Aug. 20, 2017
By John Heisler
NOTRE DAME, Indiana – Fighting Irish fans got a free-for-the-asking overdose of everything Notre Dame football Sunday at Notre Dame Stadium.
In the first public event held at the redone home of the Irish football squad–and soon-to-be home of Notre Dame departments of anthropology, psychology, music and sacred music departments as well as a wide variety of student affairs facilities in the Duncan Student Center–this marked the first of two “soft” openings (the other is Friday night’s “Flick on the Field” event when “Rudy” will be shown on the stadium video board, also free to the public)
Billed as the “New & Gold Game,” the 90-minute scrimmage was all in the spirit of giving both Brian Kelly’s team as well as all the working parts of the stadium operation an initial dry run before Temple comes to town in two weeks.
By 2 p.m. there was music in the Notre Dame Stadium bowl and animation videos on the board on a partly cloudy, 86-degree afternoon in South Bend.
Fans filtered into seats, with most of the early arrivals grabbing the brand-new, blue, theatre-style seats closest to the field on either side.
Taped video of Irish players entering their new locker room made the board.
There were long lines of fans for tours of all the new premium seating areas.
There was a retro Knute Rockne locker room speech — the same one whose words are on the wall just outside the entrance to that new locker room.
By 2:30 p.m. a smaller-than-normal Notre Dame band (the full band actually will be chosen Monday) had found seats in the lower northwest corner of the stadium.
One new–and maybe initially unnoticed–touch? There are now railings all the way down the middle of the aisles in the lower bowl seating areas.
The video board featured all sorts of items–from the scholarship presentation to (now former walk-on) Austin Webster to the new locker room reveal a week ago. There were 49 separate items on the official video board rundown before the start of the scrimmage. It was a mixture of preproduced elements and live shots from the field and other locales around the stadium.
Even the new ribbon boards on the facing of the east and west upper seating decks featured some of the Art Deco 1930s era type faces found throughout the stadium concourses.
It’s a much cleaner (and safer) look on the sidelines with both team bands now situated in stadium seats and no more field bleachers.
The flagpole that stood forever in the northeast corner of the field? It’s now in the southeast corner–both to match up better with the video board for the national anthem and also to give the visiting team unfettered access out of its new entrance to the field in that northeast corner.
Fans had a chance to see hints of what pregame coverage will involve when the video board showed the players headed down the stairs and hitting the Play Like A Champion Today sign on their way to the tunnel and the field.
Strains of Cathy Richardson singing “Here Come the Irish” and Dropkick Murphy provided familiar sounds to the moments prior to kickoff.
Yet, as the scoreboard said, “This is a new time in Notre Dame football.”
Brandon Wimbush (in a red jersey) threw a swing pass left to Tony Jones Jr. on the first play, as the Irish offense worked without a huddle. Josh Adams’ eight-yard run on second down produced the initial first down of the afternoon. Equanimeous St. Brown made three catches on that initial scoring drive that ended in a one-yard Adams run.
With 12 seconds to go in the first half juniorDexter Williams hauled in an Ian Book throw for the second-team offense to tie the score. Freshman Avery Davis ended the scoring in the final two minutes with a TD throw to sophomore Javon McKinley.
Unofficially, Wimbush finished 14 of 18 passing for 168, showing a nice knack for putting the ball where it was supposed to go.
Jack Nolan of Fighting Irish Media did an interview with head coach Brian Kelly that ran live on the big board–and he did the same postgame with Wimbush.
Even the new Notre Dame postgame media room, flipped to the east side at the top of the tunnel–and with windows providing a look toward the tunnel–had its baptism.
Kelly took care of some business after the event, naming Adams a team captain, noting that Bill Rees (father of quarterback coach Tommy) will join the staff as director of scouting, special teams coach Brian Polian also becomes recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Mike Elston takes on the title of assistant head coach.
“There’s nothing negative about today,” Kelly told his team after the scrimmage.
“We got to do everything we’re going to do in terms of our game day routine. We’ve got some things to clean up and we need to do a better job of locking in. Know what to do on every single snap. We all got a rehearsal and we’re going to be better for it. And you had to push through the heat out there, so there are only positives from today. We got better as a football team, so that’s a great day.
“There are a ton of things we have to get better at, but we all know that. That’s why we’re here. We’re going to teach it every single day. But from the big picture, we got everything we wanted accomplished today.”
Kelly added to the media: “This clearly whetted their appetite (for the season) and they’re anxious, but they know they’ve got some more work to do.”
At times it was tough to judge the quarterback play because plays were blown dead any time a defender came near a red-jerseyed quarterback. But, in the case of Wimbush, Kelly suggested that live game circumstances mean the Irish offense will look “even more dynamic.”
Even the students had a chance to practice singing the alma mater as Irish players gathered Sunday in front of their northwest corner sections after the action on the field.
And, once again, just for practice, Webster led the team in the locker room in the postgame singing of the Notre Dame Victory March.
With seven home-field opportunities ahead in 2017, Kelly, Webster and the rest of the Irish hope that’s a regular occurrence in that new locker room beginning the night of Sept. 2.
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler covers the Irish football scene on a regular basis for Fighting Irish Media.
— ND —