This way again

Clearing the stadium. CREDIT: Tim O’Connor

Guest Columnist

Some of you have told me that you have enjoyed my travel columns. I hope so. I haven’t done one lately, so here we go.

Football season seems to start earlier these days. I always thought of it as a fall sport. It starts in late summer these days. I’m off to Indiana on an early September morning. It’s still dark as I head off Longboat Key, north to Tampa; I like flying in and out of that great airport. This is to be a solo trip today. I’m meeting two of our boys and a grandson in the Midwest. What a treat.

Travel arrangements this weekend are a bit confused after a hurricane along the East Coast. I always take these changes in stride. Getting to Chicago via Charlotte is to be my routing this morning. That’s fine. My onward reservation to South Bend seems to have been lost in the ether, so I’ll drive. That’s fine too; I like to look at the Illinois and Indiana scenery.

Tampa’s airport is crowded early Friday. The holiday travel has started. I note that all the departing flights are on time — the planes have been on deck here all night. In Charlotte the crowds are moderate at mid-morning. Weather is hazy, summer still. I soon arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare; I like it in the heartland. Landing to the west, approaching over the expanse of Lake Michigan, the pilot announces it’s 90 degrees.

Hot is the word for Chicago and Northern Indiana. I head for my usual B&B just south of South Bend. The attraction Saturday is Notre Dame hosting South Florida. Skip Holtz, son of the legendary (almost) ND Coach is coaching USF. This Saturday event turned out to be historic, as we’ll see.

I’m here, as I always like to return “home” again to my alma mater. As some of you now realize, we don’t know if we will be returning this way again. I hope so, but it never hurts to take each opportunity.

I drive up to South Bend and Notre Dame Saturday morning. The fans are due, so traffic is heavy. I park at St. Mary’s College just across the road from ND, my daughter Maggie’s school. My sons and grandson pull in just behind me. They had been at the Cubs game the day before. We make the relatively short walk to Notre Dame. It is really hot here today, again. We walk about with the crowds. Bottled water for sale everywhere; no beer in this stadium — good thing today. The sun is shining when we enter the famed stadium to watch the two teams warm up.

USF is in White, ND in Blue.

The first half is uneventful — except that USF dominates. They look good. The Irish are flat. The excitement of the day begins at the half. As the band assembles on the field, the announcer asks them to leave. They march off and out the tunnel. It seemed that severe weather was approaching the stadium. Severe weather out here means thunder and lightning. When you have 80,000-plus folks in an open bowl this can be serious. So, shortly after that they asked us as well to leave the stadium. The evacuation was orderly, if slow. People are surprisingly cooperative and good-natured. This was the first time in ND Stadium history that it had to be emptied. Notre Dame has been playing intercollegiate football for 123 years.

I went down and out and across the street to the huge Joyce Athletic & Convocation Center. It was crowded. I encamped next to the ice of the hockey rink — cool there. After about one and a half hours we were invited to return as the severe weather had passed. Most of the 80,000 did. I saw Jack & Carol McMann of LBK return.

The pace of the game then increased; the Irish were energized for a time while working under a different quarterback. They looked a bit better; the Bulls continued strong.

Believe it or not, there was another weather event late in the fourth quarter — out we went again. This time we four headed for SMC and our rental cars. Rain was heavy on the walk back. The boys headed for Chicago; I south just a bit to Bremen. Riding in the car I learned that the game had resumed before a smaller and hardier crowd. The final score was USF 23, ND 20 — a fine effort for Skip’s men and a good start for his team from Tampa in the Big East. Mr. Kelly, the new ND star coach, has some work to do.

Sunday morning I rose to the usual Amish area breakfast. Then it was off to Chicago on the interstate, and O’Hare again. It looks quiet here on the middle day of the holiday weekend. My friends at US Airways have put me in first-class for our flights to Charlotte and on to Tampa. The USF fans, much in evidence on Friday, are fewer today. They are in good spirits naturally.

It’s off to Charlotte, the South and home.

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