Noie: Notre Dame Stadium is open again, but it's quiet all around. Too quiet.
SOUTH BEND — Sure was quiet out there.
September Saturdays around these parts revolve around Notre Dame home football games. The pulse quickens on Thursdays and picks up the pace from there. Do you have tickets? A tailgating itinerary? Places to go and people to see? It warps into a whirlwind weekend that only occurs six times a season.
With it comes a pace to everything, a rhythm and a routine. Seeing a lot of the same faces in the same places. Get up, get your iced coffee and maybe even grab the Tribune. Go for a run and get the day going. It starts early. It ends late. There’s not a minute or an hour to waste.
That’s what college football Saturdays are around here. An event. A happening. An all-encompassing experience.
Then a Saturday like no other in a college football season like no other arrives and everything feels so … empty. So quiet. So out of sorts. Like we’re all in a movie.
It started to slide sideways Friday when you roll by Rocco’s and there was no line waiting for a table. Typical football weekend, they’re stacked two and three deep against the outside wall and toward the street.
The stillness of Saturday morning is a smack to the face. Yes, there was college football, but not the same kind of college football happening that everyone usually experiences. It was a party where too few were invited.
There were limited fans, limited media, limited places to be on campus. Notre Dame Stadium was open for business Saturday, but a whole lot else wasn’t.
No pre-game brunch at South Dining Hall. No steak samich on the quad. All other buildings locked up tight. No hot dogs hawked on the stadium concourse or in the ninth-floor press box. But hey, the bookstore was open for business. Gotta move that merch, because, well, everyone needs the 2020 version of “The Shirt” for $13.50 during a pandemic.
It’s 10 a.m. Front-row parking spots at Martin’s Heritage Square are aplenty. One there. Two there. One over there.
A game day Saturday would have the spaces at a premium. Instead, it feels like just another morning amid many during the pandemic. Is it a Monday? Tuesday? Hard to tell.
Staples of this store during football season are the oversized chocolate chip cookies for sale in the bakery department. They shout Notre Dame versus its opponent across the front.
On this Saturday, there’s exactly one cookie with Notre Dame vs. Duke. Come back Monday and it likely will be on clearance. And stale. Nobody was buying cookies, because there’s hardly anybody buying anything. A store that usually bustles felt bored. There might’ve been more people in line at the inside Starbucks counter than shopping.
Ten of the 19 aisles had not a soul down them. Not buying tailgate stuff. Or with the way the world is today, hand sanitizer and Lysol. Of the 10 checkout registers, three were in use.
Directly across 23 at Belmont Beverage, three cars clutter the small parking lot. Nobody’s running in while wearing their Notre Dame No. 12 jerseys. Or No. 10. Maybe even a few No. 5s (Manti Te’o), which are still seen on game days.
Outside on the videoboard sign, 30-packs of Busch Light cans are advertised on sale for $19.68. Twenty-four Miller Lite bottles go for $18.98. Vodka? Jägermeister? Also bargains. Nobody’s rushing out with either. It should be that kind of a day. Instead, it feels more like a warm blanket and a bottle of wine, maybe even a fire in the outdoor pit later.
It’s 11 a.m. The campus perimeter slumbers. A jogger here, a walker there. Three students wearing masks and their tailgate best. That’s about it.
Vaness Street can be the off-campus party nerve center hours before kickoff. On Saturday, the bass beat of music from one Campus View apartment cuts through the heavy air. Nobody’s walking. Nobody’s tailgating.
At the corner of Vaness and Twyckenham a sign advertises parking spots on the grass lot for $40. Already parked are three vehicles — a sleek, black RV with Illinois plates, an SUV tucked in one corner and a pickup truck, the occupants huddled inside the cab waiting to take your money and point you to a spot. There are plenty from which to choose.
Driving anywhere on campus is impossible on a normal football weekend, but today feels like you’ve cracked the code. You can cruise down Courtney Lane without issue. Go right up Notre Dame Avenue to the circle. Up Leahy Drive, around to Bulla, up Wilson and out the north feeder exit.
Kickoff is three hours away. It feels like three days.
That silence comes calling again way out in White Field. By this time on game days, cars funnel off the Indiana Toll Road at Exit 77 and right into the grass lots. There, the parking signs (cost $30) stand sentry amid the emptiness.
The Golden Dome is off in the distance, but it’s like you’re in another land. There’s no sound. There are few cars. There’s no signs of life other than the geese. It’s just big, empty space. The area around Light Pole 10 is empty. The area around Light Pole 9 is empty. A pigeon sits atop the sign marking Blue bus route stop A. That bus ain’t coming anytime soon, buddy.
Closer to campus, where Ivy Road dead-ends into a cul-de-sac, three Saint Joseph County police cars idle. The area’s a popular pregame party pass-through point — fans heading to the game go up and over the paved hill toward the eastern entrance of campus. Tailgaters without game tickets (you know who you are), meander from their party areas and on toward the next one. Or to home and the couch to sleep it all off until the fourth quarter.
Remember, Notre Dame home football Saturdays are long.
It’s noon. On a typical game day Saturday, it’s time for a writer’s work day to begin with the drive to campus (top time, 12 minutes when all the traffic flows just right and the stoplights are your friend).
On this Saturday, a reverse commute is required. Thanks to social-distancing and campus protocols, media allowed to attend Saturday’s game is capped at 28 for a press box that holds 170. Each outlet is limited to one seat. The Tribune typically has four.
Let someone else have that spot for what amounts to nearly eight hours inside that press box Petri dish. A couch, a big-screen TV, dinner on the stove, no line to use the restroom and maybe even a nap sounds way more inviting.
Those of us not among the select 28 will watch from our homes, then glean what we can from the post-game Zoom press conferences to write our stories, form our opinions, offer some structure to a day and in a season that feels like there is none.
Kickoff’s coming in a couple hours. Maybe then it all will feel the way it once did.
Welcome again to 2020.
Enjoy the silence. It beats the alternative.