The Notre Dame Experience

This trip was one of the reasons why you are a college football fan, and own a website and magazine. A 3.5 hour flight from Sea-Tac Airport to Chicago's Midway is the first leg of the trip to Notre Dame.

Staying in the Sheraton on the Chicago River (and I mean ON the river) was a beautiful way to begin the trip. Chicago shocked us in how clean it was, very green, lots of incredible architecture, and food to die for.

If you stay near the River, go take a walk along the paved walkways along the North shore. You get great views of the skyscrapers and if you go west far enough, you run into Marina City. Marina City is two skyscrapers that are basically a village unto itself. The two huge spiral shaped buildings are basically parking garages on the bottom, luxury condos on the top, and also have a shopping market, pubs, restaurants, the House of Blues, and the basement has docking slips for those that commute to work up the river by boat.

If you are a music lover, you have to go check out Blue Chicago on North Clark Street. There are two of them, but the original club is on the 536 block, and is the real deal if you love the blues. We checked out New York born Mathew Skollar's band. Skollar blows the nastiest harmonica you've heard and his voice was blues heaven. Chicago legend Louie Bell was on guitar and they were backed by Aaron Turner on drums and Willie Vance Samuels on the bass. What a time!!!!

5-time Grammy Award winner Buddy Guy owns a club just up the street called Legends. The cover there is a bit more pricey, however.

The pizza is everywhere, and all of it is amazing. We tried three places, Gino's East (deep dish), Pizzeria Uno's (The original), and Lou Malnati's (thin crust). All three places were incredible. If you get to Malnati's, you have to try their chocolate chip dessert pizza, topped with three scoops of ice cream and whip cream. Husky fans were everywhere in all three establishments, so the folks from Seattle obviously knew where to get the good stuff.

It is about an hour drive to South Bend from there, if you naively assume that there will be no traffic or construction. Expect plenty of both, even at 1:00 AM. That town never sleeps, particularly the road crews. And don't get caught near old Commisky Park at night if you can help it . . . kind of scary neighborhood and in sharp contrast to the downtown area.

Other things we took the time to check out around Chicago were Millennium Park, and the Chicago River Cruise (1 hour). You see some beautiful scenery. The architecture is amazing, the river very clean, and the smell is heavenly (because while on the north fork of the river, there is a nearby chocolate factory).

The Navy Pier is a fun time, especially if you have kids. There is plenty to do for everyone, and a 7-minute ride on the 150-foot tall Ferris wheel gives you amazing views of the city and Lake Michigan. That lake is so big, you can see the curvature of the end of the earth when looking north. It has its own lunar tide pull.

We stayed with the team in Michigan City, Indiana. The highlight of that town was the Steak and Shake restaurant, across the street from the Holiday Inn. Milkshakes to die for, 24 hours a day. However, there is very little else to do in Michigan City.

The 30 mile trek to South Bend from there is pretty, dotted with farmland and creeks, and no traffic. Another plus is that you can pick up radio feeds for Northwestern, Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, and Notre Dame football. It's Heaven for the college football fan, for sure.

When you get off the Indiana Toll Road and turn right to the Notre Dame campus, it doesn't look like much. You drive by Saint Mary's University, which is pretty, but small. Then you turn right down Holy Cross drive and you are in the Heartland of College Football. Notre Dame.

When you get out of the car and walk to the campus, it is then that you realize just what a beautiful place this is. All of those things you see on television are there, the Golden Dome (very gold, and very impressive when lit up at night), Touchdown Jesus (a very humbling experience), the Quad, Legends bar just across the parking lot from the Stadium, and of course, Notre Dame Stadium itself.

The stadium has had a face lift and been upgraded considerably, and it is now impressive as well as a shrine to the game. When you walk in, you listen for the echoes of Knute Rockne, George Gipp, Paul Hornung, and all of the great players that have played there.

We're not afraid to admit that instead of hanging out in the press box, before the game we went into the Notre Dame student section so we could watch the band come roaring through the tunnel and play the best fight song in America. It was just as thrilling as I thought it would be, and yes, I got goose bumps when the students came to their feet and sang the Notre Dame fight song at the tops of their lungs. It was great to be a part of it (and a special thanks to the usher that allowed us to take it in even though he knew that we weren't part of the green-clad student section).

Then there was the game. Well, you all know how that went, and have obviously read ad nausea about the 38-3 drubbing by the home team over the Huskies.

But what you didn't probably read about was how classy everyone was in South Bend. The Stadium ushers were friendly to a fault, the press box personnel were faster with statistics than at any stadium I've been to, and the students and fans inside and outside the stadium were gracious hosts. The student section was a sea of green, and very loud.

It was an incredible trip, with mostly positives to report. To close, we'd like to give some thumbs up and thumbs down awards for this trip:

THUMBS UP TO:

1)The Notre Dame football team. After the game, they graciously shook hands with the Dawgs at midfield, but after that, went over en mass to the corner of the stadium where their students were and raised their helmets to them in appreciation. Not one student left until they were greeted by their team, even though the game was decided by the end of the first quarter. It was very cool to watch the bond between team and student body on the field.
2)Rush Street in Chicago. It was a happening place, and the Frog Bar had dynamite steak and lobster.
3)JohnB for showing the Dawgman crew such a great time around Chicago.
4)Chicago weather. It was in the high 70s and sunny the two days we spent there.
5)The "Go Dawgs" sign on the Indiana Toll Road booth. Made us proud.
6)The Notre Dame Fighting Irish band. They are big, they are loud, they are precise, and they capture the spirit of college football. They look sharp because they are.
7)Notre Dame Stadium. It is a first class operation, everything runs smoothly from the ticket takers to the ushers. A-plus experience.
8)The near 400-pound guy in the end-zone wearing the lime green t-shirt that proudly read, "I beat anorexia."
9)Carl Bonnell.
10)The Husky fans that made the trip. We saw all kinds of purple in Chicago and all over South Bend. Hats off to those folks who had a great time.

THUMBS DOWN TO:

1)Traffic leaving Chicago. It was like the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
2)The brick wall and the cement that leads you to it from the back of the end zones. If you aren't used to it, you can kill yourself. Just ask Corey Williams, who will now undergo surgery to repair his wrist from bracing his fall.
3)The owners of Notre Dame (NBC). They have free reign on everything at a Notre Dame game. If you get in the way of one of their TV cables, God help you.
4)Toll roads. Where do your state taxes go, anyway? Not to the roads, apparently.
5)Husky Band travel wear. The faded purple shirts and the menagerie of khaki pants and denim didn't look real great when they walked by the sharp Notre Dame band. Perhaps a wardrobe change is in order for road trips.
6)No replay screens or stat boards. Notre Dame is old school, for sure. Perhaps we've become a bit jaded, but we kind of got used to that stuff in Seattle. Some would argue that replay screens have no place in a college football stadium though.
7)The press box. It was very nice and extremely well equipped, but apparently a cost overrun forced them to make the decision to not put air conditioning up there. On hot days, that place is an oven. We were in row 1, the farthest away from the big fans attempting to cool the area. It was approximately 85 degrees up there.
8)Toast. That is what Washington's secondary resembled in the first half. Some of the burnt crumbs were scraped off in the second half, however.
9)Indiana truck drivers. If you think they're going to let you in on a merge or turn their turn signals on for a lane change, think again.
10)The bastard who has Kim Grinolds' rental car keys. They were last seen somewhere in Legends'. Hopefully the charge to tow the car from Michigan City to South Bend doesn't cause our subscription rates to go up (just kidding).

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