Our experience in Louisville was certainly one for the books, but not necessarily the good ones. We started our day off strong with a four-hour road trip from South Bend — one that was filled with an extensive country playlist, impassioned debates on New Jersey/New York sports teams and musings on what the night would bring. By the time we got to our hotel it was mid-afternoon, and I certainly was tempted to hop on over to the amusement park next door to get in a rollercoaster ride or two before the game (this, sadly, did not come to fruition).
On the way to the stadium, we were confused as to where and how Cardinal fans tailgated. Tents were set up on the small strips of lawn in front of the likes of McDonald’s and El Nopal, and cars were balanced at precarious angles on the front steps of houses. Upon entering the main lot it was clear that, instead of the isolated tailgates we had seen to that point, the preferred method of pregaming was a giant mosh-pit. Full-scale basketball nets were set up between the several fraternity and personal tailgates that bled into each other. People dashed across the street dodging cars in the pandemonium; by the time we got to a four-way intersection and the crowd controllers told us to “just cut straight through,” we had to trust in blind faith.
As we made our way up the red-paved Card Walk, it was clear that Louisville fans came to play that night. Their cheerleaders and band were hyping up the crowds enough to the point where some of the lucky fans who rented out the train cabooses started dancing on the cars’ rooftop decks. We had to weave through spectators all the way to the media gate.
Once inside, we grabbed a quick dinner before heading down to the field for warmups. It seemed as if half the attendees had a field pass given the amount of people we had to fight through to get to Notre Dame’s tunnel. We weren’t able to be on the side of the field the Irish were warming up on, but it was still an incredible experience to watch the team walk out and crane our necks towards the sky-high seating decks as fans trickled in.
We collectively commiserated at half-time with the other Notre Dame beat writers, drowning our sorrows in complementary cookies and popcorn. At that point, we knew we were struggling, but still believed the team would come through in the end. But when the crowd starts chanting “F*** Sam Hartman” towards your quarterback, you start to lose some optimism as it is replaced with aggravation.
That sentiment only escalated as we walked down to the field for the final minutes of the game. We wound up on the Louisville side, giving us a full view of the Notre Dame sideline as they struggled to come back after most of their fans had left the premises.
It was glum.
There was a slight burst of energy when the Irish notched their final touchdown of the night, and it was fairly satisfying to hear griping from the intense Cardinals fans. However, when “Shipping Up to Boston” came blaring over the loudspeakers, it felt more like a taunt than a long-loved Notre Dame anthem. The Louisville fans fed off of this, and by the time they rushed the field following the game, spectators were coming to both physical and emotional blows.
Having narrowly missed getting pummeled by someone launching from the stands, we found ourselves in the middle of a screaming match between a Notre Dame couple and a Louisville student. In that moment, the “How many championships do you have?” argument from the Irish fans did not stack up well against the rebuttal “No more playoffs for you!”
Once the final players made their way off the field, we headed back for the press conference that we assumed would be a short one. While that was certainly correct, it was also a somber one. And, while one could make light of some of the OSU loss, there was not much to justify in this match. Freeman immediately turned the blame on himself and the coaches, with more self-deprecating remarks from Joe Alt and JD Bertrand. Seeing how hard this loss psychologically affected everyone will be hard to put into words. We walked alongside some players on our way out of the tunnel, and it felt as if we were participating in a funeral procession, mourning the loss of their season’s high hopes.
While we toyed with the idea of heading back to South Bend straight from the game, we decided leaving early the next morning was our better option. However, taking a night to sleep on it did not help the emotional whiplash of the day. To cope on our bookend four-hour drive home, we listened to Taylor Swift’s discography and assigned songs to different people and situations in ND Football (it is now canon that this was a heavily “evermore” game). But even Swift herself could not soften the blow the Cardinals dealt us Irish fans, and turning our sights to USC only bolstered the sentiment.