It was 1994. We were newlyweds and became chaperones in a 24-hour wild ride in a motor home from Provo to South Bend, Ind. — wild, that is, for 15 honor-code-abiding BYU students.
We could not have been more excited for a Notre Dame rematch in South Bend’s historic stadium, and the proposed experience seemed surreal.
The idea to drive to South Bend was generated around the BYU Student Association boardroom table when we heard that the vice president of student life had 15 spare tickets to the game. As a student presidency, we’d given our time to the school we loved and thought following our impressive football team would be spirited icing on our higher-education cake.
Without Google and other Internet resources, we rolled out a map the old-fashioned way to plot our course. A business major calculated possible expenses. Our family relations major planned the portable menu. The best drivers signed up for two-hour shifts. And the rest of us tried to find a way to make the journey without missing class or other responsibilities. In the end, not everyone who wanted could go, but we had no problem finding 15 students to climb aboard the rented motor home wearing BYU sweatshirts and carrying minimal belongings.
My husband and I had only been married a month, and I must confess, the only way we afforded the trip was to cash in some of our wedding gifts. Luckily, we’d received plenty of duplicate Pyrex dishes and had just enough to swap for cash to pay for the journey.
I planned to write wedding-gift thank you cards the entire way coming and going, but spent more time challenging others to Scrabble competitions.
We left Provo late Thursday afternoon with only two cellphones, two cameras and no video camera between the 15 of us. In desperation, I called ahead to my younger brother to meet us at the freeway 30 miles down the road with my parent’s video camera. He was the first to cheer us on, but definitely not the last.
We met BYU fans honking and waving all through Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois. We arrived in Chicago on Friday just in time for a festive dinner and a little siteseeing.
That night, we rented a hotel room for everyone to take turns in the shower and then loaded up for a midnight journey to South Bend. By 4 a.m., we’d arrived and all snoozed for a bit until someone knocked on our door and directed us to the proper place to park a monstrous RV near the stadium.
We choked when they charged us $36 to drive on the tailgating field and scraped together the payment in dollar bills and spare change.
I’ll never forget the slow drive to our parking spot that beautiful Saturday morning. We weaved our way through miles of other RVers all decked in classy Notre Dame colors and Irish plaid. Some had been there for days. Most had outdoor kitchens blazing with over-the-top breakfasts near canopies protecting large-screen TVs and La-Z-Boy rockers. Every buffet table was covered in color-coordinated cloths and fresh flowers.
All those we met were classy and welcoming and offered to share food and drink. The campus was brimming with fans, many of whom would never have the chance to walk into the stadium for the game. It was impressive.
Our game tickets came with a complimentary breakfast and our expectations of the feast heightened with all we saw around us. So we were a little surprised to find a morning banquet of terrible hot dogs and hamburgers in the conference room near the stadium. We should have feasted with the fans outside instead.
After skipping the complimentary meal and eating only an apple instead, my husband and I raced through Notre Dame’s crowded bookstore for souvenirs and then ran to the stadium only to hear the prompt kickoff while having our ticket stubs ripped at the gate. Typical for us, we arrived seven hours before game time and still managed to be late.
We were desperate to get to our top-row seats as fast as possible. The higher we climbed, the less friendly the fans, and we enjoyed some banter with the inebriated guys standing next to us.
Even the top row was not that far from the field and gave us the added benefit of standing the entire game without ruining the view for more conservative sitting fans. After eating my apple, I set the core on the edge of the brick wall, which promptly started attracting bees. In all the waving and whisking the pests away, my apple core fell to the ground below. It wasn’t long before security came rushing to our seats to reprimand me for the detected litter and public nuisance. Their vigilant upkeep of hallowed ground was impressive.
The game was exhilarating. Although the Irish scored first, John Walsh was in great form and our team was on fire with a surprisingly effective running game. After every score, we screamed our fight song a cappella without skipping a single “Rah, rah rah, rah, rah.”
I can’t help but remember the series when BYU’s defense held the Irish on the 3-yard line for two plays and then pushed them back to the 24 on third down. Our favorite player, Chad Lewis, blocked a field goal attempt and we went crazy until the clock ran down. At the end of the game, we ran down the cement stairs like maniacs hoping to storm the field but instead were firmly directed to the portal where our team was headed for the locker room. The players, even coach LaVell Edwards, were smiling as brightly as us.
As the stadium emptied and we calmed down, security finally let us on the field for pictures in the end zone with the team's “Touchdown Jesus” in the background. The craziest among us picked green grass from the field and ate it.
Exhausted, we found our way back to the motor home and felt sheepish when realizing we were the first to leave the tailgating field. Even after a surprising loss, Notre Dame fans supported their team the entire weekend and had no intention of leaving anytime soon.
We drove the long way home, hoping to stop in Denver on Sunday. I didn’t remember much of Indiana and Illinois, but it was my husband’s turn to drive through Missouri and we had memorable bonding conversations as we drove through the night.
Eighteen years later, we can watch the movie “Rudy” anytime to remember details of our amazing Notre Dame experience. But it’s that antiquated home video in some unknown format that I long to find and watch with 13 friends I haven’t seen in almost two decades.
I’d like nothing more than to hear that another group of jubilant fans can experience a similar journey. Although the road was long, the memories are precious.
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