SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Daniel Ruettiger, also known as Rudy, summed up the Notre Dame experience best.
"This place is something else, eh?"
Without knowing that was a line from the modern classic, Rudy, I must have muttered those same words to myself or audibly at least a couple dozen times on Saturday.
Notre Dame will do that to you. And I am sure there are about 10,000 Tennessee fans who made the journey that can give me an amen on that one.
Seldom do things in life ever live up to what you make of them in your own head, but for once, my personal expectations were satisfied, and expediently so.
The school, tucked away in the heart of the Midwest, is secluded and hidden from the outside world. It's like the folks up there have got a secret, one they don't care to share with anyone.
The campus is the definition of pure beauty, a true manifestation of aesthetically pleasing landscape and scenery. Trails and greenspace line the area, but it seems like all paths lead in one direction - Notre Dame Stadium.
Outside the stadium, life bustles as tailgating explodes in its truest form. Brats and brewskis. Buddies and bellowing laughter. The Irish fans know how to party.
And then there's the stadium itself.
The Cathedral of College Football forces a state of marvel only to be replaced by respect for tradition and history. It's conjures the realization of all that has happened on fall Saturdays for the better part of a century there. I likened it to a Civil War buff strolling the fields of Gettysburg, or a political science whiz taking a self-guided tour of the United States Capitol.
The guys over at The Sporting News should be ashamed for voting Neyland Stadium ahead of ND Stadium for the best place to watch a college football game.
Noise is one thing. History is another.
I told my colleagues that this was the only place I have ever been to - counting more than 500 football venues - that actually made me forget that I was working.
I lost myself in all that is and ever was Notre Dame football, regardless of the current state of the Irish program. My eyes glazed as I ambled around the field, thinking of all the greats who walked the same ground years ago.
Eleven national championships and seven Heisman Trophies are hard to forget, despite the lackluster latter 90s.
A stare up into the student section told me they certainly remember the good times.
The kids come out in throngs. Although only 10,000 or so are enrolled at the university, I'd say 90 percent of them made it to the game, all decked out in green.
They're active, dangling keys, belts, shoes and whatever else they can find to get into the game.
And every time the Irish score a touchdown, hundreds of young ladies and smaller gentlemen are thrust in the air to be used as a human pom-poms.
Enacting physical trauma on others? I smell a new Tennessee tradition.
While boisterous, the students are respectful, falling in silence in defeat. They seem surprised to lose, prideful of their school's pageantry. But the entire section, not one removed, stayed after their team's 28-18 loss to salute the Irish and listen to the band's postgame rendition of the Notre Dame fight song.
Seems like Tennessee fans could stand to take some hints from them in way of intensity and class.
Class is a good word to define the experience.
No matter what happens to me for the rest of my life, I find solace in the fact that nothing can ever erase last Saturday from the framework of my mind.
I will never forget my first trip to Notre Dame.
South Bend does not let down
Published: Mon Nov 05, 2001 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 03:54 p.m.