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Five Foot Nothing: Life and Death in the Student Section

Sep 29, 2013, 1:03 PM EDT

Photo taken by Andrew Bartolini (@NDworkhorse).

Lauren Chval graduated from Notre Dame last May. She will be chronicling the 2013 season through the experience of a first-time alumnus. You can follow her on Twitter at @lchval or check out her blog Image Moved about all things athletics and entertainment

In the press box, we typically need around 10 student workers per game to keep things running smoothly. You can imagine that for games like Oklahoma and USC, it’s hard to find volunteers. Why would a student leave the atmosphere of the student section to sit in the press box, which has a strict no cheering (or swearing or angrily ranting) policy? So sometimes, we have to kindly tell them rather than ask them that they’ll be working.

One such freshman was working his first game yesterday. I happen to know him fairly well because I’m good friends with his older sister, who graduated with me, and she has told me stories of this kid that involve him getting up in the wee hours of the morning on Notre Dame football Saturdays and waiting eagerly for game time as a five-year-old. His mom would make him shamrock pancakes and he would sit on the couch, patiently waiting for his team to take the field.

The press box, I knew, would be difficult for him.

I snuck a peek at him in the first quarter, and he was shifting restlessly in his seat. My friend and coworker Andrew Bartolini went to check on him in the third quarter, and apparently he asked (with a hint of desperation in his voice), “What do you think?”

When Andrew shrugged, this freshman said, “I hate you for not caring.”

It’s not that Andrew doesn’t care. It’s not that the people in the press box don’t care. It’s that we’re old and beaten and cynical. We’ve learned to smother disappointment when we have to face reality. We’ve trained ourselves to not take losses as hard.

Sometimes it takes a freshman to remind you that you shouldn’t approach Notre Dame football that way. He couldn’t bear to be away from the student section, where Notre Dame football is life and death, happiness and depression, love and hate.

That’s what the student section is there for.

Aside from the fact that they didn’t know the new post-game policy, I’ve never been prouder of the student body (ever) than when they called over the football team to sing the alma mater after our loss. That’s MY student body. A group of kids who care desperately about football but also understand that our football team is part of them, and weather both wins and losses together.

Win or lose, I love Notre Dame football. I love what it’s about. I love how strongly a freshman can feel that community only five weeks into being a student. That’s why alumni don’t graduate and fade away. There’s something to come back for.

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