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Observer On The Ground: Stanford was a Notre Dame home game with warmer weather

| Monday, November 29, 2021

Stanford holds the dubious distinction this season as being one of two home teams to have their field stormed by opposing fans. That happened just last week against Cal, who decimated the Cardinal 41-11 in their major rivalry clash. Fans of the Golden Bears invaded Stanford Stadium and celebrated with their squad on the grass field afterward. That’s about as embarrassing as it can get on your home turf.

Given Stanford’s lack of a home-field advantage, it being Thanksgiving weekend and Notre Dame’s national fanbase, perhaps it’s no surprise the Irish were a vocal presence in Palo Alto on Saturday. No, Notre Dame didn’t storm the field after handling business against the Cardinal – a third straight victory in the series by 21+ points didn’t merit such excitement – but they had the numbers to do so.

The Notre Dame takeover honestly started at South Bend Airport. There, we headed to our gate (two and a half hours ahead of time thanks to a lovely series of delays) and met several Notre Dame fans who were on the same flight, ready to invade Stanford. They mostly approached us due to our Notre Dame apparel and our apparent knowledge of which gate our flight was at (shoutout to our photographer Allison for checking the board at the airport and not being an app-reliant Gen Z-er like myself). But, as we boarded the flight, the Notre Dame hoodies, hats, and general paraphernalia flooded the Boeing-787.

Stanford football clearly doesn’t bring too much excitement to the area. When picking up our rental car in San Francisco, barely 25 minutes from campus, an employee asked three college-age students clad in Notre Dame gear what we were doing in town. It felt obvious, but maybe there truly was a lack of knowledge or care regarding the game. We spent Friday night in San Francisco, with no interaction with any Stanford fan. We did get to go to In-n-Out Burger, which was definitely a highlight of the trip, but I’ll leave my reviews (largely complimentary except for the fries) of the West Coast burger chain for another time.

The weirdly quiet feeling continued into the next day, as the Observer traveling troupe headed to Stanford’s campus in the late morning. A gameday visit to the Notre Dame bookstore is a daunting task and requires a time commitment to wait in a long line. At Stanford, we meandered through the bookstore, running into a few fans and checking out in under three minutes. One Stanford-clad fan actually asked us what time kickoff was. Well, to clarify, he asked the bookstore cashiers – who also didn’t know the answer and asked us. Palo Alto…not really a football town.

After a breakfast stop, which revealed to us the brutal reality that is California food prices, the tour of campus continued. An eerily quiet campus was populated by a handful of students, what looked like a small wedding ceremony, and a hefty dose of Irish fans. Even walking and driving through a row of what looked like fraternity houses revealed little noise or gameday hype. Student sightings were few and far between.

Only a drive closer to the stadium revealed any kind of tailgating scene – with one catch. A large number of blue and gold tents were spread through a couple of parking lots of pre-game tailgaters. As we searched (for longer than we care to admit) for the media parking lot, we passed a lot full of almost entirely Irish fans. This of course led to a spontaneous blasting of “Shipping up to Boston” in our car. The Notre Dame takeover was in full effect.

In the stadium, it continued. The loudest pregame noise came from the early-arriving Notre Dame fan section, which was watching the live stream of the Iron Bowl on the big screen with great interest as Alabama nearly took their second loss of the season. Maybe the second-loudest pregame noise came as various Notre Dame positional groups took the field for warmups. Had it not been for the large, iconic Stanford logo in the middle of the field, this game could have easily been mistaken for an Irish home game.

The Notre Dame invasion was met by little resistance from the Stanford home crowd. Be it the 3-8 record, a depleted student section largely still home on break, or a blowout that never was competitive on the field, the Cardinal did not really challenge the visiting crowd. When junior linebacker Jack Kiser notched a tackle for loss on Stanford’s first play, a raucous “Let’s Go Irish” chant rippled across the stadium.

Maybe the only source of life seen from the Stanford fans was when Irish senior linebacker Bo Bauer was ejected for targeting and Stanford engineered their only marginally successful drive of the first half. The noise reached a high when Stanford ran a successful fake reverse for what appeared to be a touchdown, but a block below the knees brought it back. Stanford’s drive stalled, and Irish fans again reminded Palo Alto of their presence.

By the end of the 45-14 victory, there was a host of blue-and-green clad fans crowding the seats surrounding the visitor’s tunnel. The Irish threw gloves, sweatbands and other game-worn items to their supporters. Stanford, meanwhile, sang their alma mater to a small contingent of Cardinal fans.

One particular first-half occurrence stood out, and it felt like it symbolized the experience in Palo Alto. In the second quarter, Stanford actually played “Shipping Up to Boston” on a Notre Dame third and 19. The Irish got 14 yards to get into field goal range, converting the kick to take a 17-0 lead. A bold move to play your opponent’s kickoff song to hype up the home crowd. But hey, the Notre Dame crowd reacted, and the Irish got some points, so maybe the home team did get an advantage.

Oh, the game was at Stanford? Could’ve fooled me.

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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