PepTalk Tour: 1996 Notre Dame Football

When students, alumni and just plain fans walk into Notre Dame Stadium on a fall Saturday to watch their beloved Fighting Irish, it is more than just a game, it's an experience.

It's the feeling of walking into a hallowed stadium lighted only by the shining sun. It's the feeling you get of walking by such historic campus buildings as the Golden Dome, the Joyce Center and the "Touchdown Jesus" mural. It's the feeling of seeing the Band of the Fighting Irish (still going strong after 150 years) march out and belt out the renditions of the Alma Mater ("Notre Dame, Our Mother") and, of course, the Notre Dame Victory March ("Cheer, Cheer for old Notre Dame").

It's the feeling of seeing a sea of blue and gold (or, on special occasions, green and gold) racing out onto the field in preparation for battle on beautiful natural grass. It's the feeling of Notre Dame football.

The Notre Dame program is the most storied and honored in all of college football, and that's not just talk. The Fighting Irish hold an all-time record of 738-219-42 record for a .760 winning percentage, the highest in Division I. They have won eight Associated Press national titles (1943-46-47-49-66-73-77-88), the most in Division I.

They have had seven Heisman Trophy winners, 30 unaminous first-team All-Americans and 35 Hall-of-Fame members -- in each case, more than any other school. They have been in nine straight New Year's Day bowl games, and although Notre Dame's 13 bowl wins may pale in comparison to some other schools' total, that is mainly because the Irish refused to play in bowl game for 45 years (1925-1969).

The Notre Dame program boasts some legendary names. There are coaches such as Knute Rockne, who posted the highest winning percentage (105-12-5, .881) in college football history and was known for his famous pep talks and motivational skills. There was also Frank Leahy (1941-43, 1946-53) and Ara Parseghian (1964-74), who also posted winning percentages of more than .800.

Then there are the players like Heisman Trophy winners Angelo Bertelli (1943), Paul Hornung (1956) and Tim Brown (1987), as well as players who went on to successful pro careers like Joe Montana, Joe Theismann, Alan Page and Nick Buoniconti. And the pros are still well-represented by former Notre Dame stars like Brown, Jerome Bettis, Chris Zorich and Raghib Ismail.

Pro teams like the Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Braves have adopted the moniker "America's Team," but that would probably be more appropriate for Notre Dame football. The program boasts fans and alumni from all over the country and now even has its own network, as NBC has broadcast Notre Dame home games nationally since 1991. The program has also been the focus of motion pictures like "Knute Rockne-All-American" and "Rudy," and has ardent celebrity fans like George Wendt (Norm from the TV show "Cheers") and Regis Philbin.

Probably the most ringing endorsement of the Irish program and its impact of college football is the fact that the new College Football Hall of Fame is now in South Bend, right in Notre Dame's backyard.

Notre Dame has it all: the Victory March, the leprechaun, the famed Friday night pep rallies, the gold helmets and pants, the blue jerseys, the incredible success on the field. But what is most prominent is the indomitable spirit of Irish athletes and teams.

Former quarterback Joe Theismann said it best: "If you could find a way to bottle the Notre Dame spirit, you could light up the universe."

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