Sep 23, 2012, 9:18 AM EDT
Let me tell you a story.
The story goes that last year, my friends and I woke up before the sun rose to drive to Ann Arbor in time for ESPN’s College Gameday. We wove through the crowds of obnoxious yellow and endured shouts of “Go Blue!” (among other indelicate sayings). We descended into the Big House full of anticipation. We screamed and hugged people that we had never met before. During the third quarter, I went out to the game day store to buy one of those “Under the Lights” T-shirts.
You know how this story ends. It ends with us putting our hoods up and ducking out of the stadium with thousands of Michigan fans raining down on us. It ends with me throwing away that stupid T-shirt in the first trashcan I saw. It ends in total, obliterating heartbreak.
That day has haunted us for over a year now. There are few conversations about Notre Dame football that don’t somehow circle back to that day—the very state of Michigan can’t be brought up without us talking about that game. It completed a trifecta of Michigan losses—my freshman, sophomore, and junior years. It hammered cynicism and paralyzing fear into my psyche.
It is hard to explain what campus has been like this past week. This game against Michigan was undoubtedly the most important of my time as a student—beyond that, the most important in a decade. Campus fed off that importance. It dominated our discussion, our activities, and our minds. The quads, the dining halls, the dorms, the parties, the classrooms all buzzed with the weight of this game.
From the moment that we won the toss and all lifted our palms to Manti, the student section was more invested in this game than I’ve ever experienced it before. We tensed every time Denard Robinson took off running—we know what he can do to us. But we celebrated each of his five turnovers like it was a touchdown. We shouted ourselves hoarse on every third down. Our eyes darted nervously between the field and the clock as Notre Dame took the lead and never let Michigan near it.
We felt excitement, fear, pride, joy, community, nausea, anxiety, love. But we felt—and feel—those things because we matter. There’s no way around it. This team matters. If there was any question of it, the volume and energy of the student section showed just how strongly we are behind this team. This is our team.
We are no longer haunted. When we talk about Michigan now, we will talk about this night. We will talk about the way it felt to be under our own lights, the way our defense played, the leis everyone wore, and that moment when the team rushed over to the student section and met us, screaming. The ghost of last year’s game has been driven out of our hearts. There wasn’t room for it there anymore, because now our hearts are filled with those many emotions that come with knowing that our season is important. An undefeated team will do that to you.
When we won tonight and broke the streak or curse or whatever you want to call it, the students stayed past the alma mater to dance and cheer to both the music from speakers and the music from the band—the old and the new. We danced and hugged and sang, and someone said, “Let’s just never leave.”
Let’s never leave. Let’s stay here forever. That’s what we’ll do.
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