I swear it was a scene out of a movie.
South Bend, Ind. Population 108,000.
Getting off the freeway in South Bend, you enter this fantasy world where everything revolves around college football.
Now, I knew Notre Dame was supposed to be one of the best places to visit in college football and, by all accounts, a true sight to see — even a mecca for the sport, if you will.
But this? I could’ve never imagined it.
A short 90-minute drive from Downtown Chicago takes you across a time zone and into another world. You take the Interstate 90 from Downtown, paying about seven bucks in tolls along the way, and suddenly, just off Exit 77, you encounter a line of cars stretching to — you later find out — Notre Dame Stadium.
I’m pretty sure every car I saw had some type of Notre Dame insignia on it.
And in the midst of that line-of-all-lines, you slowly drive through a couple streets, some with suburban houses bordering them on each side. There’s another college, a high school. They look nice.
You’re at least a mile and a half away from the field, but scores of people stroll the sidewalks on each end.
And the trees. The trees look like they were Photoshopped to be perfect colors — blends of orange, red and brown sticking out in my mind.
You know that Brett Favre commercial for Wrangler that seems totally unrealistic, where they play in a huge grass field and look all happy? Take out Favre and substitute another Notre Dame fan, and I witnessed it. People toss the football around in almost every driveway or yard.
Then there’s the stadium.
Touchdown Jesus is certainly a sight to see, and the Golden Dome is beautiful. But the biggest thing to me was the manner in which I — a visitor — was treated on the Notre Dame campus.
I’ve never felt more welcomed in my life.
I must have heard the words “Welcome to Notre Dame,” at least 30 times from ushers and elevator staff to random old guys on the sideline and the woman serving the broccoli and cheddar soup — when I asked her if I should pick the cheesy concoction or the “Texas Chili,” she told me the soup was so good it would make me want to slap my mom.
So there’s a rivalry between USC and Notre Dame, but, as I discovered firsthand this weekend, it’s not the same rivalry we’ve grown accustomed to. There’s true mutual respect between the two teams.
USC has a rivalry with UCLA. I’d say Cal, too. We don’t like them and they don’t like us.
It’s different with the Fighting Irish.
There was one key moment that demonstrated this to me.
I spent the majority of the game standing on the Notre Dame sideline, around the 20-yard line. There were four or five guys around me that seemed to be huge Irish fans, truly devastated when McKnight ran the ball in to make the score 34-14 in the beginning of the fourth quarter. But even as their spirit seemed to die out, they kept watching.
And then, as you know, the Irish made a dramatic late-game comeback. With nine seconds left, it almost looked like they could win.
The guys were excited, of course, albeit nervous. During the review of the would-be final play of the game, they were confident that they would get another chance.
They did, of course. And I’m sure that those guys thought Notre Dame would pull it out, beat USC for the first time in eight years, and get to celebrate.
But the telling thing was what happened when junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen’s throw fell incomplete and the Trojans rushed the field, celebrating victory.
The guys clapped.
Even in a time of pure devastation, they supported their school with pride and class.
Now, certain things in life are hyped up to be a lot more meaningful than they actually are.
But there are a few that exceed the hype, those select few events that surpass your own already-inflated expectations.
And South Bend was definitely one of the latter.
Color me impressed, Golden Domers.
“Looking Past the X’s & O’s” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Pedro at firstname.lastname@example.org.