What was it like tailgating for Notre Dame football in a pandemic?

Notre Dame football

This weekend I took a break from Dayton and traveled to South Bend for some Notre Dame football. It has been awhile since I visited the Golden Dome and witnessed a touchdown at Notre Dame Stadium. Like I’ve talked about before, I have grown up traveling to Notre Dame for game days. It seemed as if there was never an age limit for who could tailgate and celebrate an Irish victory.

As excited as I was to be back for the weekend, I knew my experience would be much different. Months ago, it seemed as if college football would be an unlikely occurrence this fall. After confirmation some conferences would be back on the field, there were still a lot of restrictions set in place that would effect the overall dynamic of college game day. Big tailgates are banned across the country and College GameDay has been happening virtually. Stadium capacities are also reduced to a much lower number, which greatly impacts fan engagement. So with all these new guidelines in place, what was my weekend like at Notre Dame?

The Pregame

I did not know what to expect when it game to pregame rituals. In the past, students and fans gathered in the parking lots in front of Notre Dame Stadium and socialized hours before the game. Especially on games such as Navy or Michigan, fans would be in the lots starting at sunrise. Playing South Florida, I knew there would not be a lot of travel into South Bend. Nonetheless, the lots that were once full were completely empty. No one was allowed near the stadium until the start of the game.

This seemed to put a challenge on students and fans for how to socialize before the game. Not only are large gatherings banned, but groups over 10 are not permitted by Notre Dame. For many, this put an end to traditions that have been practiced for many years. Instead of tailgating with friends and family outside the stadium, I spent my Saturday with a small group in an off-campus house. Masks were the new way students showed Irish pride, as I saw many that were made specifically for game days. Different for many, but I still enjoyed the environment and could feel the game day spirits from across campus.

The Game

I would say the biggest difference of this season is the ban of visitors attending the game. Notre Dame has allotted ticket priority to students first, then faculty and staff. Twenty percent or less of Notre Dame’s usual capacity is now allowed for this football season. As a stadium that holds over 80,000 people on a normal game day, this is a huge loss to the overall experience. Some of my favorite memories were made in that stadium. As much as I was disappointed, I knew I had to make the most of the day. I watched the game in a bar with some friends, cheering on with many other fans who maybe wished to be somewhere different.

As much as my visit to Notre Dame was as unusual as ever, I am still grateful there is college football. Regardless of the current limitations, a fall without college football would be my worst nightmare. I look forward to my next weekend in South Bend.