Last week I asked a few people if they were interested in writing anything about what the 2005 game meant to them. The following is from Bob Kessler, a 2009 ND graduate and former O'Neill Hall resident who is currently teaching in China. He'd probably sell his first born child to be back for the game but he doesn't have said child yet. Here is his reflection on 2005.
Some people go through their entire youth knowing exactly what they want to do with their life and apply to college with very explicit goals regarding what they want to achieve. I was not one of these people. As a senior in high school I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and I decided to attend the University of Notre Dame mainly because my father had taken me to football games there since I was in the 4th Grade.
By the time I arrived on campus in the fall of 2005 I was completely obsessed with college football (so much so that my backup schools were Michigan and Wisconsin, schools that share only one similarity with Notre Dame, which is football). After a month and a half of college, my half-hearted attempts to integrate myself into some sort of extra-curricular activity led me to a Charlie Weis press conference the Monday before the USC game that year.
I was sitting amongst the reporters with the NDTV video camera I had hauled across campus on my bicycle listening intently when the questioning turned to the topic of Green Jerseys. While Weis casually disregarded the notion that the team might wear green on Saturday, the idea never left my mind. “We’re wearing green on Saturday,” I thought to myself as I rode my bike back across campus to return the camera before my first class of a week where my mind would obsessively wander to thinking about Saturday.
Like many students, that week was one of the longest of my life as I internally bled with anticipation of the epic weekend that was to come. Much of my time that week was rotated between studying for midterms, hearing the hype for the game reach new levels (the pep rally is not only going to be in the stadium, but it will be broadcast LIVE on ESPNEWS!!), and doing what I could to help prepare my section of my dorm for one of the greatest parties we would of ever throw—The Fall of Troy/Night of 1000 Beers.
By Friday morning, the excitement across campus was at a level I haven’t seen in the four years since. If a terrorist threat level scale was used to describe excitement levels, Notre Dame’s campus that day was through the red and into the black (and the game was still more than 24 hours away). As the week progressed the amount of people on campus had steadily increased to the point where my walk to class Friday morning had the feel of Gameday.
It was still only Friday, but THIS was NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL.
As I walked to that Theology midterm, I knew that the outcome of the test didn’t matter because it was USC weekend. Pictures of Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush had been taped to the ground with somewhat clever phrases about stomping on them. There were people everywhere carrying bags from the bookstore, playing catch in the Quad, and showing friends and family around a campus which had to be the most magically vibrant place on earth that weekend.
After finishing my midterm that, I skipped the rest of my classes so I could begin my weekend by joining some friends at the entrance to the stadium to taunt the SC team before their walkthrough. As we approached the stadium I saw a crowd of several hundred people waiting for the SC team busses. It was no secret that they would be here soon, and I stood on a brick perch so that I could see them coming.
As the busses rolled past Debartolo Hall, they were quickly surrounded with people with a mob of exuberant fans. The busses started to rock back and forth with a beat that would pound in our hearts all weekend. I couldn’t tell if they were being pushed from the sides by raucous Notre Dame Fans or being rocked from within by the well paid players inside. It didn’t matter, however, because both sides were clearly jacked up for this game.
When we first arrived there had been a roped off path for the Trojan players and coaches to walk from their busses to the stadium, but it had run over by rampant fans in the chaos of the Trojans arrival. Led by some Indiana State Police Troopers and Coach Carroll, the SC team emerged from their busses and walked straight through the crowd and into the door into the Stadium.
Once they were inside, my friends and I returned to the dorm where it was just about time for us to participate in our Friday Afternoon football weekend tradition of 40’s at 4:00.
After polishing off our 40s and reaching a proper level of drunkenness, our dorm gathered together in the lobby to march over to the stadium for the Pep Rally. Carrying a large banner that said 27-1 (because the Trojans were coming off a 27 game winning streak) we drunkenly made our way into the stadium where 50,000 people had gathered for the pep rally. Not for the game, but for the PEP RALLY. This was the most euphoric and electric pep rally I will ever see.
More than half the stadium was filled with fans that were situated around a student section that was covering the bleachers between the 30 yard lines. After an endless amount of buildup and anticipation the pep rally began with a Trojan horse coming out of the tunnel and a cast of Notre Dame Celebrities giving speeches to prepare the team. Joe Montana talked about punching the other team in the chin, and Tim Brown and Rudy gave their own speeches. The highlight of the rally, however, came when Corey Mays finished his speech by yelling “Tomorrow, these goalposts are coming down!” Suffice it to say that the pep had been rallied into this crowd and we went back to our dorm hysterically excited for the game that was to come the following afternoon.
But first, we had to drink more.
Realizing that there would be an overabundance of parties on campus that evening, my section decided to buy 1000 beers just so that we could call our Fall of Troy Toga party The Night of 1000 Beers. Being no-tolerance-freshmen-year-Bob at this point, I drank six beers and then it was time to go to bed (yeah, I know). The next day would be one of the best ever, and I was determined to take in everything I could.
At 6:00 the next morning my future best friend Sharky and I left the dorm and walked over to library quad with some blankets wrapped around us for warmth and a handmade sign that we hoped would get us seen on ESPN’s College GameDay show. When we arrived at the quad there were 30 or so other students awaiting the start of taping and we gathered near them at the entrance to the set. A few hours later there were people everywhere and I was standing right behind Herbstreit and Corso being filmed for a shot that would later be shown after a commercial break.
The crowd at the GameDay set was riotous, and we were right there in the thick of it. Thousands of people had descended upon library quad to join in the festivities and when the show began the crowd went wild. Wearing our orange Home Depot promotional construction helmets that the GameDay crew had given the early arriving fans, we yelled and screamed our loudest to show ESPN viewers around the country that THIS was the epicenter of the college football universe.
The show continued as Lou Holtz predicted victory from Bristol, Digger Phelps gave one of his patented pump-up speeches (that I would soon grow to love), and the crowd got even crazier. When the time came for Herbstreit and Corso to make their picks, a huge trash bag was brought to the back of the set that contained the headpieces Corso could choose from. Picks are flying back and forth between them until it was time for the analysts to choose the big game. Herbstreit picked the Irish, and the crowd went wild.
Then, it was flipped back to Corso who, after yapping away for a bit, produced a leprechaun hat from his bag as the crowd erupted. If Lee Corso was going to pick the Irish, we had to have a great shot at winning? Could we even be the favorites in this game?
Not so fast my friends. Corso took off the hat, tossing it to Herbstreit, and within moments he was wearing the Trojan helmet that he had worn so many times before. In an instant the crowd turned on him and proved why it was necessary to have a net behind the GameDay cast. Fans threw everything from beer cans to textbooks at that net as Corso stood behind it singing the Trojan fights song that I have heard far too many times.
With the show over and kickoff less than four hours away, I walked over to the O’Neill Hall concession stand on south quad and helped to distribute brats and hot dogs for an hour or so. From this point I was able to see south quad in all of its glory. Never before had I seen, and never again will I see, as many people on campus as there were that day. It would be impossible to adequately describe the spirit, excitement, and anticipation that was flowing amongst the thousands of people I saw; but if I could bottle it all up, I’m certain that it would light up the universe.
The brat sales did not last long because of the large crowds of people looking for food, and soon after one of my friends had been offered $1,300 for his ticket to the game we ran out of food and set off around campus. I went to meet my dad and brother at Bond Hall where my dad always watched the band play its pregame concerts (this was before we started to get my parents to come out to the tailgating lots). We took in the atmosphere for a little while singing the fight song and the Alma Mater before I left to catch up with my friends.
We followed the band’s parade to the stadium as kickoff approached and found ourselves in a mob of thousands of fans trying to gain entrance. As I handed my ticket to the usher at the gate I had goosebumps running down my arms and that ineffable feeling inside that makes you want to jump out of your skin with erratic displays of ecstasy. Waiting for my friends to get through the gate I jumped up and down in the cavernous insides of Notre Dame Stadium. First small hops then larger ones getting higher and higher until the whole group was ready to ascend the series of ramps it would take to get to our entrance.
GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO IRISH, BEEEEEEEEEEEEAT TROJANS!!!
GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO IRISH, BEEEEEEEEEEEEAT TROJANS!!!
Cheers of screaming fans echoed throughout the stadium underbelly as the thousands made their way to their seats.
GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO IRISH, BEEEEEEEEEEEEAT TROJANS!!!
GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO IRISH, BEEEEEEEEEEEEAT TROJANS!!!
We couldn’t contain our walk any longer and entered a brisk run around the ramps until we made it to our entrance. As I emerged from the shadows into our aisle the stadium was quickly filling. The fans were screaming and the decibel level would only get higher. We hopped down our aisle and took our spots in our 14th row corner seats just as the team was leaving the field after their warm-ups.
GO IRISH GO!!!
The band started playing their cadence as the rest of the students filled in and cheered in unison louder than they had ever cheered before. Cheers became yells, standing became jumping, and that feeling inside that tingles you to the bone overcame me as I stepped down off the bleacher for a moment to compose myself. I looked down at the ground, hit my knees a couple times, and jumped back up onto the bleachers. The stadium was full and the crowd was going wild as the band took everything down a notch with the National Anthem.
The stadium only briefly quieted down as slowly but surely people started to sing along. How many times in high school had I stood at the gutter of a pool bouncing up and down in anticipation while the national anthem was played before a swim meet? How many times had I run off the field (Saxophone in hand) while our high school football team prepared for the start? The planes flew over the stadium and I, along with thousands of fans felt that feeling you have when you know that you are about to compete.
We were NOT there to watch a game that day; we were active participants in the game. No fan entered that stadium to watch, we entered that stadium to compete. As the band left the field the screaming got louder and the fans prepared themselves to do everything that it took to win. We were in the zone.
Just then, there was more noise. Areas on the opposite side of the stadium started yelling even louder. I couldn’t tell what was going on but I could feel that this was directed at something specific. People started pushing, started screaming, and as the team stormed the field the student section erupted. Nobody was on the bleachers anymore as it became one pit of screaming fans pushing and yelling at each other. The stands became a giant mosh pit as our team took the field because today, the team was were wearing GREEN.
These weren’t our dads’ green jerseys either, but the most badass green jerseys this school had ever seen. The team was fired up. The offensive line was going crazy in the corner. The defense was jacked. Brady and the receivers were poised, and Coach Weis was prepared to enter Notre Dame lore. This was the center of the football universe and Notre Dame Nation was going wild. The ball was set, the fans were screaming, the kick was in the air, and the game had begun.
Looking back at it four years later, the game was a blur. The scoring went back and forth, there were defensive stands, a punt return for a score, long passes, painfully disgusting Reggie Bush plays, and everything you could ever want from a Notre Dame Football game. With less than two minutes left in the game, we took a three point lead as Brady Quinn ran it in for the score, and all we had to do is stop their vaunted offense one final time.
The Trojans had the ball with their win streak and season on the line. First down: incomplete. The crowd that was already off the wall got louder. Second down: SACK. The place went crazy. Everybody was yelling, keys were flying, the stadium was shaking, and the world was watching. Third down: yards, but not enough. Fourth down.
I will never again hear anything as loud as loud as that moment.
The stadium erupted. The Irish were one play away from immortality. The crowd was wild, the players were in the zone, Irish eyes were glued to their televisions around the world. Fourth Down with nine yards to go: a down that will infamously live forever in my mind. Anytime I have seen a 4th and 9 situation in any football game since this moment, I cringe in horror. 4th and 9 was the end of a dream.
An image that is forever seared in my memory, DeWayne Jarrett caught the pass and sprinted down the field for what was sure to be a touchdown. Our hearts shattered, silence spread across the stadium as heads dropped down and spirits were crushed. But the thing is, he didn’t score that sure touchdown. Zibby had caught up to him at the goal line and the defense had one final chance at a stop, one final chance to make this day endure in the memories of the faithful for all time.
The stadium erupted again as the Trojans let the clock run down for the final plays of the game. The ball was snapped. . . thousands of fans were screaming. . . the players mobbed each other at the sideline. . . there was a pile. . . fans started yelling at something. . . the student section looked on in silent desperation wondering what had just transpired across the gridiron.
Was it a touchdown?
NO. The clock ticked down to zero, there had been no score and we had triumphed. Jubilant euphoria ecstasy engulfed the stadium as we pushed and ran forward towards the field. I had one leg over the front wall when the students on the field were pushed back. Standing in the front row of Notre Dame Stadium I looked on in horror as the referees put seven seconds back on the clock.
I knew it was over as soon as they put that time on the clock.
After the push, and the Trojan celebration, and the dejected Alma Mater, and my silent walk across campus, I grabbed a trash bag and filled it with my dirty laundry. Fall break was starting and I told my dad ahead of time that if we lost I would want to leave immediately so that I could see some friends who were home on break that weekend. My brother took the trash bag of laundry while I grabbed my suitcase and we walked back to the car in silence as I returned home for the first time as a college student.
By midnight I was back in Northbrook hanging out with the same people I had hung out with for the previous eight years. While they knew what had happened during the game, nobody really talked about it, nobody really cared. In Northbrook, everything was the same as it had always been. For me, however, everything had changed.
I think that moment when they put seven seconds back on the clock was a defining moment for me and my classmates. Two months earlier I arrived at Notre Dame like the rest of the freshmen from around the country and didn’t know anybody. By the time I returned to Northbrook that day, I had experienced something with these people that, as painful as it was, forged a kinship among us.
While those seven seconds created a lifetime of anger and hatred towards the Trojans of Southern California, they also tempered a bond between me and my classmates that will never be broken. This Saturday, for the first real time in four years, that anger will be revisited and those bonds will be reforged.
Four years ago I chose to attend Notre Dame simply because my dad had brought me to some football games when I was young. What those football games (what that football game in particular) brought me as a student were lasting friendships and a sense of belonging. This Saturday, despite the fact that I am currently on the other side of the world, I will rejoin my comrades and cheer as loudly as I can from my apartment in China, because the bonds are stronger than the distance, the anticipation is greater than ever, and the hate will last all time.
Go Irish, Beat Trojans.
Bob Kessler is a 2009 graduate of the University of Notre Dame currently teaching English in Yanji, China. He is the writer of http://www.thingsnotredamestudentslike.com/ and http://www.the17thgrade.com/ and a regular contributor to The Observer. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org