Notre Dame Culture a Unique One

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martyjames.jpg Napa Valley Register - One of these years I want to make an all-sports trip to the midwest and east coast. The purpose is to visit and spend some time in areas of the country that I've never been to before.

I'd like to start it off by going to Green Bay to see Lambeau Field and the Packers Hall of Fame.

From there, I'd schedule a trip to Chicago and a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

I'd continue with baseball by traveling to Boston for a Red Sox game at Fenway Park and then going to New York to see the Yankees play.

The golf itinerary of the trip would come next. I've always wanted to see Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, a links-style course located in the town of Southampton on Long Island, which has hosted the U.S. Open Championship four times. Next on my list of must-see places is Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. I'd wrap up the golf portion of the trip by heading to Augusta National Golf Club, located in Augusta, Ga. Designed by Alister MacKenzie, it's the site of the Masters Tournament, one of the four major championships in professional golf.

The final stop on my trip would be to the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. I grew up on Notre Dame football, hurrying home each Sunday morning during the fall as a youth after my newspaper route to watch the Notre Dame football highlights T.V. show and hear Lindsey Nelson's play-by-play call of Fighting Irish games.

I'd want to spend as much time as possible in order to take in all that Notre Dame -- a school with great tradition and history -- has to offer. One of the first places on campus that I'd head to is Notre Dame Stadium, which has natural grass and a seating capacity for 80,795 fans. I'd want to spend some extra time there, just checking out the facilities and maybe being lucky enough to walk on the field.

"It's not as spectacular as some of the newer stadiums or larger stadiums," said Rich Brumley, a Napa resident. "It's a very traditional, older stadium. But the spirit and the noise inside, it's very unique. And again, it's right on campus."

Brumley has a good friend from Ohio, who is also a Notre Dame graduate, who invited him to this year's USC-Notre Dame game. How are you going to say no to that?

"He took me and showed me every tradition at Notre Dame -- the band preparation, the statues of all the coaches, leading the band into the stadium," Brumley said. "It was just a fantastic experience. All their traditions are alive and well there.

"The spirit is the most unbelievable thing I've ever experienced -- and I've been to Ohio State, USC, Alabama, Ole Miss. Notre Dame is the best. The traditions in the stadium were just fantastic. It was just a wonderful experience. The campus is just absolutely beautiful. Great facilities, historical with many traditions."

Anne Schramm knows Fighting Irish football. Her dad, Thomas Dodd, completed his 49th year as an usher for Notre Dame football games this year.

"He's hoping to make it one more year to get to 50," said Schramm, who attended Saint Mary's College, which is just across the street from the University of Notre Dame.

There is more to Notre Dame than intercollegiate athletics, Schramm said.

"There's a lot of Catholic tradition there as well. It's a relatively small campus, but very powerful," said Schramm, who makes her home in Napa. "You'd want to see the Golden Dome. You would want to go inside there and walk all the way up to the top. There is tradition there. You'd want to see the Basilica. It was re-done in the last 10 years. You can go see the old log cabin where the old school used to be and the log cabin church. You'd definitely want to see the stadium."

One thing that I picked up on right away is that Notre Dame travels well. I saw it first-hand before and during Saturday night's nationally televised game against Stanford, a top-25 matchup and the final regular season game of the year for both schools. Thanks to Schramm and her husband, George Gordon, I was lucky enough to get two tickets to the game at sold-out Stanford Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend.

It was special and exciting all the way around, to see Heisman Trophy candidate Andrew Luck, a record-setting quarterback, direct the Cardinal offense and to also see Notre Dame in person for the first time. The shiny gold helmets that the Fighting Irish wear and the passion that their loyal fans show is something I'll always remember. Another thing is the way that Stanford plays football -- the Cardinal is one of the top teams in the country.

Luck threw for 233 yards and four touchdowns, breaking John Elway's school record for career TD passes and leading Stanford to a 28-14 win over Notre Dame on Senior Day. It was the final home game of the season for Luck, who has thrown for 80 touchdowns in three years.

"There's no player in America like Andrew Luck," Cardinal coach David Shaw said on the Stanford athletic website. "There really isn't. Forget about the stats, forget about the comparisons of other guys or whatever, it doesn't matter. What he does at the line of scrimmage, what he does with the ball you know, and the kid is completely unselfish. He doesn't care if you don't throw a pass, he doesn't care about his stats, he doesn't try to get bigger stats so he can win awards. The kid is the definition of what you would want at the quarterback position in all facets. I don't have a vote. We'll see what happens. I just know that he's one of a kind. There's nobody like this guy."

Luck also set the school-record for total offense (10,218 yards), breaking Steven Stenstrom's total (9,825 yards). He has thrown 35 TD passes this season, putting Stanford (11-1 overall) in excellent position to play in a big-time bowl game. The loss knocked Notre Dame to 8-4.

"Disappointed that we didn't come here to get the victory," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "We didn't come here to get the second prize. We came here to get the win. Nobody in that locker room is happy with the outcome. We got off to a slow start and we battled against it. We kept playing, kept competing -- proud of the way our guys battled."

Our group tailgated before the game in sunny weather in a grove of tall eucalyptus and redwood trees near the stadium. There was everything from tri-tip and turkey to ham and chili and a whole lot else in an elaborate set-up. There were also some great desserts. Notre Dame fans were everywhere.

"When you come out here, you find out there's so many west coast (Notre Dame) fans," said Schramm.

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