Everyone remembers their first time. You’re a bundle of nerves. You have heard a lot of other people talk about it, but you innately know that hearing and doing aren’t quite the same. Not everyone gets to claim victory on their first, and while this aspect is most decidedly unfair, it also crystallizes the experience as a memorable one. For better or for worse.
My wife’s first time to Notre Dame Stadium for a football game was against Nevada in 2009. Having the first game you ever attend also be a season opener is particularly fitting, as the muggy late summer air on campus is almost dripping with a combination of optimism and uncertainty. Having Notre Dame play Nevada again reminded me of the great memory I have of this game, only a handful of years ago.
I had been to many games, and my wife is by all means a casual fan. At the least, she roots out of self-preservation, as I assume many Notre Dame football spouses do. I suppose that year we reached a maturity point in our marriage where ND games weren’t just a bro-out exercise. I really wanted to share with her something that was special to me. She was excited to attend, and the privilege of watching someone else witness a game for the first time is quite special. Watching her finally put the tangible distance between Touchdown Jesus and the stadium in her mind, and seeing her walk into the stadium for the first time, like a watered down version of Rudy’s dad were great memories. Thankfully I didn’t have to introduce her to the trough, although I can’t imagine the women’s accommodations being much better.
We sat in the flagpole corner, section 5. A curious thing happened that day. As kickoff came and went, the five seats in front of us remained empty. At one point late in the first half, one guy showed up and sat down. He explained that his comrades hit pregame hard and none of them made it beyond the bar. Even he ended up leaving in the third quarter. Having an entire bench of seats available to you at Notre Dame stadium was like having a full row of a 747 to yourself. You could take the row and go for a manspread only possible at a Blue & Gold game, or put your feet up, or set your Coke and nachos down on the bench like it’s a hip pine coffee table. You can easily see through the vacuum space and don’t have to worry about a tall guy in front of you (a problem only afflicting my wife, I’m comfortably over 6’).
The game quickly became all about Michael Floyd. Every time he touched the ball, he scored. He actually had 4 catches that day, 3 were touchdowns. He amassed 189 yards and his 47-yard average would have been stout for a punter, let alone a wide out. The game forever endeared my wife to Notre Dame stadium as a live, in full effect place. As for me, the game forever endeared me to Floyd. Obviously he was an amazing receiver for the Irish, setting and breaking records. But any time you see a player’s Magnum Opus in person, you feel a bond with them. As if you did something beyond cheer and remark how amazing he was while purging your mega-Coke at the trough.
I’m sure my wife doesn’t remember that it was the only shutout orchestrated by a Charlie Weis team. Nor does she have a secret nostalgic fondness for a time when Notre Dame truly threw deep passes like I do. She does know that quarterbacking for Nevada that day was none other than the one-knee wonder himself, Colin Kaepernick. I am a 49ers fan, so when he was drafted I pointed out this correlation. I remember him scrambling for his life in the game, and having the wheels to do it. I’m sure it was a few tattoos ago for him, and a few pounds lighter, but I remember that signature long stride. The stats say he had 39 yards on the ground. He probably covered well over 100 evading defenders.
With little else in terms of concrete history between the Irish and Wolf Pack, I’m glad I have a special connection to Saturday’s otherwise ‘win-or-I-jump’ cupcake game. Maybe the defense will rebound so vigorously they shut them out. Or maybe an Irish receiver finds the endzone three times. One thing is for certain. Win or lose, it will be someone’s first time in the stadium and they will remember it always.
Warning: The following video contains deep chuck passing and natural grass. Viewer discretion is advised.