The Notre Dame versus Army game in Yankee Stadium had been circled on my calendar for the better part of a year. It’s arguably the most historic matchup in College Football history, and in 1924 served as inspiration for some of the most famous and elegant sports words ever penned.
“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”
If you’ve never read the entire article by Grantland Rice, I would encourage you to visit the link below. The entire piece is absolute breathtaking prose.
Yankee Stadium is certainly one of the most unique neutral site venues that one could witness a College Football game, and I relished the opportunity to share it with some of my closest friends who call New York home. If nothing else, it’s probably one of only a handful of College Football games accessed by a subway ride. For all the appeal, however, I had some initial reservations about Notre Dames’ chosen barnstorming matchup.
New York is place that knows absolutely nothing about College Football. The nearest school of any football merit is probably Rutgers, and that’s hardly a ringing endorsement. It’s a baseball town first and foremost, and on the list of sports priorities, CFB is considerably far down the ladder. Additionally, part of me couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a replica game being played in a replica stadium.
The games between Notre Dame and Army in the 40’s are silvery legends, and stand to this day as some of the most vaunted games in College Football history. During this heyday, both Army and Notre Dame were the national powerhouses in the game. Today, however, Army is largely irrelevant in the College Football landscape and Notre Dame struggles to maintain some semblance of its former legacy. As such it’s a replica game attempting to dredge up the history between two former greats.
Furthermore, the “new” Yankee Stadium is basically a replica of the Old Yankee Stadium. It was designed and built to look exactly like the old one, but lacks the tradition, grit and history of the old ballpark. The Hard Rock Café was proof enough that things are a bit too shiny and commercial inside for my taste. Is this a ballpark or a casino? It’s essentially a full sized Disneyfied model of the old venue. Game announcers and video vignettes kept annoyingly referring to it as “The House That Ruth Built”, which was both egregiously misinformed and enraging because Babe Ruth never played there. Neither did Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle nor Mattingly for that matter.
When I stepped inside Yankee Stadium, however, my mood changed. Despite my staunch opposition to all things Yankee, the field itself actually looked pretty good. Cozily tucked within the confines of a baseball field, it was disorienting to look at without the diamond to serve as a reference point. Furthermore, I saw a mix fans from all walks of life draped in Irish gear, many of whom I could tell may never be able to make the pilgrimage to South Bend to watch their beloved Irish play in person. At that point the magnitude of the game dawned on me. This wasn’t just about playing a football game, this was about bringing the legend and spirit of Notre Dame to one of the biggest stages and brightest spotlights in the world. While the luster of the Gold helmets may not be shining as brightly of late, Notre Dame is still the only program in the country with the status to christen the gridiron of a place like Yankee Stadium.
Under that context, the game on the field was almost secondary to the significance of the venue and spotlight. Army scored first following an endzone interception, and their option rushing attack carved up the Irish defense on the initial drive. That would be the last of the threat from the Black Knights on the day, however, as the Irish defense stiffened up and shut out Army for the rest of the game. After the initial interception, the Notre Dame offense put together a handful of clean, well executed drives with a precision that has been all to rare this year. Led by bulldozer senior running back Robert Hughes, the Irish showed remarkable offensive balance and a formidable running game, the likes of which had been sorely lacking all season. In the end, they cruised to a 27-3 victory in front of a crowd of 54,251.
Despite my initial reservations, I was actually quite captivated by the Notre Dame visit to Yankee Stadium. It’s an environment that transcends a mere football game, and puts the Irish under the spotlights of one of the biggest stages in the world. Now if only we could get Fenway Park on the docket, I’d really have something to cheer about…
Thanks to my friends Isabelle and Kevin for setting up some great pre-game “tailgating” at their local bar. It was an excellent spot, and great to catch up.
Thanks again to Dylan for the hospitality and joining me in our seats up in the stratosphere.
Thanks again to Bryce and Kate for setting up yet another amazing College Football weekend, securing tickets to the game, and laying down the foundation for some amazing weekends next year!
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