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Adams: Irish fans can never forget 2017 Georgia debacle

| Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Initial disclaimer: I was born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, which means I grew up a University of Kentucky fan. And the one thing that you learn as a Kentucky fan is that it’s up to not just the team, but the fans as well, to protect their home turf.

With the Notre Dame-Georgia game looming, arguably the game of the year in college football, I’m in a reflective mood. As it’s a rematch of the 2017 showdown in South Bend, I can’t help but be reminded of how that weekend transpired, and the lasting impact it left upon me.

I’ll never forget walking around the campus of the University of Notre Dame on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. I’ll never forget the swarm of black and red filling campus that weekend. Little did I know what the Notre Dame team and fans were in for the next day.

I’ll never forget the Georgia fan I was walking behind that Friday afternoon and the air of confidence she had promenading around campus. I’ll never forget checking in at Gate E with the rest of the students, walking up the ramps to the freshmen sections and what I saw when I came out of the tunnel. I didn’t see a few freckles of red across a sea of blue (the color of that year’s “The Shirt”), nor did I see a few red splotches amid an otherwise green canvas. All I could process was the red. So. Much. Red.

It’s one thing to wear red and black proudly as a member of Zahm House (which I am), but this was something else. Georgia fans turned Notre Dame Stadium into Sanford Stadium-North. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart estimated that of the 81,000 seats, 40,000 were occupied by Bulldogs fans, and that’s not much of an exaggeration.

I’ll never forget the incredible atmosphere of that game. I’ll never forget the feeling that the student section was the only Irish safe haven. I’ll never forget at the start of the fourth quarter when all the Georgia fans turned on the flashlights on their phones and shone them throughout the crowd.

I’ll never forget the loud cheers filling our home stadium as Brandon Wimbush was strip-sacked with 30 seconds left to seal Notre Dame’s fate, and I’ll never forget the inebriated Georgia fan jeering at the students over the railing.

I will admit, all of this is to drive home a point that was debated ad nauseam two years ago: this shouldn’t have happened. However, with Notre Dame’s trip to Athens on the horizon, I need to speak my piece. The Irish players in that game should forever take pride in how they gave the eventual national runners-up a run for their money. On the other hand, Notre Dame fans should forever be ashamed of that game.

Michelle Mehelas | The Observer

Irish graduate student slot receiver Chris Finke fields a punt during Notre Dame’s 24-17 win over USC to finish the 2018 regular season undefeated. Finke, a captain this season, will look to lead the Irish in a rematch of their 20-19 home loss to Georgia in 2017.

That’s right, I’m calling Notre Dame fans out. Now, you may be saying, “Shut up, Hayden, you’re a Kentucky fan, you can’t talk about football.” To a degree, you’d be right. Growing up, I was a fair-weather football fan, if a football fan at all. I grew up a UK basketball fan, seeing as the Wildcats had a perpetually underachieving football team lost in the shuffle of the SEC.

However, my senior year of high school, I attended my first collegiate football game as UK lost 27-24 at home to an 8-5 Georgia team, before going on to end a 5-year bowl game hiatus. I witnessed a stadium full of rabid fans adorned in blue cheer on their team in the face of a heartbreaking finish. I wasn’t a committed football fan my entire life, but I never forsook my team. And the palpable desire of Kentucky fans to see their team have success in football was very impactful.

You may be thinking, “C’mon, that was only the second meeting ever of the teams and Georgia’s first trip to Notre Dame.” Exactly, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for both Bulldogs and Irish fans to see two historic programs face off. ND fans had to know that with Notre Dame’s various scheduling obligations as an independent, bringing Georgia back to South Bend would be years away. This was an opportunity they shouldn’t have let UGA fans beat them to.

You may also be thinking, “Notre Dame had just gone 4-8 the previous season, how could we have known the game would be competitive?” To that, I point you to the aforementioned UK-UGA game. Kentucky was down for years, but the fans didn’t give up on the team. They had hope that the Wildcats could pull off an upset, and everyone wanted to be there on the off chance it would happen. Irish fans likewise should have showed up hoping for redemption.

Lastly, to everyone who sold their tickets to Georgia fans who offered ridiculous amounts of money, I get it. Some people just couldn’t make the game and saw an opportunity to pocket some extra cash. However, I find it hard to believe that that many people couldn’t make the game. I can say with 100% confidence that there would never come a day, lest the NCAA handed down the death penalty to Kentucky basketball (in your dreams), that Kentucky fans would allow Rupp Arena to become a home-away-from-home for any outside fan base.

Paul Finebaum, in anticipation of this Saturday’s matchup, gave his take on Notre Dame football.

“The Notre Dame fan base just wants to tilt their collective nose toward the sky and act like the world of college football revolves around them. It doesn’t,” he said. “Notre Dame is barely relevant in the conversation of college football powers.”

I don’t usually put too much stock in criticism of Notre Dame, but he may have a point. Believe me, I know spoiled fan bases; I’ve been part of one my entire life. But Notre Dame fans can’t have any claim to being the best fans in the country if they let something like the 2017 Georgia game happen.

I understand not wanting to spend inordinate amounts of money to go see a game that you think your team will lose, but that’s what sports are about. Notre Dame fans aren’t used to being the underdog, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. Embrace it, because it makes the wins a lot more enjoyable.

I know Notre Dame will probably never get the opportunity to turn Sanford Stadium into Notre Dame Stadium-South, but you can start making up for September 9, 2017, by making sure that no fan base ever comes close to overrunning the House that Rockne Built. For players and fans, it’s a game of give and take. Take it from a proud Kentucky and Notre Dame fan: if we do our job, it makes theirs a lot easier.

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

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