As BYU football season ticket holders (no booing please), we have talked for years about attending an away game. Excuses and bad timing have always gotten in the way, but I was determined that this year would be different.
Enter wife of the year (I don't know if I will ever be able to top it). For my husband's birthday, I surprised him with a trip to South Bend, Ind., to watch the Cougars play at Notre Dame on Nov. 23.
We showed up in Indiana hoping to have a good time, watch our beloved Cougars play and head home. We never imagined the lessons we would learn from our trip to a football game.
Following are six lessons I learned at Notre Dame.
1. We all need to be better fans, at sporting events and just in life in general. Showing up to somebody's home turf cheering for the away team can be intimidating to say the least. At Notre Dame? Not at all. Notre Dame fans came up and shook our hands, welcomed us, asked us if we had been treated well, took our pictures and chatted with us time and time again.
It wasn't just a fluke. These fans are the epitome of good sportsmanship, and it was really humbling to see. How often are we concerned with others' well-being over our own desires (like our team winning a football game)? As I left South Bend, I left with a determination to pay it forward.
Can you imagine what a difference we could make if we were each other's biggest fans? Cheering each other on in life? I mean, I struggle in the grocery store. I am in such a hurry to get the heck out of there that I have major tunnel vision. My attitude is, "Get out of my way or I might just ram you with my cart." No more. I've learned the importance of making people feel welcome, comfortable and just plain happy no matter where we are — even if you are totally blocking my aisle at the grocery store.
2. Be the one to help. BYU football players and coaches speak the night before each away game at a local church. We were lucky enough to attend. Taysom Hill (BYU's quarterback) talked about one of his lowest points this season (at Virgina) when toward the end of the game, realizing they were going to lose, he got sacked. He says he remembers being wet head to toe and laying in the mud feeling dejected when suddenly Craig Bills (a defensive player) ran out onto the field, reached out his hand and pulled Taysom up.
I am the first to admit that I am totally guilty of being so caught up in what I have going on in my life that I am passing by people who are laying in the mud. They may even be people in my own house, or my own neighborhood. I am not talking about huge acts of service here; just a simple smile or "how are you dong?" can go a long way.
3. Go beyond what is appropriately kind. At that same event, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall talked about trying to go one step further in our kindness towards those around us. He challenged us to go beyond what is just appropriately kind. Wouldn't the world be such a better place? I'm pretty sure that being a collegiate football coach has got to be one of the hardest jobs to do and stay kind. Can you imagine the emails and comments and media telling you what you are doing wrong? It would drive me crazy. But maybe life is bigger than a football game. There are more important things. Genius.
4. Follow courtesy guidelines. When you walk into Notre Dame Stadium, big blue signs list courtesy guidelines. What are those, you ask? Here is what they say:
"Notre Dame encourages:
"Enthusiastic support of your team
"Family friendly atmosphere
"Commitment to safety
"Welcoming attitude to all fans and visitors
"Disruptive, unruly or intoxicated behavior
"Foul or abusive language or obscene gestures
"Rudeness to fellow fans or stadium personnel
"Possession of alcoholic beverages in Notre Dame Stadium
"Visibly intoxicated or disruptive fans"
No wonder their fans are so awesome. They get a visual reminder every time they enter the stadium of what being a good fan is. I soooo need this on my mirror.
5. Good will is contagious. So I don't know if you heard, but it was freezing in South Bend when we were there. Like 9 degrees or something terribly insane. But was I miserable? Nope. Happiness breeds happiness, I believe, and because we felt so welcome and comfortable, we were able to be more welcoming ourselves. Because of this we were open to meeting new people who we now call friends. We were able to endure all four quarters with snow whipping in our faces with the group of fans snuggled together in the stands with smiles on our faces. Even though our extremities were frozen solid at the end, we totally left with warm hearts. (Total cheese, but totally serious.)
6. Traditions unite. At Notre Dame, traditions run deep, from the trophy room to the player march around campus to the old Irish song they blare over the speakers when the players take the field. You can't help but get excited when you are witnessing these traditions, Notre Dame fan or not. Traditions make you feel a part of something, something bigger than yourself. They unite in a common cause. Standing on the Notre Dame campus, I decided that I want traditions that unite my family, that bring us together for a bigger purpose. Goal set.
Needless to say, we boarded our plane home with lots of lessons learned. lost game and all. Thank you, South Bend. You will always have a soft spot in this lady's heart.
Ashley Stallings is a mother of two and a lifestyle and fashion blogger at www.flatstoflipflops.com. She blogs about real life and real fashion for real women. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.