When it was announced that the most recent neutral site game for the Irish would be played at Soldier Field in Chicago, I had mixed emotions. While I love Chicago and Soldier Field, I love the idea of the Irish taking on the Miami Hurricanes at home in South Bend a bit more. I understand the University plays these neutral site games to garner more exposure for its football program, but there is nothing like a Saturday game day in South Bend. Setting my personal feelings aside, we jumped in the car and made the 8 hour trek to the windy city.
As we arrived in Chicago you could feel the electricity in the city as the roads were jammed with vehicles that donned their love for the Irish. The Notre Dame fight song was blaring out of car windows and we had plenty of time to enjoy it as the traffic was at a stand-still as we approached Soldier Field. We were lucky enough to park in the North parking garage that is attached to Soldier, so the walk up to the stadium and pre-game tailgating was an easy one. Once we exited the car we had the pleasure of running into and talking with Irish Analyst Jeff Jeffers and had a few minutes to take in some of his insight to the game. After our conversation with Mr. Jeffers, we decided to make our way over to Waldron parking lot to enjoy tailgating festivities and soak in the atmosphere, and there was plenty of it. People from all over the country were there, and to our surprise a rather large contingency of Hurricane fans.
Once we had consumed some incredible food, interesting beverages and enjoyed some great conversations with fans of both teams, it was time to enter the battleground that would soon be host to the bitter rivalry affectionately referred to as “Catholics vs Convicts”. As we approached our seats we noticed something was not quite right, as we would soon discover our tickets were right in the middle of the Miami section in the 2nd deck. It was as if a bunch of orange paintballs had exploded all around us and to make things worse, this paint could talk. I should also point out that even though we were seated in the 2nd level, the sightlines were just awesome, and it was hard to imagine that was a bad seat in the house.
The Hurricane fan base was a lively but friendly group as we enjoyed exchanging verbal jabs early on, and exchanged thoughts about each other’s program and shared a mutual respect for each fanbase. Being lucky enough to attend the 1988 and 1990 games vs Miami in South Bend, I was expecting the worst. After spending an hour getting to know the Hurricane fans around me, I was truly pleasantly surprised by the amount of fun we had. Of course once the score was in heavy favor of the Irish, a large majority of the Cane fans decided an early exit of Soldier Field would be their best option. One might assume it was the thrashing their beloved team was taking on the field, I on the other hand think it had something to do with the frigid temperatures and ice cold breeze flowing in off the lake. If your team is winning big it can be easy to overcome these conditions, but as all Miami fans found out, the joy victory would not be assisting them this evening.
The good people of Chicago and Soldier Field did all they could to create an atmosphere to make fans feel like they were attending a special game, and for the most part they accomplished this goal. From the pre-game fireworks, to the Shamrock series uniforms, to the special guest stars that attended the game and were shown on the video board, this game did feel like it was different and special. As we finished watching the Irish absolutely dominate the Hurricanes in every aspect of the game, it was time to make our way out of Soldier and back to our car. As we sat in traffic and reflected on the game and the day’s festivities, we found ourselves completely satisfied. While the 2012 version of Catholics vs Convicts may not have had the same hype and build up as the series did in the late 80’s, it didn’t mean that this iteration wouldn’t be a fond memory for years to come.