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Observer On the Ground: UNC

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.

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Sports

Observer on the ground: Ohio State

We left South Bend at about 2 p.m. on Friday and made the four and a half hour trek down to Columbus. The route was anything but scenic; we saw plenty of cornfields and ended up on some backcountry roads through the middle of nowhere Ohio. The mass migration from South Bend to Columbus was noticeable, and we saw multiple Notre Dame friends drive by us on the way down.

After stopping at the hotel, we drove down to High Street, a popular area near Ohio State full of restaurants and night life. After struggling to park in a parking garage that was far too narrow for two-way traffic, we set out to find a place to eat.

The anticipation and excitement of Columbus for Saturday night was apparent the moment we set foot in the High Street area. The area was bustling with people going out for dinner on Friday night, and we saw plenty of Irish fans walking around as well. We found a small Mediterranean place, and although the workers were hesitant to serve us because of our Notre Dame attire, we enjoyed our meal and went on our way.

We decided to go back to the hotel after dinner to regroup before heading back to the High Street area to check out the nightlife. When we returned to High Street just a couple of hours later, it was an entirely different feel. The area was now bustling with college students and the alumni and adults that filled the streets during dinner hour were nowhere to be seen.

After debating which bar to go to, we ended up at a place called Standard Hall. When we walked in, it was busy but not overcrowded and it seemed like a good vibe with an outdoor patio and large indoor bar area. There was a group of about 20 Notre Dame students that I went with, and we stuck together and hung out on the outdoor patio. The size of Standard Hall was a change of pace from the bars of South Bend, and it was a cool experience to see a popular Ohio State bar.

As the night went on, I received some mild heckling from Ohio State students because of my Notre Dame polo, but the Buckeyes’ students seemed welcoming for the most part and there wasn’t any animosity towards Notre Dame that I noticed. There was also a strong Irish presence at Standard Hall on Friday night, and I saw lots of Notre Dame friends throughout the night. It felt as though the Irish had taken over a popular bar deep inside enemy lines.

We got back to our hotel at a somewhat reasonable hour and tried to get some sleep before a long day ahead.

We woke up just after 8 a.m. and decided we needed some food to kickstart the day. We returned to High Street and stopped by a Waffle House, a personal favorite fast-food chain of mine that I try to eat at when I have the chance. After enjoying our hefty meal, we headed to campus to check out ESPN College GameDay.

I was very impressed and surprised by how nice Ohio State’s campus was. The brick architecture of the buildings was impressive, and the campus was littered with trees and other plants. We walked through a beautiful park with a fountain and outdoor music stage and then made our way down to Ohio Stadium for GameDay.

When we arrived at GameDay, we were disappointed to find out that the crew was inside because of the rain, but we decided to wait it out and see what happened. About fifteen minutes later, the rain cleared, the crew came back out, and we ended up with a spot close to the cast. We were definitely in the minority as Notre Dame fans, but it was fun to boo Desmond Howard with the Buckeyes’ fans and take in the sights of another College GameDay. Jack Harlow was the guest picker on the day, and we saw him do a small performance of his song “First Class,” which was a neat experience as well.

After leaving GameDay, I picked up my Observer co-workers and the three of us sat down and had some tacos for lunch. There was college football on at the restaurant, and we watched the end of Iowa’s enthralling 7-3 win over South Dakota State.

We walked around High Street and the surrounding area, and it was apparent that the excitement was building with kickoff being just over four hours away. Every bar at High Street was packed with fans from both teams eager to see their team in the season opener.

An hour or so later, we decided to get our credentials and drop our stuff off at the press box. I was impressed by the size of Ohio Stadium the moment that I walked in. The Shoe made Notre Dame Stadium feel little, which is something I didn’t expect. We headed up to the press box, which was very nice as well, and dropped our stuff off.

There were still over two hours until kickoff at this point, so I decided to check out the tailgating scene a little bit more. Some of my friends were tailgating near a bar called The O Line, so I walked over there and met up with about twenty friends. The tailgating was crazy and full of people who had been tailgating since the early morning. There was some live music playing, and so much background noise that it was difficult to talk to anyone at times. I hung out for 45 minutes or so and then walked back to the stadium. The parking lots were full of Ohio State fans throwing tailgates, and the number of tailgates and parties was truly staggering.

I returned to the stadium, got situated at my seat and then headed down to the field to check out the Shoe from field level. It was exhilarating being on the field before the game, and I saw plenty of famous reporters and commentators. It was fun to watch the Irish go through their warm-ups as well.

I returned to the press box about a half hour before the game, got some food, and I was ready to go.

As the game winded down and an Ohio State victory seemed inevitable, we headed back down to the field for the final two minutes. As Ohio State ran out the clock and Notre Dame walked off the field, the Buckeyes’ fans jeered at Marcus Freeman and the Irish team. The pain and anger in the eyes of the Irish players was apparent as the sound of Buckeye fans singing “Carmen Ohio” resounded through the stadium.

After sitting through a press conference with dejected Irish players and coaches, we returned to the press box, wrote our stories, and headed back to the hotel.

All in all, Saturday’s game in Columbus was an awesome experience and one I’ll remember forever. Ultimately, however, it truly doesn’t compare to a game day at Notre Dame.

Nate Moller

Contact Nate at nmoller2@nd.edu