traveled to other games where BYU got beat, and the loss always left a bitter taste in my mouth and a bad attitude on the trip home. I didn't feel quite so bad after the Notre Dame game. BYU got trounced, but I still felt satisfied because just being there made me feel like I had accomplished something worthwhile. Certainly a win would have been preferred, but it was far from necessary. Obviously BYU has a much better chance to win this year than they did in 2005, but my suggestion to fans going to South Bend for the first time — try to enjoy the experience and tradition as much as the game itself."

Charles Knutson, a BYU computer science professor, is planning on going to South Bend for the game with his son who is currently serving a mission in Italy.

"He is a football nut and his favorite movie is 'Rudy,'" he said. "He gets home in August. I'm planning on surprising him with this news."

Knutson is scheduled to speak to the Notre Dame computer science department the week of the game, and his host at Notre Dame is planning to return the favor when the Irish come to Provo.

"Sort of a cultural exchange," Knutson explained.

While Knutson has visited the Notre Dame campus for a conference, he hasn't been to a game at Notre Dame Stadium. "I've never had the Ned Beatty moment (from the movie "Rudy") when he says, 'This is the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen.' I've never had that moment, but I'm absolutely stoked for it."

His only visit to Notre Dame made a lasting impression on Knutson, who grew up in Iowa with a disdain for the Fighting Irish.

"I loved to see Notre Dame lose growing up," Knutson said. "After spending a week on their campus, I'm like a closet Notre Dame fan now. It's a high-class establishment. They're a lot like BYU. I fell in love with the campus and the people."

David Holt, from Houston, also attended the '05 game, and he plans to return to Notre Dame this fall.

"Be prepared to spend a game with some of the best fans in college football," he advised those going to South Bend for the first time. "I've traveled to a fair amount of BYU games, and the only other fans that could rival Notre Dame's were the Ole Miss fans. We were approached by Notre Dame fans within a few minutes of getting out of our car and I thought we would be getting into an argument with some fans before we ever made it to the stadium. All they wanted to do was welcome us to South Bend and ask questions about Bronco (Mendenhall's) defensive scheme. Seriously. Because I got tickets late, I actually sat by myself in the Notre Dame section while my dad and brothers sat together in the BYU section. I was best friends with my whole section by the end of the game, they were great to sit by. They would apologize after cursing because they knew 'Mormons never cursed.'"

Brian Breinholt also attended the BYU-Notre Dame game in 2005. He sat by an Irish fan that had waited his entire life, some 40 years, to attend a game.

"He couldn't believe he was there. We were excited for him," Breinholt said. "Then we had BYU fans right behind us that had to leave at halftime to catch their flight home. Ridiculous."

Breinholt's advice for fans going to South Bend for the first time?

"I would suggest flying to Chicago, staying in Chicago and rent a car to drive to South Bend (about 95 miles)," Breinholt said. "Go early to South Bend on game day, at least four hours in advance. Walk through campus, going to the bookstore and also the cathedral where a pregame mass is held. Also, line up to watch the Notre Dame players walk from the cathedral to the stadium. A great tradition."

Justin Knowles attended BYU's first, and only, victory in South Bend, in 1994. At the time, he was a senior student equipment manager for the Cougar football team.

"What an experience — winning under 'Touchdown Jesus,' listening to (the Notre Dame) fight song on plane ride home, watching some players get a handful of grass from field as a souvenir," Knowles said. "I'd been working with the team for a couple years at that point, and had never seen them up for such a game. The pre-game meetings were electric."

The team stayed in Michigan City, Ind., because all the hotels near South Bend were filled with fans, Knowles recalled.

"One thing that I will always remember was the hospitality of the city and university," he said. "I'm assuming they show the same to all visiting teams. The day before the game the university set up a campus tour for us with a couple of students. On game day, we had a police escort from hotel to stadium with all on-ramps and off-ramps open for us and all intersections. Without ever stopping after leaving the hotel, they pulled up to within 30 feet of the locker room door. All in all, one of my highlights in working with the team for several years."

Editor's note: This is the second in a four-part series examining the relationship between BYU and Notre Dame and the impending start of a six-game football series between the Cougars and the Fighting Irish. Read part 1. Read part 3. Today: The Notre Dame Experience

Related top list: BYU football: Seven must see sites in South Bend, Ind. when playing Notre Dame.

email: jeffc@desnews.com

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