Two, three or twenty things we know about Notre Dame after being the guest of the ND Nation for the UCLA/Notre Dame game this weekend.
1. Justin Hickman needs financial advice. Soon. Notre Dame fans brought out the phrase turnstile to describe the play of their offensive line in this game ("like big, flabby, slow turnstiles" was one phrase we think we heard,) but blame much of Brady Quinn's lowballing and scrambling on the mad rushing of UCLA defensive end Justin Hickman. Hickman likely had Mel Kiper feeling tingly in all the places you don't want to think about Kiper getting tingly on Saturday, since he did almost demolish the Irish gameplan single-handedly. He nearly vaulted his blocker on the final play, forcing Brady Quinn out of the pocket and into...well, the game-winning throw. So scratch that--it's all Hickman's fault, dammit. He can weep into the comforting fake boobs of a thousand NFL groupies to ease his pain next year.
2. Brady Quinn done something right dang awesome y'all. We're translating that for our people, since the NBC fetishization of Quinn uses semi-religious iconography and language that doesn't really cover the flat-out nastiness of the rusty dagger implanted in UCLA's skull on the final drive. Quinn evaded hellacious pressure, rolled right (as he never, ever should have been allowed to do by the UCLA D), and completed a series of three passes that undid the frayed seams of the Bruins. The surgery was left to Quinn, who even on a trauma ward-style day broke out the cool tools for a little critical subcranial work on the final drive. And all he needed was one minute and a gigantic white wide receiver busting through arm tackles. Frankly, this should be the solution to any situation in life. If it isn't, your number is probably up, and you should grit your teeth and think of England.
3. Jugglers do not belong in college football. Proof that more than any other cluster of universities in the world, the California University system's traditions and protocols were and are still influenced by the heavy LSD use of the 1960s. We could attempt to describe him, but pictures do a much better job. For the record, we did ask others if they could see the man in the blue suit juggling on the sidelines, and were beyond relieved that others said yes.
Have you ever watched football...on acid, man?
4. Notre Dame is Wimbledon. That's the best pinpoint accurate summary of what it the general environment at a Notre Dame football game is for an SEC fan. The first thing striking you at a Notre Dame game is the order, the sheer Midwestern, patient, polite order of the whole thing. In contrast, the first thing that strikes you at an SEC game may be the fist of an opposing fan, or perhaps the overwhelming aroma of whiskey off a tottering 55-year old passing you. It's not just a different vibe, or different ethos--it's an entirely different society and way of watching the game. If Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is the U.S. Open--where doing the wave, watching a replay on a jumbotron, and hollering like you're being stung by a horde of merciless insects is de rigeur--then Notre Dame is Wimbledon, an intense and mannered environment where tradition rules with only the most obvious concessions to the postmodern football world included.
A Fenway-style manual scoreboard would not be out of place here--in fact, we'll go ahead and suggest that Notre Dame put one in for style points. The retro, logo-free endzones are obvious to television viewers, but a single detail became a microcosm of the Notre Dame experience for us:
Unfinished, splintery, and creaky old wooden planks make up the lower rung of seating, with numbers stenciled on in military font spaced just far enough to allow for the squeezing of cheeks clearly not fed daily on a diet of high-fructose corn syrup. You want Knute Rockne's benches? Well, there they are, brown and unforgiving. It's a no-frills, crystallized vision of antediluvian game-watching that is a bit jarring to those accustomed to videologue game intros and WOO-HOO! FIREWORKS to start the game, but after a few minutes it's hard not to feel a sudden fondness for leather helmets, the flying wedge, and players with long, unpronounceable Slavic names.
The upside is spooky, grey-skied nostalgia and a crowd focused on the game with a Teutonic intensity; the downside is a quiet stadium that, at times, was so quiet we actually heard the coaches yelling on the sidelines. (We were sitting in the south endzone, for some perspective on this.) The student section is as lunatic as any, and the spontaneous spacing of the lofted push-uppers following a touchdown would make a fine mathematics thesis for the inquisitive undergrad, since they did seem perfectly spaced without effort, as if the hive-mind of the student section instantly recognized where a student needed to be hoisted aloft in celebration.
(There's surely an equation that explains this accuracy.)
The epitome of the downside is contained in this image:
Ushers at Notre Dame, you may suck our ass. The red-stater in us, the free-wheeling libertarian who wants you off our land right now, stranger, the bottle-wielding redneck in us wanted to pummel these lost Shriners with the nearest heavy object on sight. Ushers at most other venues we've been to serve less as traffic controllers and more as referees, since grown adults may read the ticket, follow signs, and find their seat without difficulty. Their primary function: kicking the confused, very drunk and confused, and the outright fraudulently misplaced out of the incorrect seat, as well as the occasional call to security when someone decides to take out the frustration of the fourth INT of the day by calling an ISO Smash to a rival fan's face.
These ushers serve as nannies, not only refusing to allow any and all funness to occur outside the student section, but actively quieting fans down and quashing standing. You want to know who Hitler's willing accomplices were? These people. One minute they're telling you to sit down, and the next minute they appear outside of your house asking where your neighbors are. Screw these people in the ear; in our perfect stadium, they're thrown screaming off the upper deck by the angry masses.