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A trip to the ‘House that George Steinbrenner Built’

CREDIT: clashmoremike.com

PETER O’CONNOR
Guest Columnist
opinion@lbknews.com

I had the chance to attend what I think was a memorable occasion in New York last Saturday night. Yes, it was cold on that November evening. The occasion was the meeting of Notre Dame and Army in a renewal of their storied rivalry. These two teams, of which real sports journalists have written legends over the years, met again this year in Gotham.

I am but a casual reporter, if a serious observer of the football scene. The location was the new Yankee Stadium, which now occupies a site adjacent to the old “House that Ruth Built.” Indeed the new edifice might be called the ‘House that George Steinbrenner Built.’ I was impressed. I should have been, as this is my old stomping ground; my high school was, and still is, a few blocks from the stadium.

The first grand impression was made in traveling to that site along New York’s Harlem River in the borough of The Bronx. We were able to avoid the evening traffic by taking the train to the game. This service terminates at a new dedicated station within the site, actually within the old site. Fans arrive just a short walk from their seats. We rode from Brewster, N.Y.; other trains came from stations throughout suburban New York and Connecticut. After the game the throng reverses course back to the station for their trip home. No bar cars on these trains—it’s not an English soccer crowd. This is the civilized way to travel. This native was more impressed. Again I’m convinced that there are smart folks in government.

I learn that Notre Dame and Army were a staple attraction at the old stadium—the two played there 22 times from 1925 to 1969. The Irish traveled there in early days by train from South Bend, Ind., and their “House that Rockne Built.” I remember making that trip in, I think, 1957. ND won by a field goal. The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 22, 2010) reported that cadets sat last Saturday in seats usually occupied by CEOs who like to leave in the seventh inning. Cadets don’t leave before the final play is played and the two hallowed alma maters sung. I always like to see some of our finest who still wear the cadet grey. As in the old ballad, many of these lads and lassies will soon put aside that cadet grey and don the Army blue.

It seems that there is a revival of sorts in college teams playing again in some of our fine urban stadia. That’s great. Illinois and Northwestern played in Wrigley Field in Chicago last weekend. Except for the ticket prices, I suspect that it is a good thing to bring great college teams to play before city kids again. Many of us were city kids, eh?

I said the new Yankee Stadium impressed me. I’ve spent some of my career in the building of massive projects. I learned that massive is OK; it is more important that a project be good. This one looks good. The façade is massive; it mimics its predecessor’s dominant presence. The lighting outside is better now—you can’t miss it.

Inside, one is met by a huge entrance hall; they used to call them rotunda. Giant TV screens are everywhere, even at the concession stands, so you shouldn’t miss a play while waiting for your Nathan’s hot dog. Escalators (motor stairs to the purists) whisk you up to your level. I noticed many elevators too, again huge, for the less-able fans. Seating is comfortable; where else in college football do they actually have seats not boards? Even the heads are bigger and more numerous—even heated.

The site lines to the field were far better than I had expected. Admittedly the gridiron is placed askew in this baseball venue, but I saw every play. The lighting inside is also grand. The sound system is fabulous. When the Army Glee Club sang (“The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) accompanied by the Notre Dame marching band, there were few dry eyes in the place and you could hear every note. A really giant TV screen dominates the playing field; you can’t miss a replay. The scoreboard is the best I’ve seen. In a word, this was a great night in a great new facility. New Yorkers will be proud. Gotham needed this. I note that great men and women can do great things when inspired. The billion-dollar budget didn’t hurt either.

Oh, the game was great too. I love my comrades from West Point, but there is a limit to my enthusiasm. The bigger guys from ND, led by a true freshman quarterback prevailed 27-3. It looked like they had finally learned to defend against an option attack from a service academy team. Not so earlier this season against Navy. The old alums were pleased as they sat in the newfound splendor.

The train ride home was subdued, but happy.

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