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Football

Observer on the Ground: Virginia

| Sunday, November 14, 2021

Charlottesville did not feel like UVA territory until the very start of the game. Though the university may be Thomas Jefferson’s center of knowledge, it was the luck o’ the Irish that took over Virginia. Had we not known any better, we could have believed that it was a regular South Bend game day, with fans flocking to watch Notre Dame notch another home win.

Groups of green and blue took over the sidewalks, outnumbering the Cavaliers fans three to one in our experience. At nearly every restaurant in The Corner, the university’s business district, the majority of patrons were associated with the Irish, making it an uncharacteristic Saturday for shop owners. It seems as though UVA fans took their celebrations elsewhere — namely fraternity houses packed to the brim with people — as even their tailgates were spread out and mild in character. There were some families dotting the lawn as they threw footballs and frisbees in front of the rotunda, but that was most of the action seen from the home crowd until game time.

When we entered the stadium about three hours beforehand, it was eerily quiet. Even the media entrance was fairly devoid of life. Though The Observer camera bag lost years’ worth of colorful tags from sports coverage (in accordance with UVA’s no-tag-but-the-one-we-gave-you-today policy), we made it inside without much clamor. 

That was the confusing part. Notre Dame fans may not be let into their stadium until 90 minutes beforehand, but their excitement can still be heard from outside the walls of the house that Rockne built. In Virginia, one could hear a pin drop. Any noise from tailgating would have been easy to hear in Scott Stadium, as the trademark hillside seating sports an open-air walkway rather than enclosing the field. Instead, silence.

All that changed come an hour ’till kickoff. Once those golden helmets began to glisten under the lights, the excitement in the crowd really took off. Virginia formed about 60% of the fans, despite their absence during pregame festivities. Though the stadium was on the emptier side compared to other crowds the Irish have played this season (with 48,584 in attendance compared to the 61,500 capacity), fans on both sides of the ball brought the noise that was missing earlier in the day, which was easy to observe in an open-air press box.

When the Cavalier cantered onto the field, waving his sword to ignite the crowd as the Virginian team strode through a tunnel of smoke and flame, cheers of “Let’s go Hoos” could have been heard from our hotel half an hour away. However, when the leprechaun led the Irish onto the field, shouts of near-equal volume from a much smaller crowd took over the stands.

The orange rally towels of UVA fans were in constant movement throughout the night, but the Irish came with their own fervor, to the point where it was hard to distinguish whose cheers were echoing throughout the stadium at times. UVA fans were led by their band in traditional chants; while with each Irish score, Notre Dame fans increased in volume as they carried on the touchdown pushup tradition despite it being an away game. It was a back-and-forth between the two groups for who could control the volume of the stadium.

However, once the end of the second quarter rolled around, the UVA student section decreased by half, that 50% electing not to return for the second part of the game. No section in the stadium remained entirely full. By the time the third quarter rolled around and Notre Dame was up 28-0, the majority of those left on the hill were Irish. Troves of Cavaliers supporters exited the stadium, leaving the stands absolutely depleted of UVA students and the two teams almost equal in terms of fans.

The two were not equal on the field, though, and tensions rose between the groups of players as the battle continued. The Irish cheerleaders continued to perform their celebratory sprint across the field with each touchdown as if it were their own home game, while any victory became cause for celebration for the Virginians. The field goal that put UVA on the board elicited an overjoyed response, with fans swaying back and forth and singing praise to their school. 

Yet, in the end, only the Irish fans remained in the stadium as the players walked out to a chorus of cheers for Old Notre Dame. People called out to their favorite team members, taking home a considerable amount of gloves and towels that were tossed into the stands by the players. The travelers made it feel like home for the Irish, and their dedication proved effective in combating the difficult away-game atmosphere.

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