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Georgia game proves Notre Dame is still on top

| Wednesday, September 20, 2017

“The Day the South Took Over South Bend. September 9, 2017.”

Thus read one of the many red Georgia t-shirts that appeared on campus last weekend for the University of Georgia’s second game north of the Mason-Dixon Line since 1965. It was accurate: A quick look around Notre Dame Stadium that day revealed that the only true concentration of Irish fans anywhere in the arena was the student section.

It was humiliating. Georgia fans drowned out iconic Irish chants with weird barking noises. They overshadowed the customary pre-fourth quarter Indiana State Police highway safety announcement with their own light show. One student drily remarked that his “first away game was fun.”

It is inexcusable that so many Irish fans sold their tickets. The Georgia game was arguably the biggest Notre Dame has hosted in recent memory. Especially after a 4-8 season, a win would have served as a powerful statement. The game was winnable and extremely close. One has to wonder if a louder contingent of Notre Dame fans would have made the difference. Given the gravity of the game and the sparse Irish turnout, it also makes one wonder if Notre Dame is a football program in decline whose fans just don’t really care anymore.

The other surprising detail is the price that Georgia fans paid to come. Tickets would have cost them anywhere from $425 to $7,000, according to a Georgia fan website. Irish fans still shouldn’t have sold their tickets, but the fact that people were willing to pay so much makes it more understandable. Plus, that’s just the ticket price: it doesn’t include the cost of travel and lodging.

That information is proof that Notre Dame football still enjoys eminent prestige. But even more evidence came through simple observation of the Georgia fans on campus. Walking through God Quad on Sept. 8, I had to navigate my way through crowds of Georgia fans queuing up to take pictures in front of the Dome. I laughed when I heard a man ask a campus attendant, with a sweet southern drawl, “Excuse me sir, could you please point us in the direction of Touchdown Jesus?” A Friday evening trip to the bookstore revealed a multitude of Georgia fans, arms stuffed with Notre Dame apparel. The line between fan and tourist looked blurry.

Other college football stadiums are not as frequently overrun as Notre Dame Stadium. Of course, that means that season ticket holders at other schools don’t ditch their team as frequently as at Notre Dame. But it also means that the allure of Notre Dame draws people here. It is still college football’s most famous program. The Georgia fan who wanted directions to Touchdown Jesus was clearly already familiar with the landmark. I don’t think there is another program with which people are so universally familiar. I couldn’t tell you about a single University of Alabama football tradition if my life depended on it, and my cousin went there.

While the Georgia game was heart wrenching, it was also a cause for comfort. For now, Notre Dame is still the leader in prestige. But the football program has to be careful. If it continues not to be competitive and its championship drought drags on, people will start to look elsewhere. If our stadium has to be taken over by opposing fans, we want it to be because they respect us, not because the tickets were cheap and available.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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