BYU fans visit Indiana to soak up the Notre Dame experience before the game

Published: Friday, Oct. 19 2012 11:00 p.m. MDT

Brian, left, and Curtis Puzey of Kaysville tour the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Beneath a blue-gray October sky, rain fell on the eve of today's BYU-Notre Dame game, and sales of ponchos and umbrellas with the ubiquitous Fighting Irish logo were brisk.

Despite the inclement weather, it wasn't enough to dampen the enthusiasm of Cougar fans that flocked to Notre Dame's historic campus Friday.

For them, this is not just a game. It's not just an event. It's an experience. And for some, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Six members of Earl Christensen's family arrived here this weekend from Alpine. Instead of spending money on BYU season tickets, the Christensens decided to put that money toward this Notre Dame trip. They're renting a house six miles from campus.

Besides the rain, they are soaking in all the tradition and history that Notre Dame has to offer.

"This is my first time here. I've always wanted to come for years and years. I've been thinking about it since I was a little kid," Earl Christensen said at the Joyce Center, which is the home of the Irish basketball team, located adjacent to Notre Dame Stadium. "It's one of the best places to see college football. We've been to cool places, but we've never been here. It's awesome. The people are nice. We received a warm welcome. We've hit it when the leaves are turning, and it's pretty."

The Christensens came to see the home of a proud program that has won 11 national championships and seven Heisman Trophies, a program that produced Knute Rockne, Joe Montana and Rudy. They came to see the Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus, the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and the storied Notre Dame Stadium, where the grass was covered with a tarp Friday to protect it from the steady rain.

BYU fans also streamed into the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, a shrine that recognizes the Cougars' contributions to the sport and honors legendary coach LaVell Edwards and numerous BYU players.

Today marks the beginning of a six-game series between BYU and Notre Dame — two private, religious schools that have a lot in common, including the fact both football programs are independent.

"As soon as BYU and Notre Dame scheduled each other, I think Notre Dame picked up 2 or 3 million fans — BYU fans, who now root for Notre Dame," said Christensen, who was decked out in BYU gear. "What BYU fan doesn't want to be at this game, that doesn't follow Notre Dame?"

Because Notre Dame announced recently that it is going to start scheduling teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the other games in the series are in doubt. Besides, changes abound in college football these days.

"I'm worried BYU is going to jump into a conference and the series with Notre Dame will end," said Kyle Johnson of Springville, who was on campus Friday. "So I figured to get out here while I can."

Bill Brennan is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but he is very familiar with it. Brennan is the director of MBA program initiatives at Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. He graduated from the MBA program in 2001. "Some of my very best friends in the program were LDS guys," Brennan said Friday. "They come here to Notre Dame and say, 'Hey, this feels right. It's about faith and family.' It's a lot like BYU in that regard."

Brennan and his wife are hosting six LDS friends at their home this weekend, including the parents of backup BYU wide receiver Brett Thompson.

Brennan also knows Notre Dame's star linebacker, Manti Te'o, a native of Hawaii who is LDS. Te'o has been embraced by Fighting Irish fans.

"Everybody knows he's Mormon," Brennan said. "Everybody."

The way Brennan sees it, Te'o is serving a mission for the LDS Church by playing at Notre Dame.

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