Noie: How has Notre Dame won 26 straight college football games at home?

Tom Noie
ND Insider

When you step through that north gate and walk down the tunnel before sunrise for a summer workout inside Notre Dame Stadium, you realize what it all means. 

When you run every step on both levels of the ancient arena as part of that conditioning exercise, you get it. 

When you join the Notre Dame football program, you learn quickly one of the non-negotiable tenants – protect homefield at all cost. Losing on that sacred ground to any type of opponent in any type of outcome simply is not part of the program protocol. Ever. 

Lose a game on the road the previous week, or find a way to figure it out and escape doesn’t much matter. When that game ends and the week turns and a home game nears, the feeling in and around the locker room, the meeting room, the practice field, always is the same for the No. 9 Irish. 

Notre Dame has not lost a home game inside Notre Dame Stadium since early in the 2017 season. That streak will be tested Saturday against No. 7 and undefeated Cincinnati.

They’re playing at home and they don’t lose at home. Ever. The players know it. The players talk about it. It’s an open topic. Everyone understands it. Everyone discusses it. 

“It’s definitely a major focus that we don’t lose at home,” said wide receiver Braden Lenzy, a senior who never has lost a home game (21-0). “It’s always a focus to win, but specifically at home. It’s more about pride and it pulls at the heartstrings of Notre Dame.” 

It also has become one of college football’s greatest mysteries. Not one of the unsolved kind that's made for television, but just in general. Exactly how has Notre Dame run off 26 consecutive home victories, the longest streak in modern program history? How have 1,484 days passed since that last loss – to No. 15 Georgia in 2017? How has Notre Dame quietly worked its way into the nation’s second-longest home win streak, trailing only Clemson (30)?

How?

Previously under Brian Kelly, who lost three of his first six home games as head coach, the best the Irish home win streak was 10 (2011-13). 

Sure, history and tradition oozes from the concrete walls and off those still-cramped bleachers, but a lot of what goes into that 77,622-seat twice renovated structure since 1997 kind of just ends there. Consider the other places that Notre Dame has played in recent years. There’s a common denominator of crazy that doesn’t fit with the Notre Dame home field advantage. 

Like that Saturday night in 2019 at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., which was a four-hour assault on every sense. There’s noise and then there’s the kind of noise generated that night. Don’t try seeing where it might fall on the charts. It was off the charts. Florida State gets revved up in the minutes before kickoff when Chief Osceola rides over from the east end zone of Doak Campbell Stadium and plants a flaming sphere – with real fire – at midfield. Place goes up for grabs. 

Even next week’s trip to Lane Stadium – as overrated as the pre-game hype tends to be with “Enter Sandman” – is worth at least a small price of admission when Virginia Tech bursts from its tunnel to the sounds of Metallica. Yet when that moment fades, it becomes just another stadium, just another game. 

A lot like at Notre Dame. 

There are home field advantages, and then there is Notre Dame. A nice, friendly place to visit where the ushers and the ticket scanners and the concession stand workers handing out hot dogs greet you with a kind word, and then thank you for the visit when the game’s over. 

Have a nice day!

That’s Notre Dame Stadium. 

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What is it about home games at Notre Dame Stadium that have allowed the Irish to basically be unbeatable since early 2017?

What makes that stadium so tough? 

There’s not that one signature moment that Irish fans wait in anticipation for all game – we see you Camp Randall Stadium and your "Jump Around.” It’s just kind of the game. The place can get loud when it needs to get loud – see Toledo – but it generally remains a serene setting to play a game for a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon/evening. 

The place doesn’t shake, certainly not like the old press box did in 1993 for that Florida State game. Silent snap counts aren’t often needed. It all just kind of unfolds. Some noise. Some silence. Sit in the stands and you might be told to both sit down and be quiet by those around you – and they’re serious. 

“Home games, for me, I consider relatively quiet,” Lenzy said. “It’s definitely a bit different atmosphere. It’s just a comfort.” 

A comfort and a belief that Notre Dame is going to figure it out. Like the Virginia Tech game in 2019 when the Irish were down and all but out. Ian Book and the offense found a way with 29 seconds remaining to escape, 21-20. Like the Toledo game. Notre Dame also was down and all but out and 69 seconds away from losing to a freaking Mid-American Conference team. 

Jack Coan ignored a dislocated middle finger on his throwing hand to toss a game-winning touchdown pass to Michael Mayer. Another home loss sidestepped; another home win secured. 

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“Anytime we’re in a bind at home, it’s in our minds that we’ll still be able to get it done,” Lenzy said. “There isn’t a doubt that it can’t be done because we’ve seen it done so many times.” 

Can it be done again Saturday for consecutive home win No. 27 against seventh-ranked Cincinnati? The Bearcats burst into town undefeated (3-0) and full of confidence that they’re leaving with arguably the program’s biggest win since Kelly was coach. 

Notre Dame has been tested at home already this year. Saturday will be no exception. Cincinnati has playmakers. Cincinnati has swagger. Cincinnati has the confidence that it can win. Oh, and the team with the third-longest consecutive home win streak at 23 straight? 

That would be Cincinnati, which would love to jump to No. 2 early Saturday evening. Expect to see plenty of red and black in the Notre Dame Stadium stands. It will get loud. It will get interesting. But in the end, Notre Dame believes it will do what Notre Dame does at home. 

Win. 

It’s instilled in the Irish when they run the stadium steps in the summer. When they practice in the stadium on Thursdays of home game weeks. When they pass the leadership torch to the next group of seniors every spring. It’s the program DNA – do not lose at home. Ever. 

Winning at home is a big part of the big-picture process that Kelly so often preaches. He believes it. His players believe it. 

“It’s just a mindset,” said senior defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola. “You come into our stadium...” 

Ademilola paused, either trying to find the right words or to leave it there for a dramatic effect before starting again. 

“You come into our stadium...” 

Another pause. Then a smile. And a laugh. It was almost as if Ademilola knew what came next, but didn’t want to say it. No need finishing the sentence. You know what would’ve come next. 

You’re not winning. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI