If there is anything to confirm that there is nothing like a Notre Dame game day, our trip to Chapel Hill is it. Our Friday evening flight was rather empty, which is surprising for a direct flight from South Bend during football season. Aside from the three Observer employees, the rest of the passengers consisted of the regular Notre Dame football beat writers, as well as some scattered students and local fans.
The duration of the flight was only just over an hour, getting us into Chapel Hill around dinner time. We found a local Mediterranean restaurant to try, and it gave us high hopes for the remainder of our trip. Even early on a Friday night, the restaurant was packed with UNC students and fans, making the tavern a bustling ball of energy ahead of the Irish-Tar Heels showdown the following day. As we stood in line for a table, we could see the potential for a high-energy tailgating scene in the morning.
And the food was certainly worth the wait. We don’t know if it is the fact we have been eating dining hall food for every meal or if it was that good, but Kipos Greek Taverna is a must-stop in Chapel Hill. Did we get three desserts, reasoning we’d need a “snack” for game day? Potentially. Are we ashamed? Not at all.
However, the following morning proved to be slightly different than what we are used to in South Bend. As far as college towns go, Chapel Hill deserves a spot among the best. We found Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews–a bookstore/coffee shop on Franklin St. just off of UNC’s campus that specializes in specialty lattes and Spanish-style pastries–for breakfast, and our good food streak continued. It seemed like the chocolatería was a place to be ahead of game days, as nearly everyone who entered the shop was sporting UNC or ND spirit wear. Many families took a quiet morning in the independent bookstore before the game day festivities commenced.
These festivities, though, were much more subdued than the tailgating scene at Notre Dame. There was no designated concentration of tailgates, with handfuls of tents benign scattered throughout North Carolina’s beautiful campus. Most of these setups also seemed to be sponsored in some way or another, which is very different from the family-style functions we were used to at Notre Dame.
For an away game, we saw nearly as many Irish fans walking around as we did Tar Heels. We were unable to locate where they were tailgating, however, if they were at all. We walked past several UNC frat houses that had creative signs, but when “Desperado” is on the tailgate playlist, one can assume the energy was slightly more relaxed. The player entrance into the stadium was also very different for UNC, as they remained on the buses as opposed to walking through the crowds like a Notre Dame Victory March.
Despite this new concept of game day pre-games, we had the perfect weather to walk around campus. It had all the southern charm we could hope for, and we tried to glean every moment we could before we headed into the stadium.
Writers were allowed to be on the field for warmups, so a few of us went to the Notre Dame sideline and watched the position groups warm up. It was a unique experience to be on the same level as the players. As someone who clocks in at 5’2, it was impressive to see just how intimidating the people who are facing off against each other are.
The stadium began to fill in around us, and the number of Notre Dame fans present for the game was rather impressive. The whole Notre Dame side was largely green, blue and gold, and the crowd even got touchdown push-ups going as the Irish began racking up the points. Under the leadership of the lively leprechaun, they combatted the full UNC student section, which brought the energy we thought had been somewhat lacking ahead of kickoff.
However, once UNC’s fate was sealed in the fourth quarter, those cheers from Tar Heels fans turned into objections. When we were allowed back on the field in the final few minutes of the game, someone from the stands launched a full plastic water bottle at one of the referees, managing to hit him in the back.
But by the time the sun had set on game day, the Irish were the ones left in the stands as the team filed into the tunnel, satisfied with another win under their belts.