I've made the trip to South Bend, Ind., for football games on two different occasions.
The Notre Dame student section leaves it all in the bleachers.
The first involved the first "game of the century" I've witnessed in person: Florida State-Notre Dame in 1993. The game was great, but the courtside seats for the Pacers and Knicks at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis the night before might have been even better.
This was in the Reggie Miller vs. Spike Lee era of Pacers-Knicks, too. John Starks got ejected that night. It was everything you could ask for from the NBA in those days.
The second trip also involved the Seminoles and Irish as I served as the lone second-timer in a foursome of college football enthusiasts looking for something to do during an Alabama open week in 2003. Florida State hammered Notre Dame in that one, leaving us to explore the campus and its surroundings for much of the second half.
Which leads me to the three things I remember most about those trips. A gold, silver and bronze medal rundown of Notre Dame gameday, if you will.
Gold: Alabama has the Paul Bryant Museum. Notre Dame has the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Like the Bryant Museum, denomination matters not when contemplating a visit to the Basilica. Go there if you are ever afforded the opportunity. Attended mass there postgame in 2003. The Irish reportedly attended pregame. It didn't help as the Seminoles rolled, 37-0.
Silver: Difficult to not like a campus that has a sports bar just steps away from the football stadium. Enter Legends of Notre Dame , a place we hit up in the third quarter of the 2003 trip after it became evident that the Irish didn't have any legends on the field. Look, the place isn't going to win a James Beard Award anytime soon, but it does offer decent pub fare and (of course) Guinness on tap.
Bronze: If asked to provide a comparison of the in-stadium experience at a Notre Dame game to another sporting event, I'd probably go with Premier League soccer in England. Lots of chanting and synchronized cheering from the student section. For those who went to State College last season, the atmosphere at Penn State was very similar to what I experienced at Notre Dame. The student body at each school gets it. They show up early and stay late.
*The SEC makes its 2012-2013 bowl season debut today, with LSU taking on Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and Vanderbilt going against North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl. Sans the BCS National Championship Game, here are my SEC picks for the postseason.
Vandy (-7.5) vs. North Carolina State, Music City, today, 11 a.m. CT, ESPN: The Commodores are playing at home and, unlike the Wolfpack, aren't going through coaching transition. Vandy wins, but not by the number. VU 23, NC State 17.
LSU (-5.5) vs. Clemson, Chick-fil-A, today, 6:30 p.m. CT, ESPN: Physically, LSU is clearly the better team. The only question is, did a single member of the LSU travel party make curfew last night? LSU 27, Clemson 20.
Mississippi State (+1) vs. Northwestern, Gator, Jan. 1, 11 a.m. CT, ESPN2: State has better players, but Pat Fitzgerald is the real deal. Northwestern 24, State 21.
South Carolina (-5.5) vs. Michigan, Outback, Jan. 1, noon CT, ESPN: On paper, nice matchup between USC defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan. On grass, Clowney and the Gamecocks will be better. USC 27, Michigan 17.
Georgia (-9) vs. Nebraska, Capital One, Jan. 1, noon CT, ABC: The Bulldogs beat Ohio State in the 1993 Capital One, just hours before Alabama knocked off Miami to win the 1992 national title. Perhaps a good omen for the Crimson Tide? Georgia 34, Nebraska 24.
Florida (-14) vs. Louisville, Sugar, Jan. 2, 7:30 p.m. CT, ESPN: Cards will play inspired football, which will be enough to keep them in the game for most of the night. UF 27, Louisville 16.
Texas A&M (-3) vs. Oklahoma, Cotton, Jan. 4, 7 p.m. CT, FOX: OU coach Bob Stoops has an 11-2 record in games against A&M but his old assistant, Kevin Sumlin, will get the win in Arlington. A&M 31, OU 27.
Ole Miss (-3.5) vs. Pittsburgh, Compass BBVA, Jan. 5, noon CT, ESPN: Rebels get convincing bowl win, ratcheting up expectations for 2013 in the process. Ole Miss 33, Pitt 17.
*New Year's resolution: Get outside more.