Tailgating in South Bend, Indiana


A Notre Dame student for the weekend

This past weekend, I played tourist in my backyard. A born and bred South Bender, I grew up at Notre Dame tailgates. My friends and I spent most Saturdays wandering for miles through ND’s luscious campus and playing cornhole. I was never very good at cornhole and the weather was always too hot or too cold, but I rarely missed it.

Most of my friends from high school go to college at Notre Dame or Purdue and get together for a game every fall, and this year I decided to join them. I had a little further to travel, but we were finally all 21, I hadn’t been to a tailgate in years, and screw it, we’re seniors! So I went and brought my roommate to see our common South Bend friends.

On Friday, after a plane, a couple of trains and a really excellent burger in Chicago, we made it to South Bend. My friend picked us up and drove us to another friend’s house party. My time as a tourist began.

The house party looked like a condo party; there was beer, shots of something, cup pong and a loving puppy named Koda.

Soon, people began to trickle toward the bars, and it was just me, my roommate and our six closest high school friends. This 20 minute period was the highlight of my night; there’s nothing quite like playing flip cup, and failing miserably, with people who make you laugh and love you just the same whether you can chug beer efficiently or not at all.

We moved on to another house party and found ourselves at the Notre Dame Glee Club party. This club, in case you were not aware, is an internationally recognized men’s choir and my friend is the tallest of the members.

We walked onto the back porch to find the people and beer. The people were not feeling friendly. We had decided to leave when suddenly two dozen young men gathered on the porch steps (blocking our only exit) and began to sing. This felt more familiar. This was like Friday Nights on steroids. My South Bend friends didn’t quite appreciate the masculine voices regaling us with Irish folk songs, but my roommate and I shared a knowing smile and thought of all the UD students who would gladly eat cold cafe eggs to be at that party.

We were in bed by 2 a.m. We had to rest up for the main event.

Saturday started with a quick trip to the liquor store (sponsored by my dad), a stop for breakfast and then we were off to see the Irish.

It is difficult to describe the sheer volume of humans present at the ND tailgates, especially for a game as exciting as ND vs OSU. Imagine the sweaty, slurring sardines of TGIT, throw in a couple hundred tents, flags, trucks, the slightly nauseating smell of hot dogs and beer in the sun, more green clothing than Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day with a couple of red shirts dotted like freckles across the crowd and you have a decent idea of what five square miles of Notre Dame campus looked like by 3 p.m.

I had a great time; I saw my closest, oldest friends, ate free food and won seltzers in a lasso contest. But what about the others? Who were all these strangers, these old men with canes, families with strollers and college boys without shirts? What was the power of 100 young men in bright green and gold uniforms that brought them all here? What brought me across the country to stand squinting in the sun and not even enter the stadium?

For me, it was about the company. I have no doubt that my high school friends, some of the people I love most, will be in my life until I drop dead. I miss them. The ND vs OSU game was the perfect opportunity to see them; everyone was driving in from Purdue or Milwaukee or Grand Rapids. Who knows where we’ll all be a year from now? It was like a high school reunion without the agonizing embarrassment of being a high school reunion and with the added bonus of that delicious anonymity found in the middle of 90,000 faces.

I don’t know what brought everyone else there. Maybe it was something similar, a desire to see those friends that only showed up for the Big Game, or nostalgia for their time spent in the shouting student section, or maybe they actually cared about the game. My heart goes out to those in the latter group. The game was a beautiful, neck-to-neck all-out war that the Irish lost in literally the last second. A devastating end to a lovely weekend.


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