The game against the Navy Midshipmen represented a turning point for just about everyone involved with Notre Dame football. How would the coaches respond after the no-show the week before against USC? How would Bob Diaco's defense fare after getting run over last season against Navy and a few weeks prior against Air Force? How would the players respond after getting publicly called out by Kelly, despite the supposed apology? And finally, how would the fans react after the bitter disappointment of the week before and the growing (albeit, premature) unrest?
Well, anyone who watched the game knows the answer to those first three questions: Quite well, thank you. But that last one is a little tricky.
I was generally in favor of the changes Notre Dame made prior to the USC game. I thought the new helmets looked slick and I thought playing a little bit of music would help keep the crowd in the game, especially during those maddeningly long TV timeouts. CW gave his thoughts on how things went against the Trojans, but I was anxious to find out for myself.
So here are my thoughts on the stadium experience from my vantage point in section 123.
- Those new helmets are snazzy. Very cool in person.
- The stadium was QUIET. Even from the very beginning everything was very muted. Maybe it was the cold weather, maybe it was the sense of something bad about to happen hanging in the air. Either way, the small group of Navy fans made a lot more noise when the Midshipmen came on the field than the 80,000 Irish fans in the stadium.
- No one in my section wanted to cheer. There were a couple guys behind me that were making some noise, but it was basically just me getting up to cheer. I didn't do it a whole lot outside of kickoffs and a few early third downs, but it was still frustrating. My friend I was with is generally a quiet person, so I didn't expect much from him, but I don't think the guy sitting on my other side moved at all. He seemed like a nice enough guy, probably in his thirties. He said hi to us when we sat down and then didn't make a sound the rest of the game. At one point in the second quarter I thought he fell asleep but then I saw him move his head slightly. It was a little weird.
- All that said, the music helped. The songs before kickoffs actually got people standing (even in my section! Well, for the opening kickoff at least...) and seemed to get the crowd and the players amped up. I wasn't a big fan of the music on third down, though. The crowd didn't respond much to those, especially after the first quarter when we pulled away. I liked that we didn't play it on every down, but it still felt forced when we did. They did get a good laugh out of the crowd when they played Crazy Train in the fourth quarter.
- I can't complain about any of the song choices. They were all pretty standard songs schools around the country use. The important thing will be finding something the fans like that we can call our own. Shipping Up To Boston before the opening kickoff is a good start and that seemed to get everyone in the stadium going, but everything is still pretty generic. But these things take time and I'm sure we'll find something eventually. Traditions don't pop up overnight.
- The ushers are still a problem. Like I said, no one in my section was being rowdy, but someone behind me yelled "JESUS CHRIST" after Rees missed Eifert on a seam route over the middle. The 109 year old* usher in our section yelled, "Hey!" and shuffled into the tunnel before emerging several minutes later (seriously, it took forever for him to get into our section) to escort that guy out. I think he got kicked out because he and his friends never returned. I get trying to keep things clean, but if that's the worst thing people say during the game then I don't think you have a problem. I can only shake my head and hope someday something gets done about the ushers.
- If anyone reading this hasn't experienced Ben's Pretzels, make it a point to buy one next time you're at a game. DELICIOUS.
- Navy has a player named Wave Ryder on their team. I thought maybe Mike Collins was making up a name to see if we were still paying attention. Either way, I don't care. That's pure awesomesauce.
- Exchange after the game:
My friend: So I guess we're just a team that beats up on service academies?
Me: Well, I guess that's better than how it used to be when we lost to the service academies.
Friend: Good point.
So those are my thoughts. Like I said, it was a very subdued atmosphere from the very beginning. The crowd actually got into it on third downs on Navy's first three or so drives, but after that we were so far ahead that no one seemed to care that much. If it had been a closer game against a better opponent and wasn't coming off the USC game (I know, a lot of "ifs" but bear with me) I think the crowd would have been into it throughout the game. But it is what it is. We've talked a lot here at OFD about the stadium experience and ways to improve it, so I won't waste time rehashing all that.
But what about you guys? Anyone else at the game who wants to chime in?
*Age is approximate but I don't think I'm too far off.