It’s a few minutes after 7 o’clock and the snow, which has been swirling around Notre Dame Stadium all day, is at last beginning to accumulate on the field. The stadium lights bounce off the falling snow, creating a warm glow that hovers over the scene below. The Notre Dame marching band, cloaked in long, navy robes, stands proudly on the field in the midst of its final rendition of the “Notre Dame Victory March.”
Twenty minutes ago Notre Dame Quarterback Tommy Rees took a knee to put the finishing touches on the Irish’s 23-13 victory over BYU. This time a year ago, the undefeated Irish and their linebacker sensation Manti Teo were the center of the college football world. But this season, a pair of September losses to Michigan and Oklahoma and a disappointing trip-up at Pitt have confirmed what every Notre Dame Fan has known since the season began: “not last year.”
At this point, the television cameras have been packed away. The attention of the college football world has moved elsewhere – on to Stillwater, Oklahoma or Oxford, Mississippi where the “games of the week” are about to kickoff. Most of the Notre Dame crowd has made their way to the exits as well, intent on finding a hot meal and place to thaw their hands and feet.
One section of the stadium remains. As packed as it was for the opening kick, the student section dedicated to seniors is alive with excitement.
One of the lesser-known traditions in a school known for rituals allows Notre Dame seniors to go onto the field following the team’s final home game. After nearly four hours of cheering and many more hours of tailgating in temperatures that dipped into the low-teens, the class of 2014 is ready for their run at history. Perched one section above the seniors, fighting the urge to retreat to the closest warmth I can find, I watch as the students relish their moment. Songs ring out. Hugs are given. The occasional snowball is tossed towards the sky. Groups of friends who have become like family gather to take pictures that are sure to adorn offices and mantelpieces for decades to come.