Sept. 12, 2014
By Todd Burlage
The clear indication as to the potential future success of the Shamrock Series arrived for University of Notre Dame associate vice president for campus safety and director of game day operations Mike Seamon and the rest of the Notre Dame administrators during a couple of snapshot moments at the inaugural event in San Antonio, Texas, in October of 2009.
Affectionately calling the tens of thousands Irish supporters at the San Antonio weekend “pioneers,” Seamon, an important member of the Shamrock Series organizational team, says nobody knew what to expect from that maiden voyage.
That all changed when a huge overflow of Irish fans appeared at both the pep rally in front of the historic Alamo building and for the gameday mass at San Fernando Cathedral.
More than 10,000 Irish fans stuffed the courtyard for the pep rally and about 500 Notre Dame faithful spilled outside the cathedral doors once the church filled for mass, waiting for communion, praying and taking part in the service from the outside looking in.
For Seamon and everybody involved in organizing this now-annual celebration, those two moments gave an accurate indication that, perhaps, this innovative idea of taking the Notre Dame show on the road might wildly exceed expectations.
“I think the people in San Antonio were expecting kind of a mini bowl game experience, but they didn’t know what that was,” Seamon said.
“What we found as soon as the game ended Saturday night, and then Sunday morning in the airports and all over, everyone was raving about it. They wanted to know what was next.”
And so, a star is born.
“I think people were skeptical because they had nothing to compare it to,” Seamon said, who has helped organize all six Shamrock Series weekends. “Now, it is one of the things that sets us apart from other major college football programs and other institutions. And I think it is just getting stronger every time.”
Fast forward five years, and this weekend in Indianapolis provides even more validation that the Shamrock Series is here to stay, even with the initial uncertainty on whether the event would be popular enough to sustain itself for an extended period of time.
“It continues to really outperform expectations,” Notre Dame vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick said. “The reaction to it has been so good and the things we are achieving are so positive that, yeah, it has done more than I thought it would.”
From the San Antonio weekend five years ago deep in the heart of Texas, to weekends in New York City and Washington, D.C., on the Eastern Seaboard, to Chicago and now Indianapolis closer to home, the Shamrock Series continues to gain more popularity with each stop.
Alumni, classmates, regulars, first-timers, locals, out-of-towners, and even the curious, come from all locations and walks of life to share in the entire Notre Dame experience, not just a three-hour sporting event, and that is what makes this weekend truly special.
“We get a lot of repeat customers,” Seamon said. “It’s really a unique situation and it really shows why Notre Dame is so special, because I would argue few institutions, if any, could pull this off. It has taken on a life of its own.”
And the secret to event success runs deeper than the Notre Dame football game tonight against Purdue or any other game on this annual tour. In many respects, football mainly serves as a final salute to the cities and people that make the entire Shamrock Series weekend so memorable and wonderful for so many.
“Each year we have gained more and more people to come out,” Seamon said. “This is the one away game they go to every year, they mark it on their calendars. This is their annual away game no matter who the opponent is or what time of year it falls on the schedule.”
The Shamrock Series is built on five core principles the University holds dearly; five ideals designed to make this weekend in Indianapolis a full celebration of Notre Dame and its place in the host city.
* Notre Dame Academics — Be it through an educational forum, discussion panel or a presentation to showcase the University’s involvement in the area, the educational aspect of the weekend is an important element to this annual event. Three such academic functions — Democracy in HD: An Online Journey Across Time and Space; Bringing Big Data to Healthcare: Making a Social Impact; and Let’s Have a Moment of Science at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, are part of this weekend events in Indianapolis.
* The Catholic Faith — The annual mass on game mornings always includes much of the Notre Dame and local clergy and has become an integral part of the Shamrock Series weekend. The Indianapolis service will be held at the Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church and will be presided over by Archbishop of Indianapolis Most Reverend Joseph Tobin, C.Ss.R., with Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., serving as the homilist.
* University Athletics — The football game, of course, always highlights the weekend list of athletic activities. The stop this year also will feature the first-ever Shamrock Series 5K Run that will start at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and will wind through the streets of downtown Indianapolis.
* Community Service — This project allows Notre Dame to give back as a sign of goodwill and appreciation to the host city. Through landscaping, construction, the installation of safety features and general cleanup, Notre Dame alumni and friends will spend Friday afternoon restoring Providence Cristo Rey High School, the Hawthorne Community Center, and Hearts and Hands of Indianapolis in a low-income neighborhood of near westside Indianapolis.
* The Notre Dame Family — This ideal encompasses everything from the University pep rally and tailgate parties to dinners and alumni gatherings in the area. Many of the weekend Shamrock Series events are designed to bring Notre Dame family and friends together for a chance to gather and celebrate the University they love. The interactive Notre Dame Game Day Experience as well as the Drummers’ Circle and live band performances enhance the weekend lineup in a family friendly environment.
“The Shamrock Series is very much a celebration of the University in the broadest sense,” Swarbrick said. “In that regard, the University sort of goes to the city, all of Notre Dame goes, so you have a presence and an engagement. The ability for so many elements of the University to find a way to use it as a benefit in the area really has been rewarding.”
And every person and party involved at the University level emphasizes that without the help of local alumni and community associations such as the Indianapolis Sports Corporation, the Shamrock Series wouldn’t be possible.
“It’s those folks who we partner with locally who are the multiplier factor and help us put together a really unique weekend,” Seamon said.
Location, logistics and logic are just three reasons both Swarbrick and Seamon give as to why this year’s destination, Indianapolis, is the perfect Shamrock Series stop.
Through a Super Bowl, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, the Big 10 Conference Football Championship Game and the Big 10 Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament, Indianapolis has the infrastructure, popularity and experience as a regular host for big-time sporting events. Add the obvious logistical and locational advantages of staying in-state — not to mention the convenience of keeping almost all of the weekend events downtown — and Seamon says Indianapolis is the perfect fit.
“All of this has come together for us and makes this a very unique opportunity to go downstate; being in our state capital is very important to us,” Seamon said. “It really sets up well for us. We feel like we can build some positive energy and synergy with everyone being together and being in close proximity.”
But, of course, like any great annual event, there’s little time to savor success. Seamon already is focused on next year’s Shamrock Series stop in Boston that will include a football game at venerable Fenway Park against Boston College.
Almost immediately after the weekend in Indianapolis is complete, Seamon will turn his attention to coordinating events in and around Boston with some preliminary prep for the 2016 Shamrock Series return to San Antonio that will include a game against Army at the Alamodome.
“The University is really investing in this. We’re always working at least a year out. We have to,” Seamon said. “It’s a traveling road show. It’s a traveling home game. I think it is one of the more spectacular events in college athletics.”