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Tennessee toppling excites fans

Katie Perry | Monday, November 7, 2005

Stadium-igniting plays like Tom Zbikowski’s interception return for a touchdown fired up fans following Saturday’s onslaught against Tennessee, but issues surrounding the new pep rally ticket distribution system dampened the football weekend.

Friday’s pep rally was the first under the new system the University implemented in response to the event’s growing demand over the course of this season. Non-students were required to wait in line to receive up to two tickets, free of charge, beginning at 3 p.m. Friday.

But not all hopeful Irish fans received tickets, despite gaping sections of vacant Joyce Center seats left empty by students who opted not to attend the event.

The University reserved 6,000 of the arena’s more than 11,000 seats as part of its aim to give students top priority at pep rallies, and remaining seats were allocated to the public via the new ticketing system, senior associate athletic director John Heisler said Sunday.

“Empty sections were based on students that were not there,” he said. “The [seating] estimates were provided on the student interest, they just didn’t come to fruition this past week. The expectation was that there would be a tremendous student interest.”

Heisler said the University implemented the new system to avoid situations similar to the Michigan State pep rally, where people were “waiting in vain” outside the pep rally only to be turned away from the event due to lack of seating.

“We’ve got to find a way to be more accurate with the numbers, particularly on the student end,” he said. “It’s important to come up with a better gauge of what student attendance will be, because that’s the ‘X’ factor.”

But organizers are having a hard time predicting student attendance, Heisler said.

“You kind of have to throw out the USC rally [when making estimates] because of where it was and BYU doesn’t count because it was at the end of fall break,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you what’s going to happen even this week.”

Heisler called the system a “work in progress” and said organizers are seeking ways to address the issue and find out how to restructure the system to accommodate more fans.

Some students said the less formidable nature of Notre Dame’s final home opponents killed the electricity previously pervasive on campus, and for that reason Friday’s pep rally housed a somewhat less-than-packed student section.

“I think there’s a little hangover from the USC game still, a little letdown,” sophomore Michael Cimino said. “In my experience it was the worst showing of the year, [but] I don’t think it will happen again.”

For some students, any pep rally in comparison to the hyped-up Oct. 14 stadium affair on USC weekend would be lackluster.

“To be honest, I think people didn’t show up because it was after USC and I think people thought it wouldn’t be as good [compared to the stadium pep rally],” senior Kirsten Jackson said. “I also think kids were kind of burnt out.”

Jonathan Stevens – a senior and member of the band – also said students were “burnt out” partly due to event’s duration.

“I heard a lot of people talking and saying the reason they weren’t going anymore was because the dorms go over so early and kids don’t want to waste an hour and a half [before the event begins],” he said. “I think that’s deterring people from the pep rallies lately.”

Although the pep rally lacked some of its trademark energy, student excitement was reinvigorated during Saturday’s victory against Tennessee.

Kevin Ludwig, a sophomore, said the game was most electrifying during the final 15 minutes.

“The best part was seeing our team take control in the fourth quarter because I’ve never really had confidence we could do that,” he said.

Cimino said the most exciting parts of the game were many – big plays on offense and defense and “anytime Zbikowski touched the ball,” he said.

“I know Navy is decent and Syracuse is pretty weak,” he said. “The excitement is still growing, though, because wins are building up and we’re looking ahead to BCS bowl games like the Fiesta Bowl or Orange Bowl.”

Students said the Irish offense will make the last two home games – despite the lesser opponents.

“I’m expecting equal excitement [in the final home games],” Ludwig said. “These next games will be about seeing what our team can do offensively [and] trying new things. I think there are things to look forward to besides tough opponents.”

Jackson said she is confident the Irish will close out the home season with victories against Navy and Syracuse.

“I don’t think these next two weekends will be exciting in terms of ‘Are we going to win?’, but they will be exciting in terms of ‘We are going to win?'” she said. “It will be nice for the seniors to end with wins at home.”

Stevens said he is looking forward to the Syracuse game because it will be his last as a Notre Dame undergrad, but has some reservations about Saturday.

“I think [the Navy game] might be a letdown,” he said.

Ludwig said he won’t be at Saturday’s matchup against Navy because he has “other plans.”

“I missing the next game, but if it were against Tennessee or USC – not Navy – I would go,” he said. “The only time I hear people missing games is when they have other important plans and the games aren’t against tough opponents. I wouldn’t ever want to miss a big game like Tennessee or USC, though.”

Cimino said it is “ridiculous” when students skip games based on the opponent.

“I bleed gold and blue,” he said. “I’m a third generation Domer and I don’t think I’ve missed a home football or basketball game since I’ve been here.”

Four Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons provided by the Indiana National Guard’s 113th Fighter Squadron flew over the stadium prior to kickoff at the game.