I've attended games at 26 college football Stadiums, but the loudest place I've ever been was as a 15-year-old: Notre Dame Stadium, October 15, 1988: #4 Notre Dame vs. #1 Miami. Unfortunately, that wild atmosphere is far from the norm in South Bend (more on that in tomorrow's AM column).
Since that battle vs. the Hurricanes I've witnessed two handfuls of Irish home games that approached that level of revelry and perhaps a few isolated moments as well. But by general rule, I concur with Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick and his in-season comments offered to the University's student body last fall: most opposing fan bases are louder than Notre Dame's.
But a column of suggestions to change/better the Stadium atmosphere is unnecessary, and hardly original. The program knows the root of the problem and they've seemingly put forth their best efforts to bring back the noise on fall Saturdays.
Should they need test cases, however, I'd advise a trip to the following venues – each a personal experience detailed below:
Top Five Opposing Venues
- Neyland Stadium (Knoxville, TN): Two visits, both Notre Dame games, with a November 1999 Tennessee victory over the Irish easily the loudest opposing stadium I've experienced. Neyland Stadium's vertical structure shook – and when you're at the top of trembling building, it can be an unsettling feeling, especially when your hopes for a comeback are pinned on this guy.
- Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, aka, The Swamp (Gainesville, FL): I'll never forget the scene: September 29, 2000, Florida led Mississippi State 45-0 with three minutes remaining and the Bulldogs had breeched midfield for the first time in two quarters. No Gators fans had headed for the exits, everyone was standing, humidity was somewhere near 100 percent.
Florida stopped a 4th-down MSU pass much to the pleasure of their adoring, blood-thirsty fans. What followed was even more incredible: four consecutive passes, the last a 26-yard touchdown to make the score 52-0 in the closing moments. The Ole Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, apparently held a grudge from Mississippi State's upset of Florida one season prior. The final score was bush-league and typical; the crowd was anything but.
- Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, NE): Polar opposite of the crowd in The Swamp were the folks of Lincoln. As Irish fans we were continually welcomed to the "Game of the Century," the then-record crowd for Notre Dame's season-opener was ready to watch Game #3 for their top-ranked ‘Huskers. (Nice scheduling by ND, by the way…)
Nebraska fans politely clapped for a battered, admittedly unprepared Notre Dame team led by Bob Davie (how's that for an opening week revelation by a team's head coach?). His Irish headed to the locker room trailing 27-3 at intermission. Amid 80,000-plus cordial fans, I somehow managed to sit next to the only jerk in Lincoln. (If you're out there and reading this, Wal-Mart wants its three plastic replica championship rings back.)
- Ohio Stadium/The Horseshoe (Ohio State) – An incredibly loud, wild atmosphere, and probably a bucket list requirement for a college football fan, though I can think of a few quotes from the Robert DeNiro classic Taxi Driver that might give you a point of reference for those yet to visit…
- Camp Randall (Madison, WI): I was on hand for an October 2000 battle vs. Purdue (Drew Brees) and one overwhelmingly impressive moment remains with me: the now famous Jump Around-fueled explosion by the student body between the 3rd and 4th quarters. There's nothing like it for fans, and years later even the players on both sidelines take part in the raucous moments.
I should note: it got a lot quieter at Camp-Randall when the Boilermakers blocked an overtime field goal and returned it for a game-winning touchdown.
Next In Line – Loud/Otherwise Memorable VenuesThere's more to a game day experience than the fans in the stands:
- Happy Valley (State College, PA): September 2007, a white-out, and no visiting team hope in a beating of Notre Dame during Jimmy Clausen's first start. Inside Beaver Stadium offered an A+ experience (it might have helped my friend's dad gave me a ticket in the second row among the PSU high rollers). Outside the stadium, on the other hand…I'll be kind and offer a "Triple F-Minus" grade. PSU tailgaters are a lot like school at midnight – NO CLASS.
- Kyle Field (Texas A&M) – Ridiculously consistent crowd noise, thought that's easier when Notre Dame scores about as many points as it produces first downs…the end of the Davie era (September 2001) had commenced by the time the Irish traveled to the head coach's former stomping grounds, and it was not an easy game to stomach for Irish fans who made the trip.
- Sanford Stadium (Georgia) – Scenery, both inside out = A+
Reminiscent of Nebraska fans and their ‘Huskers, Georgia seem to only root for one sports team, their beloved Dawgs. I didn't care who won between 9-1 UGA and Eli Manning/Ole Miss that November 2002 evening, but it was memorable nonetheless.
- Bryant-Denney Stadium (Alabama) – The thermometer drilled the upper edges of 95 degrees for this Alabama/Arkansas matchup, just three Saturdays after the September 11 attack. Considering it felt about 110 in the stands, "enjoy" might not be the best descriptive adjective for our game day experience, but man those Alabama fans knew how to tailgate, including an approximately 65-year old woman who walked tailgate-to-tailgate in search of a shot of whiskey – which she took at our stop by pouring it from the bottle, to her hand, to her mouth. You can't beat the south (at least not if you're entering a 60-plus, bare-handed drinking contest of George Dickel Whisky).
- Husky Stadium (Washington) – October 1995 presented gorgeous scenery and another structure that seems to retain the crowd noise within its walls. It got quiet in a hurry, however, when Allen Rossum went the distance for a game-ending interception return in a 29-21 Irish victory.
- Michigan Stadium/The Big House (Present Day) – For those of you that visited pre-2010, it's much, much louder now with the new press box bouncing noise back inside the massive bowl. The media makes its way to the playing field in the final five minutes of every game, and the loudest experience I've had in that situation was last September in Ann Arbor when the Irish defense handed the Wolverines a victory on a silver platter. Terrible memory; great atmosphere.
- Grant Field (Georgia Tech) – Nowhere near the top of the list for most, but my only visit (and I lived in Atlanta for 10 years) saw a wild, drunken, dangerous crowd, one not-used to being on the national stage, that welcomed Charlie Weis and the No. 2 Irish to open the 2006 season.
The contest will forever rank as my favorite game "not to lose." There would have been many incidents in the stands between the teams' fans, but apparently jerk-Tech fans throw debris about as well as did their quarterback Reggie Ball that evening in a 10-6 Irish win.
- Doak Campbell Stadium (Florida State) – Chief Osceola's spear at midfield is cool, but every male aged 18-to-whatever should probably take in a Friday night and Saturday game day atmosphere at FSU, especially if Ole Miss or Arizona State ever come to town. My only trip to Tallahassee produced a 34-24 Irish beating of the 11-point favorite Seminoles. You might recall this opening score at the 0:26 mark.
Of note: Seminoles fans could not have been more courteous at post-game tailgaters (the contest included a noon kick-off). I assume that's not the case when Florida visits?
- Memorial Stadium (Clemson) – Loud for my entire three hours inside even though the Tigers got rolled by Georgia. The traditional touching of Howard's Rock and the ensuing sprint down the hill to the field is a must-see for college football fans.
Closing ThoughtsStanford Stadium in beautiful Palo Alto, California was not considered for the lists above, but if you're looking for a college campus to walk around – at any point of the year – its among the best.
I was there several hours early last November and amazed by the serene surroundings, though there was one drawback: It was a college football Saturday and "serene" is the best term to describe the atmosphere; much more reserved/laid back than any other I've experienced outside a college stadium on game day.
- The loudest and honestly worst place in the free world was the old Orange Bowl during the height of the Miami/Notre Dame rivalry in the late 80s. Either that or San Quentin…
- I've never seen a game at Autzen Stadium, home of the Oregon Ducks, or Tiger Stadium (LSU at night), but have heard they're among the top three in terms of crowd noise. I've heard other things about the well-lubed nighttime crowds at LSU, but this is a family website so I'll refrain from sharing..
- Other venues on my wish list: Williams-Brice (South Carolina) and Jordan-Hare (Auburn). I'd like to hit Lane Stadium (Virginia Tech) for a Thursday night game; that is assuming they play someone from a different conference that evening, of course.
- I'd rank Boston College's Alumni Stadium as the 2,654th best place to enjoy a college football game. In fact, I'm not actually sure it's called Alumni Stadium, but I don't care enough to look it up…
On tap for 2012 – my first trip to Norman, Oklahoma to see the Irish and the Sooners next October.
On tap for Friday: The loudest Notre Dame home games of my viewing lifetime, with a few bonus moments included.