The thought of leaving my home under the Dome hit me the hardest at the last home football game of the season. Football is such a big part of what makes Notre Dame, well, Notre Dame. It was the last time for traditions and to see the campus crawling with children under four feet decked out in ND gear.
Before Gameday, there was one student tradition that I did not want to miss: Drummer’s Circle. Before senior night at Drummer’s Circle in front of the Dome, a group of friends and I, all freshly 21, headed down to O’Rourke’s on Eddy Street for a bit of fun. It was my first time at the restaurant, let alone the bar so hearing a shout of “Hey! Megan!” coming from a table was shocking to say the least. Fortunes turned out that the ND Club of Memphis was having dinner at O’Rourkes when we arrived! Though I did have to prove that I was from Memphis, answering questions about where I went to high school and where I go to church, it was an absolute pleasure to see some of the Memphis alumni up for a game. I look forward to joining them in the next few years for campus trips! My friends and I fit seven people into the “snug”, a corner of the restaurant next to the bar with windows on two sides. Cold air oozed into the room through the glass, but we did not notice.
I achieved something unexpected that night. I was getting a round of drinks from the bar and had to slip by a man perhaps in his early 30s to get to the bar. In hindsight, I see that he was purposefully taking up the space when he said something along the lines of “Don’t apologize, you can slide against me anytime.” While slightly disgusted, I laughed it off and his friend apologized for the man’s rudeness. In fact, he wanted to buy me a drink as an apology if I would slap his friend.
Despite my years of boxing, I like to think that I am not a violent person and with alumni from my hometown looking on, there was no way I was going to slap someone at a bar for alcohol. I’m not that desperate. I made up some farce about buying a whole round for all of the girls who had come with me and were huddled in the Snug waiting on their drinks and got out of range of the guys. While annoying, that was the first time someone in the states had offered to buy me a drink so…cheers? Regardless, the girls and I had fun with our second round but soon it was time to leave for campus. Drummer’s Circle begins at midnight, but if you want a good place to stand, you need to arrive by 11:30pm.
With a wave to the ND Club of Memphis, we were off. Despite a certain imaginary blanket of warmth, the temperature had dropped further than expected so we shivered-jogged-huddled our way back to campus. Half the group headed to Lewis for sweatpants, blankets, and scarves from their rooms while the rest of us staked out a section in front of the Dome.
The Drumline was fantastic as per usual. One part of Drummer’s Circle that is always fun is when the xylophones move into the center and play a song all by themselves. This last senior game, they played a Backstreet Boys medley and I tried not to sob. We sang the Alma Mater as a group under the Dome that night and I continued to try not to sob. Not sobbing was going to be a recurring theme over the next 24 hours.
On Gameday we were determined to participate in as many traditions as possible. After bundling up in coats, gloves, and rainboots, we went to Bond Quad to listen to the band. They played the song Best I Ever Had by Gavin DeGraw, which I had only discovered though Spotify about a week before. I was the only one of the group who knew the words and when I got to mumbling the chorus they made me stop because the lyrics hurt. “You’re the best I ever had, and I won’t be the same.”
We watched the Irish Guard be inspected and it was a very strange moment for me because I remember one of my first football games where I watched this. Back then I had just met one of the brand new guardsmen in a class and watched him be inspected while standing in full dress until the hot sun. For the senior game, he was the one doing the inspecting while the freshmen guards tried not to shiver in the cold.
We took pictures as if we were freshmen at our first home game. Wrapped up in scarves and hats, we weren’t the only ones. In particular, we tried to get pictures in front of the Dome but a man in a bright blue fleece blanket covered with balls of cotton that may have faintly resembled snowflakes in another life, kept inserting himself into the frame. It was not intentional — I hope, but it did make the entire endeavor a bit more challenging as we tried to block him out.
The game was the coldest since something like 1985 or so I heard through the grapevine. I believe it because I could easily imagine body parts dropping from unsuspecting students. My friends and I took shifts where we would leave the seat and go to the bathroom. This was not because anyone actually had to use the restroom, but because the bathroom was heated. At any point after the first half hour of the game, there were girls in there rubbing their own feet in an attempt to regain feeling. I was one of them.
Part of the reason I was so cold was because I wore rain boots to the game. Don’t think me negligent. I also had two pairs of socks on, one fuzzy. The reason? Marshmallow War.
A relatively new senior tradition, as soon as the clock buzzed at the end of the first half, the senior section began chucking marshmallows that we had smuggled into the stadium. We threw them at each other. We threw them at the freshmen. We threw them at the camera that tried to capture a bit of the magic. A few actually hit the camera, which was impressive as it was a good distance away and marshmallows do not fly very far due to their size and lack of mass. The rain boots turned out to be a good idea because over the next hour, the benches and ground were a mess of sticky goo and dirt. I’m not sure if the ease of cleaning them was worth risking frostbite for my toes, but the decision had already been made. It was so much fun. I ate about half as many marshmallows as I threw. I ate a lot of marshmallows.
What I found comical was that the band, instead of marching onto the field promptly after the buzzer, waited a few minutes to give us time to exhaust our supplies. Every time I thought the section had run out of mallows, another would hit me in the back of the head. It seemed like a long time, but was likely around ten minutes before the band marched onto the field. We pulled out the plastic trash bags that had all been shoved into my purse and laid them onto the sticky seats so that we could relax and watch the halftime show.
It was so very, very cold. The snow fell rapidly onto the spectators and the band while the players warmed up in locker rooms. Many students left from other sections, but the seniors persevered at the risk of frostbite. The band was too cold to even play the jig that they usually use to warm the student section up. At the end of the game, the team walked over to the corner nearest the freshmen and we all linked arms and we all knew what was coming. The Alma Mater was rough. Very rough.
We had planned to storm the field, but due to safety reasons, the ushers kept everyone back. We almost left, but stayed just in case. I’m glad we did because as soon as the band was finished with the post-game show, they opened the gates and we rushed out. As soon as I passed through I ran to an open spot and proceeded to make a snow angel on the 40 yard line. I plan on telling this story for the rest of my life to the point that you will likely get tired of hearing it. Bear with me. It was rather incredible.
To add to the emotion of the day, I hit 50,000 words on my novel and won NaNoWriMo right after lunch, a full week ahead of the 30 day deadline. So I was already in perpetual shock at noon before the nostalgia even began to kick in.
That Saturday was one of the best Saturdays I have ever had at Notre Dame and I will not soon forget it. When I do, I will have this to read and relive the magic that was my Senior Game.