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Blue-Gold brings football weekend in spring

Katie Perry | Saturday, April 22, 2006

Forecasters might predict clear skies and sunshine Saturday, but the Irish football team has plans all its own to shake down the thunder at its annual Blue-Gold game – a 77-year tradition that primes players and fans alike for the upcoming season.

BlueandGold.com editor Lou Somogyi said there will “absolutely” be fervor among Notre Dame fans on campus this weekend given the success of last season as well as the high expectations for the fall schedule. The Irish will likely be a consensus preseason top five pick and ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit already favors them for the national title, he said.

“You can definitely feel a sense of excitement for the season,” Somogyi said. “People are talking about the Charlie Weis era and then looking at the Lou Holtz and Ara Parseghian eras. It’s that whole, ‘Hey, we found our guy and he’s going to lead us back to the Promised Land’ feeling.”

Somogyi said the Blue-Gold game tradition began with Knute Rockne, but has not always followed the same format. From the 1930s through much of the 1960s, the scrimmage was known as the Old-timers game.

“Former players would play the current players,” he said. “You used to have situations with guys in the NFL competing against college kids. You’d have David Givens coming back to play in the game or Arnez Battle or Luke Petitgout – that’s how it used to be … You couldn’t even imagine agents allowing that in the professional ranks [today].”

Somogyi said the event changed under the direction of coach Ara Parseghian, who thought it would be “more worthwhile” to hold an intra-squad scrimmage in the spring. “For the most part [the games] were one sided, because you would have the No. 1 team going against the No. 3 team,” he said. “You used to have scores like 48-0.”

For Somogyi, the 1975 Blue-Gold game was especially memorable.

“It was a rainy day, and out of nowhere – no one knew who this guy was – [a quarterback] completed seven of 12 passes and a couple touchdowns,” he said. “That guy’s name was Joe Montana.”

Montana was on the seventh team the previous year, but in that one scrimmage he “skyrocketed up to No. 2,” Somogyi said.

“You don’t always put too much [thought] into Blue-Gold games, [but] now and then something happens,” he said.

Somogyi does not expect any breakout performances of comparable magnitude Saturday, but said the event should draw a “pretty decent crowd” at Notre Dame Stadium.

“Charlie [Weis] only had about 17,000 in attendance last year, but even that was amazing because it was probably the coldest Blue-Gold game in history,” he said. “Anytime you approach 20,000 – that’s very good.”

Somogyi said Weis is “getting there” in terms of popularity, but first year coaches historically draw the largest Blue-Gold crowds.

“The most attended Blue-Gold game happened to be in 1981 with first year coach Gerry Faust – 35,675 people were in attendance,” he said. “It was called ‘Faust Fever’ because of his magnetic personality. He had everyone believing Notre Dame would never lose another game.”

Lou Holtz’s first game in 1986 boasted the second largest Blue-Gold attendance with 32,071 turning out for the event, which draws thousands of students, alumni and fans to campus each spring.

“It’s more of a social, community event than anything. That’s what it’s become,” Somogyi said. “You unveil The Shirt [and] it’s sort of like a dress rehearsal for the fall. This is what we wear for the Blue-Gold game, this is what we’ll wear for the season.”

Hammes Bookstore assistant director Jed Hanawalt said Blue-Gold weekend helps the store kickoff the 2006 season.

“We absolutely gear up for it,” he said. “It’s not quite like a football weekend, [but] it’s a lot of fun. It’s a much different atmosphere – much more lax and family oriented.”

Hanawalt expects The Shirt unveiling ceremony at 12 p.m. today to draw big crowds – that is “as long as we don’t have snow like we did last year.” The bookstore – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary – will also sell schedule T-shirts and marquis game shirts throughout the weekend.

“I think we’re playing this little team called Penn State,” he said. “We already have the shirts for that.”

And the bookstore is not the only campus venue that anticipates increased business.

“We expect to see more people than usual on a Saturday, but not as many as if it were a home football weekend,” Reckers manager Mike Davy said. “It’s about 20 percent more business than on typical [non-football weekend] Saturday.”

Legends general manager Aaron Perri said the restaurant will “go into football mode” for Blue-Gold weekend.

“Anything that happens in the stadium is a direct correlation to the amount of business we get here,” he said. “Due to the fact that we exist in the middle of the parking lot, we get a lot of business from people tailgating and passing through.”

Perri said Legends will run extended hours and bring in more staff members to compensate for the increased patrons.

Local hotels are also making adjustments for the weekend. Lindsay Kling, guest service supervisor for the Inn at Saint Mary’s, said the hotel tends to get booked up for the event.

“We do get more business,” she said. “It’s going to be a busier weekend so we’ve prepared for it.”

Notre Dame Security/Police associate director Phil Johnson said the unit, in tandem with other police agencies, will staff Notre Dame Stadium and patrol various parking areas to “promote a family friendly environment and to enforce laws.”

“We expect a good sized crowd for this weekend’s Blue-Gold [game] – probably larger than some recent years,” he said. “In addition to the Blue-Gold, there are several other events planned this weekend including a baseball game. So, there’s likely to be very heavy traffic in and around campus.”

Johnson said the one-way traffic pattern typically implemented on regular home football games will not be utilized Saturday and thus “traffic may move a bit slower this weekend.” Additionally, the closing of Douglas Road east of Juniper Road will also affect campus travel.

“We’ll have staff deployed at key intersections to facilitate traffic flow before and after the game,” Johnson said. “Fans should plan to allow extra time arriving to and departing from campus.”

Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 1:35 p.m.