One of the more unique aspects of Notre Dame being an independent football program comes courtesy of its schedule. The Irish football team stretches to every corner of the United States like no other, and this season’s schedule is the perfect example. By the end of the 2012 calendar Notre Dame will have played four schools in the ACC, three in the Big Ten, two in the Pac-12, one each in the Big 12 and Big East, as well as fellow independent, BYU. That’s a whole lotta barnstormin’.
With such a diverse schedule, the Irish arguably have a better opportunity to witness opposing fan bases than any other, which begs the question: which opposing fan bases are the very best? It’s a difficult question to tackle and there are many different ways it can be answered. A good way would be to create a formula with several different elements, each ground into a mix that churns out a rating, with the highest scores being the winners. But surely an even better way would be applying my own subjective experiences and then applying them broadly as truth. So subjectivity and generalizations it is, then. Here are the Top 5 opposing fan bases.
This may seem an odd choice considering Notre Dame and the UCLA Bruins have met only four times, but their fans were the definition of memorable. I had an opportunity to get a glimpse of the Bruins and their followers in Notre Dame’s last second, come-from-behind victory in 2006. Their fans gave off a friendly, frat-like quality that brought a lot of amusement and youth.’
One scene that stood out involved two Bruins fans walking toward Notre Dame Stadium holding open canisters of beer. When a member of Notre Dame’s security staff informed them they were not allowed to do so, it appeared there would be trouble when one of the UCLA clan pointed his finger toward the security official.
“I have never given up a beer that I’ve yet to finish, not for anyone. But I want you to know something,” he said, surrendering the beer over to the official, “I’m doing this only because I know you hate USC as much as I do, and anyone who dislikes USC is a good guy.”
Everyone got a good laugh out of it, and UCLA fans provided nothing but class and entertainment.
The University of Michigan possesses an almost ambidextrous-like quality due to the fact they are, in my opinion, undisputedly the worst fan base in America, yet they also make the list as one of the best. My dealings with Michigan fans have involved obnoxious and overtly rude individuals, but their passion for their team, matched with their tradition and history, makes them list worthy.
I attended the 2004 Michigan-Notre Dame game with my father, and as we walked around campus we ran across a group of Michigan fans who appeared lost. In an attempt to be good
hosts, we offered to help them find whatever they were looking for on campus. We told them how to get to the stadium, where the closest restrooms were located, even explained where they could scrounge up a good bite to eat. They nodded with understanding, and as we began to walk away, one of members of the group called to us.
“Hey,” he shouted. “Rudy sucks!” He and his friends ran off laughing and high-fiving one another while my father and I stood silent in surprise. Such has been my typical experience with Michigan fans. At the end of the day we had the last laugh, as Notre Dame topped the #8 Wolverines that day 28-20.
Many ND fans in California have argued the Trojans’ fan base is the worst of those the Irish play, but those USC fans must not be the ones who make the trip to South Bend. Outside of USC possessing the only supporters I have ever witnessed arrive at Notre Dame Stadium in stretch limousines, the USC faithful have never been problematic in any games I have attended.
I was there for the 2005 “Bush push” match, and USC fans were very respectful. In fact, most wandered ND’s campus admiring the changing colors on the trees and snapping pictures of the grotto, even removing their baseball caps upon gracing its presence.
Like UCLA, BYU would appear to be another unlikely selection. It’s a worthy choice, however. I was in attendance for the BYU game this past Saturday and the BYU fans did not disappoint. You were hard-pressed to not see scores of blue all over campus, and their fan base was extraordinarily loud inside Notre Dame Stadium. Best of all, they were arguably one of the friendliest fan bases I have experienced. BYU supporters shook hands after the game, and one fan even apologized to Irish fans around her for cheering when the Cougars tied up the scoreboard, an unnecessary but kind gesture.
Out of the many opposing fan bases I have encountered, none can match the Tennessee Volunteers. Watching an entire convoy of cars and trucks descend upon South Bend – each with orange and white Tennessee flags amassing on the horizon – was one of the most impressive sights I have ever witnessed. It was just the beginning. Everywhere you turned Notre Dame and Tennessee fans were tailgating together, laughing, sharing stories and even playing pick-up games of football. Volunteer fans were charmed by ND’s hospitality while the Irish faithful were regaled by Tennessee tales from the road about SEC cruelness to visiting fans.
The most memorable moment of the game came courtesy of a Vols fan sitting directly in front of my father and me as Notre Dame possessed a 4th quarter lead of 41-21. As then-coach Phillip Fulmer ran the ball despite the score, the Volunteer fan yelled sarcastically, his Southern drawl in full potency, “Thatta boy, Phil. Run the draw.”
The Tennessee fan turned to us, smiled and said, “We figure we’ll drain the clock for ya’ll so ya’ll don’t have to do the heavy liftin’ yourselves.” It remains one of my favorite comments from an opposing fan base.
If you ever get a chance, chat with a Volunteer. You’ll hear some great stories.