If you have yet to start watching UND.com's Irish Connection, you may not be aware of the changes that will be taking place Saturday when the Notre Dame football team walks to the stadium prior to its game against South Florida.
As tradition plays so heavily into the Notre Dame experience, the history of the player walk and pregame Mass were kept in mind when making the decision to change this ritual. For as long as I have been attending Notre Dame games (only four short years during my time as a student), the players have walked from the Basilica through God Quad and South Quad before arriving at the stadium.
Given the number of great traditions we have here at Notre Dame, I assumed that the player walk had been around for decades, but in speaking with director of media relations Brian Hardin, I learned that only the team Mass dates back to the earlier days.
"A lot of our fans may not realize this, but the tradition of the walk from the Basilica to Notre Dame Stadium is actually younger than some of the players on this year's team. Based on conversations I had with former players, assistant coaches and senior managers, I learned Coach (Lou) Holtz moved the team Mass to the Basilica somewhere between 1991-93. Even though the team began to walk together from the Basilica to the Stadium in the early 90's, it did not attract a large number of fans until the late 90's.
"In fact, many Notre Dame players never took part in a team walk to the stadium. Under Coach (Ara) Parseghian, the team's Mass was held at Moreau Seminary on Saturday mornings. The players were then dismissed to return to their dorm rooms to change and they were given a time they needed to report to the Stadium," Hardin says.
For 2011, the walk remains intact, but in a different form. After Mass, the players will board buses and drive across campus to the Guglielmino Athletics Complex (affectionately known as "the Gug"), making their way through the main tailgating lots south of Notre Dame Stadium.
Earlier this week, Brian Kelly explained that the change would give the team some extra time to prepare for the game while still keeping with the tradition established by Holtz.
"One of the great, unique qualities we have here at Notre Dame is that there is such pageantry, such tradition. We want to maintain that, but we also want to make sure that our players get ample time to be focused on football as well."
The decision to change the timing and location of the walk to the stadium allows the team some extra meeting time in a building they have spent enough hours in to call home.
"We wanted to do it in a comfortable environment, instead of doing it at a hotel, which they're at once a week, we wanted to do it here at the Gug, where we have all of our training aids, all of our video and a comfort level in being here," Kelly says.
After their meetings, the team will walk westward to the Hesburgh Library. When they get to the statue of Father Hesburgh and Father Joyce, they will make their way towards the stadium across Library Quad, where historic Cartier Field once stood.
In the second episode of UND.com's Irish Connection, Jack Nolan explained that this path takes the team along "the field where Rockne, Gipp and the Four Horsemen once practiced and played. It's a way for the players of the present to connect with the players of the past."
As a student, my family and I often lined the path near the Basilica and watched as the team began their walk from Mass. I have always felt that it was a great tradition and one of the many examples of what makes Notre Dame such a special place.
So when it was first announced, I was a bit hesitant to accept the change. But it gives the Irish an opportunity to drive past the thousands of fans tailgating around campus, enabling the team to truly see the incredible magnitude of a Notre Dame football weekend, outside of the 80,795 cheering inside the "House That Rock Built".
While the new plan is a bit of a deviation from the tradition, the Mass and walk are still intact, assurance that Notre Dame is not about to leave behind its history, even in the midst of a new chapter of Irish football.
I am looking forward to the reaction from tailgaters as the team buses pass through the parking lots, but truly, I believe the scene when Coach Kelly leads his team across Library Quad to the cheers of thousands of fans is the one that ought not to be missed.
As the Irish begin 2011 and seek a return to championship form, it could be the beginning of a new tradition for the ages.