Observer on the Ground: Shamrock Series at Soldier Field
Nate Moller | Wednesday, September 29, 2021
A college football game doesn’t get more hyped up than two iconic football programs going head-to-head in Chicago, and that was evident this past Saturday morning at Soldier Field and the surrounding areas.
I stayed at a friend’s house in a suburb roughly ten miles north of Soldier Field on Friday night, and we made sure to get up at 6 a.m. to drive down to the stadium and be there for the start of ESPN’s College GameDay at 8 a.m.
When we arrived at the stadium, we were directed to our parking spot on top of the Waldron Deck adjacent to the stadium. At this point, it was only 7:30 a.m., but the tailgating was well underway. There seemed to be an even mix of Irish and Badgers fans out early, and fans were already grilling and drinking despite the early hour.
From the parking lot, my friends and I walked to ESPN’s College GameDay on the north side of the stadium near the iconic Field Museum. After a short walk, we arrived at the acclaimed pre-kickoff show. It wasn’t too crowded initially, but there was plenty of energy as Irish and Badgers fans alike held up their signs to get noticed on the show. At GameDay, there seemed to be more Irish fans than Badgers fans, and the crowd erupted every time the Irish were mentioned in any way.
At 8 a.m. when the show started, people got even louder and more energized when host Rece Davis kicked off the show by addressing the crowd. We were standing only a couple of rows back from the front, and every time the show flashed to the commentators, everyone around us threw up their signs instantly. The show also had a “sky cam” that flew over the crowd every couple of minutes.
There were a variety of signs from both schools’ fans and some of the best signs I saw read, “Even Wisco’s QB picked ND,” “Jack Coan Hates Cheese Curds,” “Forgive me Father, for I have Wisconsinned,” among many others. We had to leave before the GameDay crew could make their game picks, but I can only imagine the energy when Lee Corso put on the leprechaun suit to pick the Irish.
After leaving GameDay, my friends and I walked along the north side of the stadium past the Barstool pre-kickoff show and along the east side where Fox Big Noon had their kickoff show. There looked to be a lively group of fans at that show, but we didn’t have time to stop because we wanted to check out the tailgating scene closer to the start of the game.
We headed back to the Waldron Deck where the scene was unique and energetic. This was my first experience at a truly neutral game tailgate, and it was fun to see a mix of Wisconsin and Notre Dame fans having a good time with friends and family in advance of the big game. We wandered to another lot near the stadium, and there was a similar energy there.
At that point, it was time for me to leave my friends and head up to the press box about an hour before kickoff. As I made my way to the stadium, I had to meander my way through swarms of fans, and I walked right by the band of the Fighting Irish playing the Notre Dame victory march.
The day that I had at Soldier Field on Saturday was a once in a lifetime experience. After a year of no fans and pre-game festivities, seeing the college football world converge on Chicago ahead of a top-20 matchup was healing for the soul.