If someone comes up to you and asks, "Do you want to go on the field and tour the Notre Dame locker room today?" you're not going to say no. It's Notre Dame. Of course you want to go on the field and tour the locker room.
And that was my exact response when the marketing team asked me if I wanted to go on the Irish Upgrades Locker Room Tour and On-Field Photo Friday experience during the Georgia Tech game weekend.
I brought along my good friend Molly to go on the tour with me, knowing she is a lifelong Notre Dame fan and would be just as stoked as I was to see behind the scenes of Notre Dame football.
Friday Field Access
There was no time wasted on this hour-long tour. The very first thing we did was step onto the field. To my surprise, and delight, we pretty much had full reign of the field, meaning they didn't rope us back at the end zone as they do for normal locker room tours. No, we actually got to run free.
I only wish I had brought a football so Molly and I could practice our routes on the 40 yard line. Instead, we had to steal one from a little kid (don't worry, we asked first). The one pass I did make to Molly, which was a perfectly thrown spiral just like DeShone Kizer taught me at Football 101, she dropped. It hit her right in the chest and she still dropped it! But, she did a touchdown dance anyway. We let her get away with celebrating a dropped touchdown pass because it's not every day you have the opportunity to do a touchdown dance on the field at Notre Dame Stadium.
Inside the Locker Room
Being an employee in Notre Dame athletics, I've talked my way into getting a tour of the locker room before. But, I can honestly say that the experience with Irish Upgrades was unlike any locker room tour I've taken before. For one, I've never seen the locker room set up for game day. The lockers were completely ready for each player with pads, a uniform, cleats, a helmet, and two perfectly placed pieces of bubble gum waiting for them to come in on Saturday afternoon.
The standard locker room tours don't let you actually walk around the locker room. But, with Irish Upgrades, you can. You're still not allowed to touch anything but you can at least stick your face up real close to the locker and, of course, you can take all the pictures you want. So, a fully charged camera is something you don't want to forget.
Molly described being in the locker room best when she said it felt like "sacred ground". This is the team's space. This is where they strategize, where they get fired up, where they celebrate wins. To be standing in the exact spot and knowing that all of this will take place in just 24 hours is pretty surreal.
Play Like A Champion Today
Of course, my favorite part of the locker room tour was getting to slap the Play Like A Champion Today sign and pretend like I was actually running out of the tunnel, onward to victory. When I touched the sign, I thought about all the people that have touched it, which immediately brought up thoughts of germs. I've been assured that they clean it regularly, though, so germs are nothing to worry about here. But, it's pretty cool to think about all of the Notre Dame legends who have touched the same sign and have actually ran onward to victory. The tradition of the sign is something not very many people have the chance to experience.
When I was little, my dad bought me a gold rally towel that is a mini version of the Play Like A Champion Today sign. I hung it on my bedroom wall and looked at it everyday, not sure if I'd ever see the real thing. To this day, it is still hanging on my wall. But, the real thing is so much cooler and something every Notre Dame fan should get a chance to see, and touch.
Post-Game Field Access
Another awesome part of the Irish Upgrades experience is that you get full on-field access after the game. My dad, a Notre Dame alum, and his friend, a guy who had never been to Notre Dame before, were at the game and came down onto the field with me post-game. At first, I thought, "How much different can going on the field after the game be from going on the field on Friday?" But, being on the field after the game is an entirely different experience.
I can't really put it into words but there was this feeling that lingered in the stadium; the aftermath of victory hanging in the air. It almost felt spiritual, which was probably due in large part to the sky at dusk and the sun setting over the stadium. To stand on the ground that the team had just won a battle on, it might sound cliché but, it was a surreal experience.
Being on the field post-game also feels very exclusive because it is not something very many people get to do. It's just your fellow fans with Irish Upgrades and a few ushers so, essentially, it feels like your own personal field. My dad and his friend raced each other from the 40 yard line to the end zone, their much slower version of a 40 yard dash. My dad lost by a bit but he insists it's only because he wasn't wearing the proper shoes for racing.
No matter what you do on campus on game weekend, you are going to have a remarkable experience - it's Notre Dame, how could you not? But if you want to take it above and beyond and really complete your Notre Dame experience, Irish Upgrades is the perfect way to do it. And I am saying this after only taking advantage of two of the several experiences they have to offer.
This is the closest you'll ever come to actually being on the team, unless you're a very good up-and-coming college football player, then you'll probably get closer. Most of all, it's something that is sure to create memories that will last you a lifetime, even if those memories include losing a race to your friend. If it was on the Notre Dame field, though, did you really lose anything? I think we all know the answer to that.