Vorel: An ode to Notre Dame Stadium's new visitors tunnel

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Let’s call it a tunnel.

That’s what Notre Dame is calling it, but I’m not entirely sure that’s what it is. From a distance, it looks like a mistake — an empty slit gouged into the line of brick and concrete on the northeast end of Notre Dame Stadium.

Does the term “tunnel” come with a requirement for height, width and depth? The bare minimum, Andy Dufresne would argue, fits snugly behind a poster of iconic actress Rita Hayworth. But that's a different story.

I can’t tell you how tall this particular tunnel is, or how wide it is, because I didn’t think to measure it. What I do know is that during last Saturday’s Blue-Gold game, two skinny Division I football players could maybe, maybe fit through it at the same time, provided they were angling sideways and sucking in their guts.

The point is, it’s narrow.

It’s also genius.

Let me explain.

I didn’t measure Notre Dame’s new visitors tunnel because I didn’t predict that when our photographer posted a photo of it on Twitter, 109 people would like it, 38 would retweet and 13 more would respond. They’d say things like, “Even the photo makes me claustrophobic!”, “Paint it the most awful shade of mustard brown you can find,” and “This is by far the best addition to the stadium.”

Here's one more look at the new visitors tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium. pic.twitter.com/wvg6yAGpfR

— Robert Franklin (@TheRobFranklin) April 23, 2017

Mind you, the other looming additions include new, wider, thankfully-splinter-free benches, a pair of ribbon boards and the massive, nearly-complete video board which hovers in all its better-late-than-never glory over the ageless football cathedral’s south end zone.

But this is the best? A strikingly slender concrete tunnel and some stairs?

Yes, and that is exactly why. This, for gosh sakes, is uncomfortable. It’s claustrophobic. It’s less architectural necessity and more competitive statement. It’s a steep concrete staircase with a low, angled ceiling and the spotlight of a hostile stadium teasing you from below. It’s a hopeless, desperate march to certain annihilation. This is bleak; this is barren. This is the green (and blue, and gold) mile. This looks like the spot they’d stash the gladiators before feeding them to starving tigers in The Coliseum.

A small visitors tunnel has been added inside Notre Dame Stadium Saturday, April 22, 2017, in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

In short, this is everything Notre Dame Stadium is not.

A trip to Notre Dame on a football weekend, I tell family and friends, is unforgettable. It’s a layered experience wrapped around a three-hour football game. The stadium tour is a layer. The pep rally is a layer. The trumpets under the dome is a layer. The bagpipe performance is a layer. The Irish dancers are a layer. The tailgate is a layer. The player walk is a layer, and the game itself is a layer. This, my friends, is one onion that doesn’t stink. It’s one of the most unique atmospheres in college football.

But it’s not close to the most intimidating.

Brian Kelly knows this, and if you’ve attended a game at Notre Dame Stadium, so do you. The problem with it being college football’s foremost museum is that it too often sounds like one. South Bend doubles as Golf Clap Central. Among the first words I’d use to describe the attitude towards a road team is polite.

I get it, Notre Dame is different. But you don’t have to be rude or demeaning to damage an opponent's eardrums. Shouldn’t it be possible to simultaneously respect your opponent, and make it difficult for them to communicate an audible on third-and-8?

That, for Kelly, is the goal. The aforementioned video board should help, as will an improved sound system. The towering building additions on the south, east and west sides could also bottle up the available decibels.

And sure, throw in that skinny visitors tunnel while you’re at it. No red carpet. No glossy reception. Just stairs, a strip of cement and a grimy sewer. Welcome to Notre Dame!

A small visitors tunnel has been added inside Notre Dame Stadium Saturday, April 22, 2017, in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

It’s possible, maybe even probable, that the folks in charge simply installed a more intimate opponents’ entrance because they didn’t want to part with a few extra seats (and dollars). That could be the reason, but I’d like to think it’s not.

This isn’t Iowa, of course, which painted the entirety of its visitors locker room pink: pink floors, pink walls, pink lockers, pink toilets. It’s not Wyoming, either. The Cowboys operate at the highest elevation of any Division I athletics program and posted a sign that reads, “Welcome to 7,220 feet! How’s your oxygen?” outside the road locker room of its basketball arena.

It’s nothing so overt, merely a slit in an age-old stadium.

It’s just a tunnel. But it’s also a start.

A small visitors tunnel has been added inside Notre Dame Stadium Saturday, April 22, 2017, in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

mvorel@ndinsider.com

574-235-6428

Twitter: @mikevorel

A small visitors tunnel has been added inside Notre Dame Stadium Saturday, April 22, 2017, in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
A small visitors tunnel has been added inside Notre Dame Stadium Saturday, April 22, 2017, in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN