Over the years, Notre Dame Stadium has simply established itself as a veritable Mecca for college football enthusiasts, and regardless of competitive affiliations, the House that Rockne built is almost universally respected. Here's a quick sampling of some outside opinions of Notre Dame Stadium floating around cyberspace:
Bruce Feldman, ESPN Columnist: "The place reeks of tradition, and the sight of Touchdown Jesus would give even the biggest cynic goose bumps."
Mel Kiper, Jr., ESPN Columnist: "In my opinion, a college football season isn't truly complete unless you plan at least one visit to South Bend."
Dennis Dodd, CBS Sportsline Senior Writer: "[At Notre Dame Stadium] You almost feel the karma from Rockne, Ara and all the greats."
All of this reverence didn't come over night. Beginning play there in 1930, over the past three-quarters of a century, Notre Dame has compiled an incredible 291-89-5 record at the hallowed stadium. That computes to an impressive .762 winning percentage. In that span, Notre Dame accumulated 9 consensus national championships, had 7 Heisman Trophy winners, and competed in 25 bowl games. The Irish can even boast a stretch of 28 games from November 21, 1942 to October 7, 1950, wherein they did not lose a single game at home. The fans took notice of all this success too; since its opening, only 89 of the nearly 400 games played at Notre Dame Stadium have not been in front of a capacity crowd.
However, in recent years, the luster of northern Indiana's football Parthenon appears to be dimming. Rumors have begun spreading among Notre Dame's detractors, that the old stadium is too quiet, that it's a nice place, but it doesn't really represent an advantage for the Irish anymore. Harsh words, but they may be well founded.
In the years from 1930-1996, Notre Dame enjoyed a remarkable 252-73-5 record at Notre Dame Stadium, for a .771 winning percentage. In the decade since, marked by the exit of Lou Holtz after the 1996 season, Notre Dame's formidable home-field advantage has taken a noticeable hit. In the past decade, the Irish have fallen to a 38-16 record in South Bend. Though still respectable, the .704 winning percentage of the past decade is a noticeable drop from the earlier precedent.
In the most recent years, it's gotten even worse. Since Bob Davie's exit following the 2001 season, the Irish are a paltry 15-9 at Notre Dame Stadium, for a winning percentage of only .625. The team as a whole has certainly had its struggles in that time span, but Notre Dame's home-field advantage has suffered the worst by far. In that same four-year span, Notre Dame amassed a 13-7 road record-- good for a winning percentage of .650. Not only is it somewhat embarrassing that Notre Dame has a better road record than home record during the past four seasons, but taking into account Notre Dame's all-time road winning percentage of .671, the full extent of Notre Dame's home struggles becomes magnificently clear.
While during this most recent stint of mediocrity the Irish have only fallen 20 percentage points off of their typical road success, the home winning percentage has dropped by nearly 150 points. The drop from the established .771 winning percentage to .625 is proportionally equivalent to being stripped of almost $11,500 from a $60,000 salary. Not too many employees would welcome that sort of drop-off.
Despite his heralded success last season, even new head coach Charlie Weis has helped contribute to the decline of Notre Dame's home field advantage. While going undefeated on the road during the regular season, the Weis-led Irish won only four of their six home games last season, while dropping their first two. Weis has acknowledged this problem himself, and he addressed the issue in his press conference Wednesday. Speaking of his treatment of home games, Weis said, "Like I said before, last year I messed it up. I did. I messed it up with all the distractions."
With his acceptance of responsibility, Weis also promised a coming change. "We're really trying to embrace the home field environment this time and play into it. We've addressed this from day one of the week whereas last year I kept saying distraction, distraction. I'm going to try to not mess it up this year," Weis said.
The first test of Weis' new treatment of the home field atmosphere comes this Saturday, and it comes against one of the game's most legendary coaches. Second in the all-time 1-A record books with over 350 wins to his name, and with a 8-5 career record against the Irish, Joe Paterno presents no small challenge to Weis and his effort to overcome Notre Dame's recent home field demons. With a 3-3 career record at Notre Dame, to this point JoePa has achieved about the same amount of success in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus as Weis has.
Nevertheless, facing Penn State and the legendary Paterno presents Weis and the Irish with a tremendous opportunity to reclaim some of the grandeur that has been slowly fading away from Notre Dame Stadium.
Among Notre Dame's many successes at its renowned stadium, perhaps the most impressive is the record that the Irish have compiled there against some of college football's greatest coaches. Throughout its history, Notre Dame Stadium has been a consistent stumbling point for coaches of almost legendary status. To illustrate this point, consider the combined fates of possibly the ten greatest coaches ever to stand against the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium:
The coaches in question, in no particular order, are: Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden, Amos Alonzo Stagg, John McKay, Lavell Edwards, John Robinson, Don Nehlen, Bobby Dodd, Bo Schembechler, and Jimmy Johnson. (For the record, Pop Warner, Fielding H. Yost, Vince Dooley, Bob Devaney, and John Vaught all never got the chance to play in Notre Dame Stadium.)
In their overall careers, these ten icons combined for 2,220 wins, at an astounding .705 winning percentage. What's more, against Notre Dame, these coaches combined to go 35-25-3, for a solid winning percentage of .553. However, when these coaches came to Notre Dame Stadium, all that success was thrown out the window. At Notre Dame Stadium, these extraordinary ten mustered only a 14-17-1 record, for a winning percentage of .453. More remarkably, only one of these ten icons managed a winning record at Notre Dame Stadium over his career. (That one is Bobby Bowden, who is 2-1 in South Bend for his lifetime, and while technically Bowden is still coaching, with Florida State not on the foreseeable docket, and with Bowden's age, it's safe to assume he'll keep that winning mark.)
This Saturday marks the return of yet another of Notre Dame's illustrious coaching foes. Perhaps fittingly, though Joe Paterno has an overall winning record against the Irish, his career record at Notre Dame Stadium stands at 3-3. A perfectly balanced .500.
With this likely to be Paterno's last foray into South Bend, and with ties long-ago eliminated from college football, Saturday's game will be the difference in the living legend's lasting imprint on Notre Dame Stadium. Will Paterno join Bowden as the only of these icons to leave South Bend a winner, or will he join with the ranks of the rest who couldn't quite overcome the Irish home crowd? The answer won't be known until Saturday evening, but sending JoePa home with a loss one last time could be the perfect way for Notre Dame Stadium to recapture its glory.
Rebuilding Rock's House
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