Posted by: trevormeers | June 26, 2012

Feels Like Dome

In the shadow of the famous library mural, helmets wait for participants in a summer football camp to gear up.

Give me a couple of spare hours in any town, and one of the first places I’ll seek out for a tour is the local college campus. BCS school. Mid-major. Liberal arts hole-in-the-ivy known only to the locals. Doesn’t matter. It’s about the green spaces, the shaded walks, the standard-issue main building made of stone and fitted with a church-like bell tower, the kids who still know what a hacky sack is.

So when we passed through South Bend, Indiana, and had an open evening, it obviously meant we could head to only one place. That’s right: the campus of Saint Mary’s College. And while there, we stumbled into a place across the street that goes back to 1844 and goes by the name of Notre Dame. OK, I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Many people began to notice this private school back in the year 2000 when it hosted the world-famous Nebraska Cornhuskers in a football game won by the Huskers as Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch scored three touchdowns, including the game-winner.

Turns out, the home of the Fighting Irish actually has a history that runs back a little farther than its beatdown at the hands of the Huskers. The campus map you pick up in the library lists a couple of self-guided tours one can take in a quest to see all the major sights around the campus filled with soaring stone buildings. The maps list a “Self-guided Tour For the Spirit” that includes a basilica, the famous golden dome topped with a statue of Mary and a grotto filled with glowing candles.

“First-down Moses” points the way just outside the campus library.

Beside that tour itinerary is a “Self-guided Tour for the Sports Fan.” As we wandered the campus with no real plan, we discovered that it’s rather impossible to separate the two tours. Being college football people, we headed first for the stadium, known as “The House That Rockne Built.” On this evening, the stadium was open only to the high-school studs participating in a football camp. But we peeked through the gates at walls full of helmets and grainy photos commemorating generations of All-American players.

After the stadium, the next obvious tour stop is the library—and not just for English majors and microfiche junkies on holiday. The library towers above most of the campus and is easily visible from inside the stadium. Still, that alone doesn’t explain why Hesburgh Library draws the attention of every Notre Dame fan. Football fans nationwide diligently ignore libraries on fall Saturdays every year, after all. The difference at Notre Dame is that Hesburgh Library is decorated with a mural. Specifically, a mural of Jesus raising his hands overhead.

A plaque near the library states this of the “Word of Life” mural: “The natural richness and subtlety of the stone as well as its permanence make it a fitting material to emphasize the grandeur, complexity and timelessness of man’s search for the truth, the truth which is serenely and eternally possessed in the divine person of the Word.”

A legend among legends, Knute Rockne guards the main gate to Notre Dame Stadium.

But to football fans, the mural looks a lot like a ref at the goal line. So to most people, the mural is known simply as “Touchdown Jesus.”

Just beside the mural stands another gridiron landmark. This one is Moses, clutching tablets of the law in one hand and pointing a single finger skyward with the other. It looks a lot like a patriarch declaring his team “number one,” but in these parts, he’s known as “First Down Moses.”

As you head back to the stadium and slowly circle it, you come to gate after gate named for the great coaches in Fighting Irish history. Ara Parseghian. Dan Devine. Knute Rockne. And, yes, Lou Holtz, which really makes me feel old. Each has a gate with his name carved overhead; each has a life-size statue inscribed with his career record, which invariably includes a national title.

At the end of our stadium loop, we reached Gate E, which is known as nothing else. Since Holtz, Notre Dame has gone through a long series of coaches who have failed to restore the program to its one-time position atop college football’s pyramid. And you don’t have to be one of those ambitious guys wearing a headset to see that Gate E is just waiting for someone to prove their name equal to the rest carved on the walls.

Gate E: Available for naming by anyone who can bring home a national championship.

And maybe that’s one of the best parts about spending an evening wandering a campus. It always leaves you dreaming a bit about what big achievements might still be out there if you keep studying.

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Responses

  1. Trevor, I totally agree. I love roaming college campuses….especially now knowing I don’t have to study anymore! Nice job reminding the readers of the Huskers beatdown of the Irish. Sounds like it was a neat tour.

    Training camp will be here before we know it! Hope you and the fam are well.

    Dave

  2. Another superb piece of writing. However, when I’m forced to traverse a college campus nowadays (large, state schools) I seem to be a magnet for the dumb@ss 18 to twenty-something rude drivers & bicyclists as well as getting a real education as to latest uses of marijuana & the latest deviant sexual behaviors via the t- shirts on display at said campuses.


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