Oct 28, 2012, 3:35 PM EDT
Among other things, this has been a season of defining games. I feel like I’ve heard “This is the biggest game Notre Dame has played during your time as a student” at least three times this semester. After we beat Michigan State, people said we wouldn’t be for real until we beat Michigan. But after Michigan, it was that we weren’t legitimate until we beat Stanford.
And then came the Oklahoma game. “It’s a different animal,” people said. “It’s an entirely different caliber of football.”
Yes. It was.
I won’t deny that we were scared. We were nervous about this “different animal.” When we all gathered for the game watch, we pushed away our pre-game jitters by mocking what we could about Oklahoma with things like “What kind of a name is Landry?” and “Their cheerleaders are in pants.”
Oklahoma’s opening drive didn’t make things seem better. Their offense was frighteningly quick and we weren’t used to watching our defense scramble. But then a botched snap sent things our way, and so began the most remarkable football game that I have ever watched.
Within the four walls of our game watch, the atmosphere was crazy—every play had us screaming—but beyond those walls, the communal feel of campus was electric. One of my friends hurried over to our room in the first quarter, and on her way she missed Cierre Wood burst through Oklahoma’s defensive line. She missed seeing him explode miles past the defense and dash 62 yards into the end zone, but she said she felt it when it happened. Every single dorm had erupted.
Brian Kelly said that he watched Everett Golson grow up before his very eyes in the first half, and he wasn’t the only one. The entire country saw what that kid can do, what this football team can do, what it means to be of Notre Dame. We did not just beat the Sooners on their home turf. This wasn’t a last minute, it-could-have-gone-either-way win. It was decisive. It was brutal. It was a fierce and guttural cry of victory.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what all of this means. Why is being undefeated so special, why does football make people so crazy, why does all of this feel so crucial? Why?
Last night, when there were still minutes left in the game but we had pulled ahead by over two touchdowns, the dorm around me started to shudder. Kids were running through the halls, banging on walls and doors, stamping their feet in the stairwells, screaming at the top of their lungs. This rumbling built and built until Prince Shembo ended the game with one final, mighty sack. And then there was no holding back.
As if the entire student body was of one mind, we all spilled out onto the quads. We ran and jumped and screamed our way through the night, eventually making our way to Stonehenge. A crowd of hundreds surrounded the fountain. We chanted, “We Are ND,” and sang the Victory March together. We laughed and hugged and yelled because we didn’t know what else to do.
And I just stared. I took it all in, my mind too numb to really even understand how improbable this moment was. I can honestly say that I have never seen campus the way it was last night.
I spent this week as a nervous mess listening to how much Oklahoma fans hate us—for beating them 8 out of 9 times throughout history (now 9 out of 10), for stealing the “Play Like a Champion Today” sign, for breaking their 47-game winning streak over 50 years ago. Before this week, I had never given Oklahoma more than two seconds of thought in my life, but apparently they hate me with an intensity that I reserve for Michigan.
I had asked myself: Why does football make people so crazy?
Last night was the beginning of my answer. Football makes us feel like we’re a part of something so much bigger than ourselves. It is this football team that makes it possible for a student body to be playing in a fountain (full of water) when it is less than 40 degrees outside. It is a community. It is a family. It connects you intimately to everyone around you.
I will never forget how it felt to stand by Stonehenge and stare up into that night. I will never forget this team and this student body and how much this meant.
Was this the most important and defining game of my Notre Dame career? Yes. Of my lifetime, even? Maybe.
But I’ll tell you, I know in my heart that this was not the last “most defining” game of this season.
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