Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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66 PRESEASON 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL I 'll never be so happy to give up a parking space. Last year, when students, faculty and staff were the only parties on the entrance list for Irish home games, the sea of parking lots outside Notre Dame Stadium sat all but empty, the scents and scenes of tailgate reveling replaced by a view of cold blacktop. The one representative per media outlet authorized to cover home games had his or her pick of parking spots in the stadium's shadow. I could've stood at my usual space in the main lot's first or second row, pulled out a pitching wedge, dropped a golf ball and hit the Frank Leahy Gate. My first year on the Notre Dame beat was a stirring sea- son played with a largely lifeless backdrop, though the approximately 10,000 folks fortunate enough to watch in person did their darndest to add some juice. The lasting image of 2020 will be the mass of humanity on the field after the Irish felled No. 1 Clemson, after all. Same time, anyone who drove down Angela Boulevard during a game had to squint to see signs of life. For so many of you who halted annual pilgrimages to South Bend and saw 2020 season tickets essen- tially evaporate, last season surely felt like it was played on another planet. (Hey, at least you didn't have to fuss with downloading and pay- ing for Peacock to watch a game.) But now, college football has re- turned to Earth and is ready to wel- come you. And with normal Notre Dame game day and all its irrepli- cable staples back, I'm expecting the media parking pass for the Sept. 11 home opener against Toledo to send me to the other side of the moon and require a walk through one big party to reach the stadium. Sign me up. Nothing makes cover- ing college football feel normal than parking a galaxy away from the field. I'll even begrudgingly give up my extra press box space where I could spread my two screens, two notepads and snacks without fear of angering my neighbor. Sorry in advance, whoever sits next to me this year. The next time I stare down at the opening kickoff from the press box, there will be 77,622 of you below me. You'll have just seen the band form an "N" and a "D" on the field. You'll have watched the Irish Guard lead it out from the tunnel and hear the Vic- tory March. You'll be full of hot dogs, burgers and beers from your tailgate or The Backer. It will be a beautiful sight. Savor it a bit more, like taking your first bite of chocolate after you gave it up for Lent. The season you will return to watch should be a captivating one. I'm not sure if Notre Dame is capable of being a truly great team like head coach Brian Kelly challenged after the Blue-Gold Game, but its quest to try and get there will be entertaining TV. The home slate is a treat, too. It includes three top-15 teams in the initial Associated Press poll. No. 8 Cincinnati is first on Oct. 2, No. 15 USC visits on Oct. 23, followed by No. 10 North Carolina one week later. The Navy game's history prevents that matchup from growing stale, even if this year's Midshipmen team doesn't appear to be potent. Upstart Georgia Tech has some individual skill talent. Even Toledo is … well, not a hapless paycheck game op- ponent like New Mexico or Bowling Green. But some- thing tells me Notre Dame would have no problem filling seats even if its entire schedule contained paupers. Game day in South Bend and countless other towns is about tradition and a shared love with friends, family and strangers. The on-field hap- penings and opponent are merely a fraction of the ap- peal. What makes college foot- ball such a unique spectacle is its sense of community. I know you all have missed that. As the Notre Dame fan community re-engages for six Saturdays this fall, though, it will have a different feel for us at Blue & Gold Illustrated. This is the first season since shortly after our inception without the ven- erable and universally beloved Lou Somogyi, whom I had the honor to work alongside and share bylines in this magazine with for 14 months. Picturing a football season without him is like imagining Wrigley Field without its ivy or "The Simpsons" without Homer. He was truly a sta- ple. He would've cherished this return to pre-COVID game-day rituals, be- cause I know he missed them last year. As he wrote on this very back page of our preseason edition last year: "So much about college football involves the tradition and pageantry that takes us back to the cherished days of yore and reliving them." He too would have accepted a lon- ger walk from the parking lot as the price to pay for their return. ✦ ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at Notre Dame will welcome full-capacity crowds in 2021 and bring back its game-day staples. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS A Welcomed Return To Normal

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