Mystique of Notre Dame remains alive

Published 10:00 pm Saturday, September 9, 2017

I didn’t go to college at Notre Dame, but I love it as if I had some claim to it.

Sadly, I don’t.

When it came time for me to go to college, venturing five hours away from Natchez to Ole Miss was as far away as I would even think about. Even that distance turned out to be more than I could take and I later transferred and graduated from the university known today as the University of Louisiana Lafayette. That school better suited my personality and was only a two and a half hour drive away from home. Perfect.

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For most, college provides a much-needed, four-year buffer between being a child and being a “real” adult. College allowed me to be on my own most of the time, but also allowed me to come home when I wanted and continue to be a part of the lives of my much younger brother and sister.

For someone who changed colleges in order to be closer to home, I wound up moving hundreds of miles away and spent 20 years working in southwest Michigan.

That’s where I discovered Notre Dame.

I lived in Niles, just across the border from South Bend, Ind. It was about a 10-mile drive from our newspaper office to the Notre Dame campus.

I’ll never forget my first fall after moving to Michigan. I was working at the paper early on a Saturday morning and happened to glance out the window. What I saw made me do a double take. It was the Goodyear Blimp, making its way from its base in Chicago to hover above Notre Dame stadium while the Irish played football.

Prior to going to college myself, my only experience with college football was attending LSU games when I was a little girl. My mother’s older brother played football at LSU, so that was my family’s college team. I have distinct, horrifying memories of going to a football game in Tiger Stadium. It was at night, of course, and many of the fans were drunk. A woman who sat behind us at the game certainly was, and she was flailing around cigarette after cigarette — this was a long time ago when one could still smoke in such places — and I was terrified she was going to burn me with it.

Fast-forward about 20 years to my first football game at Notre Dame. It was a contrast in just about every way from anything I had experienced before.

It was a gorgeous, crisp fall day. The Notre Dame band played on the steps of the administration building, known for its golden dome, while the football players and coaches attended mass next door in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. After the mass was over, the football players, dressed in coats and ties, walked single file over to the stadium, followed by the marching band, followed by fans.

And the first song the Notre Dame band played was the opponent’s fight song. That’s Notre Dame. It’s a special place.

I’m writing this column on a Friday afternoon. Notre Dame plays Georgia tomorrow in South Bend, and a dear friend who is a Georgia alum will be in the stands. Win or lose, I hope his Notre Dame experience is as special as mine.

Football is the least of the many reasons I love Notre Dame. It’s a wonderful neighbor to the communities it surrounds, and provided me with many opportunities to learn and grow during my 20 years living near it.

Notre Dame may no longer be the football powerhouse it was back in the day, and may never be again, but the mystique of Notre Dame is very much still alive today.

God. Country. Notre Dame.

Jan Griffey is general manager of The Vicksburg Post. You may reach her at Readers are invited to submit their opinions for publication.