I wrote this after my favorite Notre Dame trip, 2006, though, 1978 comes close.
I plan on going for the finale (?) in 2014.
TRAVELS WITH ERIN
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2006
Up at 6:30 with my 15 year old high school sophomore, Erin, to catch the bus to South Bend for the BIG game on Separation Saturday.
She packs her lucky clothing, but forgets the digital camera. Fortunately, they dispense the tickets on the bus, so I won't be able to lose them.
We are to meet the bus at UM Dearborn, it leaves at 8:00. Per plan, we stop at Einsteins for bagels, and have a cooler with chopped up pineapple, water, gatorade, and brownies from Mom for Erin.
I buy papers to read on the bus. Have my laptop with me to do some work and maybe watch “Hidalgo” a DVD we have which I have not seen.
Still not light, Erin not quite perky, so I drive.
Donna calls to advise she heard on the radio that I-94 is closed at the Jeffries, so her directions must be amended.
Arrive about 7:45, drive around until we see a bus, park, try to enter and are told UM buses in a different lot.
Clock ticking, but another appropriately attired driver asks us directions, so we figure they won't leave without us.
Whoah, four buses. We have no instructions on which number bus is ours. Rejected by captain one, I have to go all the way to the back to find the captain of bus two, who has our names on his list.
Back for Erin, we take the seats all the way in the back, in front of the bathroom, which face each other. The buses are stopping in Ann Arbor to pick up more people, so we may lose our extra area there.
Leave after eight, of course, massive fog. Plan A was for Erin to drive us, so glad we took the bus trip.
Only four or six more hop on at Domino's Farms, so we keep our four seats.
I tell Erin we will see lots of sandhill cranes, remembering the 1998 trip from Lake Bentley to Notre Dame. That was with Janell, but we lost, along with losing in 98 in Columbus and the Spartan Bob timekeeper game, so she does not make road trips anymore.
The fog persists, and we are not on I-94 due to construction, and see not one crane.
Though the announcement was that we would stop only for the driver's personal comfort, the caravan stops at a large rest area with restuarants and a coffee place, and all are allowed to exit.
The announcement also included the statement that it was the first time the driver had navigated anything longer than four feet.
I buy a cappucino as long day looms. Woman in front of me buying candy in spite of her confessed sugar problems. Many patrons express delight at the prospect of real rest rooms.
In between Erin naps, I muse that there would be plenty of time to leave Ann Arbor after next week's Wisconsin game, noon kick off, and get to East Lansing well before eight o'clock kick off against Notre Dame. Erin instantly gives me a big hug and endorses what she takes to be an invitation.
Upon further reflection, driving back around midnight through hordes of inebriated Spartans does not sound nice. If we stay overnight, Sunday will be half over before we get back.
Erin says I shouldn't have mentioned it unless we were going for sure.
Stop and go at a construction bottleneck in Indiana, short stretch.
Fog has lifted and it is clear.
All of the passengers are quite calm. No choruses of the Victors or chants of Let's Go Blue!
I share another thought with Erin. I am not attending a seminar which is the weekend of the game at Indiana, maybe we could go to that. This is greeted with the same enthusiasm as my commitment to bring her on this trip.
In South Bend, we are joined by the fifth bus, which left Friday.
Trip leader Roger has arranged for State trooper escort for all five buses. This accounts for the stares of most pedestrians we pass.
I tell Erin, this is the friendliest place we will visit with the Wolverine team.
She says, “You mean I won't be sworn at, thrown up at, or told my team's quarterback stinks after we win?” These recall incidents from 2004 Columbus trip, and last year's Madison and East Lansing sojourns.
I say no, the fans are passionate but polite.
12:30 we disembark, 30 minutes behind schedule.
It takes the usual ten minutes for Erin to don the layers of lucky clothes and accessories she has worn to the games forever.
Had she accompanied Hillary to the peak of Mt. Everest, he would have told her to remove a few layers.
I am much more comfortable in shorts and UM club T-shirt.
Some of the veteran travelers are unloading grills and other tailgate gear from the storage area under the seats. We have tickets to the official alumni tailgate, which has already started, and is on the other side of the stadium from where we parked. The plan is to walk past the stadium to the south, then wander north through the campus, then east to the tailgate.
Fellow students have told Erin she must tour the lovely campus. We do, and it is.
Our progress is blocked by a line of people on each side of the east-west sidewalk. As we approach, I see it is the Notre Dame team, dressed in coat and tie, walking to the stadium.
Erin is disappointed to find out, reading the paper the next day, that Steve Yzerman was somehwere close to us observing the ritual.
We come upon a large fountain spewing green water. It has four sets of Stonehenge like rocks, one facing each direction, the water spurting up over the height of the formation, landing in a pool.
The rectangular pool is only about three inches deep around the edge, extending a couple of feet into the pool.
Numerous pro Notre Dame slogans and exhortations have been scrawled by finger out of the green algae growth.
This is not acceptable to Erin. She searches for a clear spot, and inscribes a “Go Blue!” in large letters. She takes a picture with her cell phone camera.
Next up, the famous Golden Dome. In the brilliant sunlight, it is almost too bright to look at directly.
We move to the east and pick up the main north-south road, verified by asking a friendly parking lot attendant. I am using a map that came with the bus itinerary.
Wondering if we will be able to spot the tailgate sight, I see a mammoth tent, surrounded by huge UM flags, about a quarter mile away across groomed fields. Some kids are playing soccer.
I bought online, so we pick up the tickets and head inside.
Free peanuts abound, the cash bar is just inside the opening, large screen TVs with the green and white weenies playing at Pitt in every corner.
After finding seats, we return toward the front and buy tickets for food, which is good.
There is a raffle for various prizes, which we do not win.
The last is a Lloyd Carr autographed football.
It is won by a full figured man. Erin thinks, I feel sorry for whoever has to sit next to him.
After the UM cheerleaders fire us up, the party is over.
Just outside the tent, Liberty Mutual insurance has a table with a wheel of fortune style spinner for various prizes, beads, megaphones, pom poms.
Of course, permission is granted for Erin to spin. It hits pom poms. Four of them already adorn various parts of her already. The man suggests megaphones, she gleefully takes two.
He then states they do not want to take anything home, and giver her pom-poms too.
Someone else already gave us maize and blue beads.
It is an hour before kick off, I think, not familiar with NBC time, as actual kick off ends up being 3:45.
We traverse south on the main road. A group of a dozen or so youthful Irish supporters start a chant on seeing Erin.
And so on.
Something that would make any father proud.
Erin is delighted at those who ask what year she is in at UM.
We do hear some cross words from inebriated Irish, all but one appear to be students.
As we get to the stadium, Erin spots a stand for Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Donna had said she had a date with Ben and Jerry Saturday night, while we would be bussing back.
I have Erin take a cell phone picture and send it to Donna.
I guess the wrong direction to our ticket gate, so we walk all the way around the stadium.
When they expanded, they built concourses at each end, on the outside of the old stadium.
Not having had the tickets in hand until boarding the bus, we did not have the chance to look up the location on the internet. Row 26, so I told Erin we should not be too high. I said visiting team seats are always in the end zone or corner, but we did not care.
After climbing to our seats, we find ourselves in the top row. This is great, because the sun is behind us, and we are among the maybe 50 seats in the stadium that are in the shade.
It is hot!
I am on Erin's right. As she looks to her left, there is the winner of the Lloyd Carr football.
Next to me is the woman who bought candy at the rest stop.
She sets it on top of the concrete behind us. Sometime during the first quarter, she accidentally knocks it over the top.
No problem, she says, I can buy more.
The announcer states the winner of the game will have the all time best winning percentage in college football. This fact has been repeated to me, oh, at least twice a day all week by Erin.
They are honoring Heisman winners this year. Johnny Lujack's likeness graces the tickets, and he is there in person for the coin toss.
On the ride back, I point out to Erin that she has now seen the 1943 (?) Heisman winner on his home field, so her college football connection stretches far back.
These late kickoffs are brutal. We are so anxious by the time the game begins.
The Burgess interception for a TD certainly bodes well.
Then the Henne interception. My heart sinks.
Erin points out Henne made the tackle, on the four right in front of us.
Turns out to be one more category in which he bests Quinn.
Then we score 27 unanswered points. Without allowing them a first down in the entire quarter.
Most likely, a once in a lifetime experience.
Amidst the Michigan throng, sheer ecstasy. Cannot recall so many hugs from Erin.
The TV timeouts seem endless.
We let them march down the field to score just before the half.
Twenty point lead. I recall them catching State last year after being down 21 in the fourth quarter. Though I picked UM to win, (in overtime) I am not over confident.
Best T-shirt, solid blue, maize letters on the front "RESTORING THE GLORY SINCE 1993".
I grab frozen lemonades and water for us at halftime.
Apparently, Erin could not pick up the game on the radio. I think she would only listen to the UM broadcast.
However, thanks to cell phones, she is calling her sister for comments on reviewed plays, as there is no screen at ND stadium.
One fan stands up and yells that a call our way will not be reversed. At least according to his father-in-law, who always tells the truth.
Someone (?) yells out, “What does he say about you?” but he does not respond.
Too bad we don't have a go to receiver, I tell my fellow Wolverines after Super Mario hauls in TD number three.
After some noise during the short time the game was tied at 7, the home fans turn mute.
After half time adjustments from offensive genius Charlie Weiss, we hold them without a first down for the entire third quarter.
Fans head for the exits.
We soak up every second. Erin takes a picture of the scoreboard on the way out.
About 50 male UM students have formed a mob, jumping on each other and yelling. Their mood infects the crowd.
The acoustics walking down the concourse are incredible.
“It's great, to be, a Michigan Wolverine!” repeated again and again. Let's Go Blue!”
At the flat area at each turn, there is another group jumping, chanting, exhorting. Everyone is high fiving everyone all the way down.
Other than the euphoria after winning the national championship at the 1998 Rose Bowl, I have seen nothing like it.
I made sure to watch the beginning game of the renewed rivalry in 1978. The contracts had been signed years earlier. I think 1943 had been the last time UM and ND met on the field.
We won that game, but lost when I returned in 1980, and 82, as well as the 98 game.
28 years. Must be wrong.
We walk toward the buses. I think. We could see them from our seats looking back over the parking lots.
After several false alarms, I fortunately see another UM club member who points the way.
Passengers are noisier than before. Our box lunch is handed to us as we board. It is good.
I listen to post game call in show on the radio.
“Do you think this will affect Brady Quinn's Heisman chances?”
Geez, these guys are as smart as Buckeyes.
One delight after another.
At the rest stop on the way home, there is a rush to the facilities. A decked out Notre Dame fan, seated next to his decked out Notre Dame son, is waiving people away.
I think he is mad because of the outcome, he says the rest rooms are the other way, everyone is coming this way by mistake.
I say I thought he was mad, he said, no, we are nicer than Ohio fans, half of whom, like their team, are headed for prison. “And I'm from Ohio.”
Erin explains a difference she has witnessed.
“When I went to my seat in Columus, dressed like this, the usher said to me, “When someone gives you a hard time, let me know.”
“Today, when I went by the usher, he said “Welcome to Notre Dame, we're glad you're here.”
We exchanged more pleasantries, bought something to drink, and resumed our trek.
Erin slept, I watched "Hidalgo" until the laptop battery died.
Other than the DVD mishap, all went well.
Voice vote selected "The 40 Year Old Virgin" to be shown on the screens scattered throughout. Erin said she had already seen it. Was not my choice, but not a lot to do on a dark bus.
After the character tells about his Tijuana trip to see the human horse interplay, the screen goes black. Seems there was a 12 year old somewhere in front of us. Must not have been around when the vote was taken.
I was then able to pick up Florida-Tennessee on the radio, if I held it by the window.
Well after midnight, pulled into Dearborn, loaded the car and made it home after 1:00 am.
According to the game program, which I read on the ride back, Notre Dame's football player graduation rate last year was second only to the Naval Academy.
That is the kind of school I want to keep playing.
UM 47, ND 21. Great!
Spending the entire day, from 6:30 am to one the next morning, with your 15 year old daughter, priceless.