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Observer on the Ground: FSU

| Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Tallahassee may be the state capital of Florida, but FSU is the capital of Tallahassee.

From the moment we landed in Charlotte, there were hoards of passengers piling onto flights, decked out in their Seminole gear. They wanted it known: They would be there at 7:30 p.m. Sunday night, and they meant business. The small group of Irish that came with us from South Bend ended up lost in the sea of red, and it felt as though the match had already started.

Everyone’s mind was on the game, and you could feel the energy in the air. Any snippet of conversation overheard at the gate had something to do with FSU: When they attended, where they were traveling to campus from, how they anticipated the night to shake out. The Seminole nation had already banded together.

Our group from The Observer toured campus that afternoon. The impressive stadium loomed over everything, dwarfing the rest of already generally tall school. The Notre Dame stadium may be historic, but Doak Campbell is palatial. The design itself mimicked the spires of a castle, and even the Irish fans we encountered on our walk could not help but be distracted by the towers of red brick. By then, a good amount of tailgating tents had been set up in designated areas, a precursor to what was to come the next day.

From the moment people got up, they were ready to head over. Several groups passed by our hotel rooms talking about their seats, how they would get to the stadium, who they would be meeting when they arrived. And they were right to do so: Entire streets had been shut down to accommodate the 68,316 people attending the game, derailing some travel plans.

Since any restaurant would have over an hour long wait, we simply passed through the maze of tents being set up for the tailgates. There were more Notre Dame fans than expected for an away game, and if their setups are any indication as to how this weekend will be, South Bend better get ready. Irish tailgates are back and better than ever. They started at noon, and did not let up until the gates were open.

We made our way to the stadium later that afternoon. It resembled the feeling of a backyard barbecue, one last summer get-together before the cold sets in. The tailgaters almost made us forget that we were at a football game. Several tents set up shop with grills near the gates, while others had private affairs, gating their party off with a white picket fence. One group even hopped into our picture, only to realize we were from The Observer, and were thrilled to express their love for Notre Dame.

Seminole fans were also fired up, to say the least. Many were in line hours before the gates even opened, shouting that it was a bad day to be a Notre Dame fan. Luckily, that proved not to be the case in the end, but they wholeheartedly believed it from the start.

Despite the impressive tailgate, a large drum was the centerpiece of the pregame festivities. Members of the Seminole marching band allowed people to take turns playing it, and it didn’t stop beating until the fans were inside. That noise was replaced by the fighter jets flying over the stadium, scaring several unsuspecting onlookers (ourselves included).

We stumbled upon a large gathering of Irish fans, only to realize that that was the tunnel through which the team would walk in. The entire team was a mix of excitement and determination, most falling into a mix of the two. Many of the sophomore and freshman players were taking it all in, experiencing their first “normal” crowd, while the older players were more stoic. Brian Kelly, especially, walked in with a game face on, prepared for the challenge ahead. Either way, the feeling from everyone was one of gratitude and enthusiasm. As part of the crowd, we can say the feeling was mutual. It was a special moment to support our team in a way that was denied to us last year, and the players knew that too.

By the time the stands filled up, the war chant was already going. It would continue throughout the night, only to increase in fervor as the game became closer. The marching band took the field next; the batons and flaming spear of their mascot gave the sense that college football is officially back.

For FSU fans, not only was this their first game back to normal, it was an especially important match as they honored the late Bobby Bowden, who passed away in August. The marching band played “Amazing Grace” in tribute, and the stands lit up with phone flashlights in honor of the head coach. Everyone took a minute to pause and take it all in, the reporters stopping their note-taking to look out at the crowd. It was a unifying moment for the entire stadium.

Later on, groups of students left at the end of the third quarter, assuming the loss for FSU. However, tensions and volume began to rise as the game progressed into overtime, those who stayed completely investing themselves in the match. Even those in the press box were consumed by the energy, making subtle indications of who they wanted to emerge victorious. One reporter got up to pace as the FSU kicker lined up, and those silently cheering on Notre Dame couldn’t help but voice their allegiance as Doerer’s kick sailed through.

It is that experience that perfectly captures the feeling of the day. In the end, many of us are college football fans, for one reason or another. No matter which school you align with, everyone is just happy to be there to cheer on their team, even those who are there reporting on it for their job. They say we don’t know what we have until it’s gone; I doubt any of us will take these game days for granted ever again. Those in attendance certainly did not.

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