Sep 6, 2012, 12:05 PM EST
The following column, written by Senior Associate A.D./Media & Broadcast Relations director John Heisler will appear as “The Last Word” in this weekend’s football game program.
Protect your house.
Win at home.
Label it by any phrase you like.
The general assumption, for any athletic team, is that you need to find a way to win the majority of your home games.
There are lots of simple reasons for that thought:
- No travel issues compared to the visiting squad.
- More fans in the stands (at Notre Dame Stadium, for example, visiting teams are normally allotted 5,000 tickets).
- If you are a player, you are in familiar surroundings in terms of eating, sleeping, even dressing in your own locker room.
But, there certainly are no guarantees.
Historically, Notre Dame Stadium (and Cartier Field before that) has been very good to Fighting Irish football teams.
In fact, Notre Dame’s two longest home win streaks came before Notre Dame Stadium was built:
- From 1905 through 1918 Notre Dame teams won 40 consecutive home games.
- Then, after a 7-7 home tie with Great Lakes in 1918, Knute Rockne’s teams won 38 straight home games before another 7-7 tie with Minnesota in 1927.
How good were Rockne’s teams at home? When the Irish lost at home 27-7 to Carnegie Tech on Nov. 17, 1928, it marked the first Notre Dame home defeat since 1905.
Rockne coached 13 seasons at Notre Dame, lost only 12 games overall and the only one that came at home was that Carnegie Tech contest in 1928.
Frank Leahy coached 11 seasons with the Irish, lost only six times at Notre Dame Stadium and had seven unbeaten seasons at home.
Ara Parseghian lost only six home games in 11 seasons, never lost more than a single game at home in a season and had five years without a loss at Notre Dame Stadium.
Dan Devine dropped just seven games at Notre Dame Stadium over his six seasons as head coach and saw his Irish finish unbeaten at home in 1977 and 1980.
Lou Holtz spent 11 seasons on the Irish sidelines and lost a combined 13 home games (three in his first season in 1986). His 1988 championship season marked the first time Notre Dame won seven games at Notre Dame Stadium in a single season. His ’87 and ’89 teams also finished unbeaten at home.
So, you get the picture.
It’s no particular surprise that Notre Dame has a .744 overall winning percentage (including 25 seasons without a loss) at Notre Dame Stadium since that facility opened in 1930.
However, the last time the Irish finished a season unbeaten at home came in 1998 (Bob Davie’s second season). Before that you have to go back to three straight unbeaten home seasons in 1987, 1988 and 1989 to find perfection on the Irish home turf.
So it’s probably no coincidence that when current Notre Dame vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick came on board in 2008, he wondered if the Irish home-field advantage had evaporated a bit.
For whatever reason, visiting teams were having more success in South Bend. Not long ago, visiting head coaches had to reassure their players and fans that Knute Rockne and George Gipp would not be coming down out of the stands to help.
When, top-rated Florida State came to town in 1993, Seminole players—with Florida State making only its second-ever appearance in Notre Dame Stadium—had a tough time appreciating Irish football history. They referred to one former Notre Dame head coach as “Rock Knuteny,” or something to that effect. That may or may not have played a part in Notre Dame’s historic win on that Saturday.
Swarbrick has talked openly about finding ways to make Notre Dame Stadium a more difficult place for visiting teams to play. Last month he noted that he was tired of hearing visiting athletic directors tell him how much they enjoy bringing their teams to South Bend.
Notre Dame Stadium, its ushers and other University ambassadors have had a long history of extending hospitality to visiting teams. It’s common, particularly when an opponent plays in Notre Dame Stadium for the first time, for visiting fans to remark on the welcoming atmosphere they find.
Swarbrick would like to see that welcome end once the opening kickoff is in the air. He’d like to see a change to the 17-16 home record Irish teams have recorded over the last five seasons combined.
If you’re paying attention this weekend and in the weeks to come, you are likely to come across the phrase “Take A StaND.” It’s a subtle, yet pointed, way of encouraging fans at all Irish events to become more participatory.
Notre Dame students have participated in a long tradition of standing throughout the entire football game at Notre Dame Stadium—and that group generally makes its share of noise. However, students make up only about 10,000 fans out of Notre Dame Stadium’s 80,795 capacity. So there’s plenty of room for assistance in the decibel category.
Midway through the 2011 season, Notre Dame introduced recorded music (mostly on opponent third downs) to the in-game experience at Notre Dame Stadium. Expect that to continue this fall, with the Irish marketing staff tweaking the plan with three 2011 home games of experience now under its belt.
The 2012 also season marks a celebration of 125 years of football at the University of Notre Dame. You’ll see the logo marking that celebration just about everywhere. That means there are 125 years worth of reasons to throw a season-long party.
Long-time rival Purdue visits Notre Dame Stadium today to open the 2012 Irish home season. The Boilermakers won here in 2004, but, prior to that game, you have to go all the way back to 1974 to find a Purdue win in Notre Dame Stadium.
By Swarbrick’s tastes, that’s more like it.
So, any time you have a chance today, take a staND and cheer for the Irish. It just might make a difference.
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