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City of South Bend shows support for Irish ahead of Michigan game

| Friday, August 31, 2018

Running through the city of South Bend on a typical week is a street labeled by the sign “Michigan St.” Located at the intersection of Michigan and Washington St., the sign can be found distinguishing one of the main downtown streets at the heart of South Bend.

But this isn’t a typical week in the city.

On Saturday, Notre Dame will be taking on the University of Michigan in its season-opening game for the 2018 football season. Football rivals since 1887, the teams are meeting for the first time since 2014, prompting even ESPN’s College GameDay to stake its football pregame show on Irish turf.

In a display of solidarity with the Irish and in anticipation of the thousands of visitors soon to arrive to the city, the South Bend mayor’s office joined in the festivities — ceremoniously changing Michigan St. to “Fighting Irish Drive” on Monday.

“It’s all in good fun but we thought that with the rivalry being brought back to life it would be appropriate,” South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg said. “That way, especially as we have guests and fans of both teams coming into our downtown area, it’s a good chance to remind them just how supportive we are of our Fighting Irish.”

With tens of thousands of both Notre Dame and Michigan fans descending on South Bend for the game, Buttigieg said the city’s first priority is making sure everything runs smoothly.

“You’ll see a lot of our folks from the South Bend Police and Fire Department helping out with traffic and even in the stadium playing a role there,” he said. “But there are tons of things going on in our hotels, restaurants and of course it’s a big economic booster for the city as well.”

The city will also be celebrating the occasion by changing the color of the South Bend River Lights, a sculpture located alongside the St. Joseph River that is typically multicolored.

“Ever since we’ve installed [the sculpture] in 2015, it’s become a great kind of touchpoint and shared public space that people from across the city enjoy,” Buttigieg said. “Once in a while for a special occasion we’ll switch it from its regular rainbow-colored program to a particular color, and obviously it seemed like the right occasion to turn those lights green.”

Football season is a big part of the South Bend community and economy, Buttigieg said, so the festivities help the whole city get into the spirit of the season. Even so, he said the city’s relationship with the University is becoming stronger even without football season.

“There’s so many students doing just really interesting, really important work that ties into life of the city in some way,” Buttigieg said. “ … The more of that we see the better, and when we do [partnerships with the University], it’s much more than just something like a service project but really an authentic relationship that’s getting stronger and stronger.”

Buttigieg said the street sign renaming is a tradition that paused when Notre Dame temporarily stopped playing Michigan in football. After the series was revived, he said he wanted to renew the tradition.

“Obviously [football is] one of the most special things about living in this area,” he said. “It’s difficult to believe that summer is coming to an end, but the great consolation of summer ending is the beginning of football season.”

Though a festivity like the street sign renaming has resulted in a flurry of “amused” responses online, Buttigieg said the change is only temporary.

“It’s a symbolic ceremonial thing,” he said. “We’ll be back to normal after our victory on Saturday.”

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About Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith is a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she serves as Associate News Editor at the Observer and is pursuing a double major in political science and television with minors in journalism and computing.

Contact Kelli