Five Foot Nothing: Life and Death in the Student Section

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In the press box, we typically need around 10 student workers per game to keep things running smoothly. You can imagine that for games like Oklahoma and USC, it’s hard to find volunteers. Why would a student leave the atmosphere of the student section to sit in the press box, which has a strict no cheering (or swearing or angrily ranting) policy? So sometimes, we have to kindly tell them rather than ask them that they’ll be working.

One such freshman was working his first game yesterday. I happen to know him fairly well because I’m good friends with his older sister, who graduated with me, and she has told me stories of this kid that involve him getting up in the wee hours of the morning on Notre Dame football Saturdays and waiting eagerly for game time as a five-year-old. His mom would make him shamrock pancakes and he would sit on the couch, patiently waiting for his team to take the field.

The press box, I knew, would be difficult for him.

I snuck a peek at him in the first quarter, and he was shifting restlessly in his seat. My friend and coworker Andrew Bartolini went to check on him in the third quarter, and apparently he asked (with a hint of desperation in his voice), “What do you think?”

When Andrew shrugged, this freshman said, “I hate you for not caring.”

It’s not that Andrew doesn’t care. It’s not that the people in the press box don’t care. It’s that we’re old and beaten and cynical. We’ve learned to smother disappointment when we have to face reality. We’ve trained ourselves to not take losses as hard.

Sometimes it takes a freshman to remind you that you shouldn’t approach Notre Dame football that way. He couldn’t bear to be away from the student section, where Notre Dame football is life and death, happiness and depression, love and hate.

That’s what the student section is there for.

Aside from the fact that they didn’t know the new post-game policy, I’ve never been prouder of the student body (ever) than when they called over the football team to sing the alma mater after our loss. That’s MY student body. A group of kids who care desperately about football but also understand that our football team is part of them, and weather both wins and losses together.

Win or lose, I love Notre Dame football. I love what it’s about. I love how strongly a freshman can feel that community only five weeks into being a student. That’s why alumni don’t graduate and fade away. There’s something to come back for.

This content can also be found on Notre Dame’s official football blog, Strong and True.

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2 thoughts on “Five Foot Nothing: Life and Death in the Student Section

  1. Thanks for the great post. As a longtime “subway” alum I’ve come to appreciate and enjoy the enthusiasm and passion demonstrated by the student body. I’ve been making the trip annually to ND going on 15 yrs now and always enjoy the experience just a little more when we’re seated at the “home end” of the stadium – splitting my attention between the game, the band and of course, the student section.

    For me, part of the experience has also been tied to watching the various dorms pouring into (various) venues for the Friday night pep rally. I was surprised, and frankly embarrassed to see only a handle of students attending this past Friday. I had talked up the experience to my wife (who would have rather gone to dinner) and instead found myself explaining – “See that big empty section – that’s usually students waving flags and chanting…”

    I’m wondering what happened? Is it a function of the gradual watering down of the pep-rally or that the students would simply rather be somewhere else? It certainly felt empty as players and coached saluted the empty seats that held the “greatest student body in the world.”

    • I absolutely understand your frustration with student attendance at pep rallies. I think part of the problem may (although I am certainly no authority) be that less goes into them now. Last year there were some truly powerful speeches revolving around Manti and our senior leaders, but this year–and other recent years–have been a little lacking. For whatever reason, there seems to be less of a focus on both sides of the coin.

      I don’t think it means that the students care less about football or their team. I think they care as much as ever.

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