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Sunday, April 14, 2024
The Observer

Observer on the Ground: Stanford

After a solid nap for most of the flight, I awoke to open the window shade on my left before beginning our descent. I looked out and saw San Francisco. I quickly picked out the Golden Gate Bridge, thinking to myself that it was shorter in length than I imagined. I also noticed Alcatraz before I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time as the plane turned to make its final approach into SFO.

Sophomore running back Gi'Bran Payne dives for a touchdown in the second quarter Notre Dame’s 56-23 win over Stanford on Saturday.

We also flew directly over Stanford University, its red terracotta-tiled roofs standing out among the buildings of the Bay Area. We also saw Stanford Stadium, the reason we had come to California in the first place: Notre Dame would play the Cardinal the next day in the last game of both teams’ regular seasons.

As Annika, Meghan and I got off the plane, the beautiful weather and warm sun creeped in through the gate, letting us know we were a long way from the Midwestern cold. We were able to retrieve all our bags and pick up the rental car without a hitch, quickly heading toward the hotel. After check-in we dropped our bags and headed out in search of something to eat.

It was only around 3 p.m., but we were ready for dinner. The time zone adjustment was one our bodies had yet to make. Instead of such an early dinner, we made our way down El Camino Real toward Stanford’s campus. We decided to walk around and get a lay of the land before the area became too congested on gameday.

We drove into campus down a tree-lined road and found a parking structure where we could leave our car. We wandered our way toward the Stanford Oval and saw the beautiful mural on Memorial Church right in the heart of campus. We snapped a few pictures (hey mom!) and then walked over to Hoover Tower. The sun was on its way down at this point and the nighttime cold was creeping in. It was time for dinner.

We ended up at a Cajun restaurant in downtown Palo Alto called Nola. A friend of mine who studied at Notre Dame’s Silicon Valley abroad program had recommended it and she really nailed it. The place had a really cool atmosphere, and they even had the Penguins on for Annika to enjoy. But the food was the real star of the show. Meg and Annika opted for some jambalaya while I went for the chicken and waffles. We also ordered some fries and mac and cheese on the side. Everything we ate that night was fantastic.

With everyone full at this point, we headed back to the hotel. It was getting late for our Eastern Standard Time-accustomed bodies. Annika and I both fell asleep before 10, while Meg stayed out a little later after going to meet a friend who was also in the area.

We had the complimentary hotel breakfast the next morning before spending most of the morning watching football. Meg took a nap, but Annika and I were locked into the Michigan-Ohio State game. We cursed every time they mentioned what the Buckeyes did in South Bend…

After the thrilling and déjà vu-inducing end to that game, it was more or less time to head to the game for media check-in, so we did exactly that. We arrived at Stanford around 15 minutes before the gates opened. We saw some tailgating going on in the grass parking lots around Stanford Stadium and we noticed that most people there seemed to be rooting for the Irish.

Once inside, not much happened until kickoff. It was a quiet atmosphere with the stadium relatively empty, so much so that much of the press box questioned the announced attendance of 30,901. We also noticed the strangeness of Stanford’s band, which is much smaller than Notre Dame’s. They wore mismatched costumes and moved around seemingly at random before finding a formation. It was a bizarre watch.

The game went by relatively quickly and, apart from some first quarter miscues from Notre Dame, the result was never really in doubt. The Irish easily ran away with it behind a career night from Audric Estimé and finished the year with a 9-3 record.

It was cold in Palo Alto by the time we walked back to our car and made it back to the hotel. But before that, we stopped for some local California cuisine at In-N-Out. We all got double-doubles with fries and ate them at the hotel with a shake on the side. It was around 10 p.m. and we had a 6 a.m. wake up the next morning so we all called it a night in Palo Alto.

Little did we know both of our flights the next day would get delayed. First, our flight out of San Francisco was late by about an hour. By the time we landed in Dallas, the flight to South Bend was delayed 90 minutes. By the end of the night, the delay neared three hours, getting us back to South Bend at 1 a.m. Monday morning instead of the anticipated 10 p.m. Sunday night arrival.