As a Notre Dame Fighting Irish who grew up far from South Bend, I am accustomed to attending their games on the road. The first Notre Dame game I ever attended was a road tilt against the Stanford Cardinal.* In fact, until I saw the 2008 Notre Dame-San Diego State game on a college-touring visit for my sister, the only Irish games I had ever seen in person were away games in California.
*(This was actually the last game ever held at the old Stanford Stadium, and the trees were so anxious to start construction on their current cow pasture that they had bulldozers lined up outside ready to start demolition right after the game, which the Irish won 38-31. Thus commenced the hilarious spectacle of Stanford fans running onto the field after losing the game, just to witness a “ceremonial first dig.” Stanford, man. They never do this stuff right).
That experience is far from atypical: Notre Dame travels well, with a national alumni network and fan base that can turn out a decent visiting crowd just about anywhere in the country. But depending on where you are, your experience as a fan is going to be drastically different. Which ones are best depend on a host of factors that are entirely subjective: overall enjoyability of the location, friendliness/hate factor of fans, etc. I have some opinions based on personal experiences - let’s dive in.
I have lamented my 2016 visit to Darrell K. Royal multiple times in this space, but for all the misery inflicted by the result of that game, the trip itself was spectacular. I don’t know need to tell you Austin is an extremely fun town in which to eat, drink and be merry; it obviously is and that alone makes it a venue worth traveling to for a game.
What was unexpected was how pleasant my interactions with the Texas fan base were prior to and during the game (after is another matter). On more than one occasion my family passed by random Longhorn tailgates and received enthusiastic invitations to join in, have a beer and try whatever they were cooking. The fans in the stands were generally very kind and game for a little friendly cross-talk right up until the end. It was a rare opponent fan base that seemed to regard the Irish seriously and with respect, rather than following the standard procedure of talking about how overrated Notre Dame is right up until the game ends and is transformed by the magic of self-serving logic into a tough loss/legendary victory. This is somewhat ironic given the Irish team in question unquestionably deserved the latter treatment, but it was still a refreshing change of pace.
I don’t know whether it was Southern hospitality (visitors to the 2019 game against the Georgia Bulldogs reported similar experiences) or just a special reaction to a special matchup, but apart from the game’s outcome this was a thoroughly enjoyable trip I would definitely try out again.
This is mostly hypothetical as the Irish last played the Tigers in Baton Rouge in 1986, but I know it would be a great one. Why? As I have said here before, the many LSU fans I have met since my extended family acquired a Lafayette, LA-based branch have been remarkably kind and welcoming. It is also fairly common for them to like, or at least show benign neglect toward, Notre Dame due to the Catholic presence in Louisiana. Death Valley itself is an absolutely outstanding gameday atmosphere.
This matchup has obviously undergone a change of valence courtesy of a certain head football coach, but to me that would only enhance the gameday experience. If I know LSU fans, they are going to be complaining about Brian Kelly the first chance he gives them regardless of how good a job he does overall. If you’re an Irish fan in this situation, all you have to do is listen, laugh and occasionally twist the knife with your favorite WTF story from his tenure at Notre Dame. That’s a recipe for bonding right there.
Yes, I know. USC is the worst. The Coliseum is a grungy venue and Notre Dame fans are always given the worst seats in the house. Parking is impossible to find. The school itself is located in the last part of Los Angeles one would want to visit. The tailgates have smelled like the literal inside of a skunk’s rectum ever since California legalized recreational marijuana use. I know all these things, because I have been to this game several times. Despite this, it has many things going for it:
- The surrounding area aside, USC is actually a pretty good tailgate spot with a very lively atmosphere that will almost always have great weather, if you care about that sort of thing.
- While USC fans of earlier eras were intolerable, they seem to have been humbled by the last decade-plus of futility and become relatively cool. Maybe I’m biased here because I have so many friends who are USC fans and/or alumni, but they have always seemed to understand how to mix healthy trash-talk and banter with general decency and coolness way more than the Michigan Wolverines or Michigan State Spartans.
- Aside from winning a championship itself, there is probably no better feeling in college football than clinching a trip to the natty at your rival’s expense and celebrating on their field. This is Conan on the battlefield, Rocky in the ring. This is glory, distilled. Notre Dame fans who traveled to USC have gotten to witness this not once, but two times in the last decade, and everyone should try to see it at least once.
What do you think? Are there any favorite destinations you’ve been to/would like to go to? Put them in the comments below!