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Renovated Notre Dame Stadium ready to wake up the echoes

An overall view of Notre Dame Stadium before the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)
Jeff Haynes/AP photo

A trip to Notre Dame Stadium never gets old. Not for fans, coaches or players.

Take Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, for example. He was a grizzled veteran of 35 college seasons when the Blue Devils traveled last year to Notre Dame, but he turned into a wide-eyed kid as the team bus pulled up to the Irish’s football cathedral.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had an emotion like I had on the bus,” Cutcliffe told the media after Duke upset the Irish. “I was scanning everything.”

Indeed, there is plenty to see on the leafy Midwestern campus. The $400 million Campus Crossroads Project, with the stadium that opened in 1930 at the center, has been completed in time for the 2017 season.

“The renovations look tremendous,” said Notre Dame coach Kelly when the stadium was partially opened for the Blue-and-Gold spring game. “Particularly the north end zone; what they have done down there, it’s going to be a great feel for us to come out of that tunnel the way it’s put together. The new locker room obviously gives you a great feel.”

Football fans have grown up exposed to Notre Dame scenery whether they’ve been to the campus or not, thanks to televised games and Hollywood movies.

“Knute Rockne All-American” has lived on long past its 1940 release in part due to Ronald Reagan’s election as President 40 years later. Pat O’Brien played Rockne and Reagan was Rockne’s legendary Gipper, George Gipp.

There is so much Irish excess lore and tradition that Hollywood easily exploited the mystique for another generation. The 1993 movie “Rudy” was embellished into a hit (sorry, fans; Irish deity Joe Montana himself mocked liberties the script took in an interview with Dan Patrick).

A short list of traditional sights to see:

  • The Main Building is the simple title for the administration building topped by a golden dome. It shimmers in the sun like a Notre Dame helmet.
  • The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes is a smaller reproduction of the Shrine to St. Bernadette in France. But unlike France, prayers are more commonly for Notre Dame to win games.
  • The 13-story Hesburgh Library’s south wall overlooks the stadium with a mural known as “Touchdown Jesus.” It was titled a “Word of Life” mural, but the library’s 1964 opening coincided with legendary coach Ara Parseghian’s first season. He revived the program and quarterback John Huarte throwing touchdown passes to Jack Snow to win the 1964 Heisman Trophy.
  • Outside the stadium are statues of Irish coaches that won national titles: Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz.

Upon reaching the stadium, the new sites:

  • The renovations included premium seating among the 80,795 seats, an expanded press box with suites, a video scoreboard and improved LED lighting.
  • Three new buildings adjoin the stadium with 750,000 square feet for classrooms, offices and hospitality services. Corbett Family Hall on the east side is an academic and administrative building. The Duncan Student Center is on the west side. The O’Neil Music Hall is on the south side.

The renovations add to the experience, but the first dividend the Irish hope to see is an improved home record.

Notre Dame was only 2-4 at home last year in a season that finished 4-8. The Irish return enough talent to make that an aberration. Overall in seven seasons, Kelly is 31-12 (.720) at home and 6-3 (.666) against ranked teams at home.

This season, the Irish’s visiting opponents are Temple, Sept. 2; Georgia, Sept. 9; Miami (Ohio), Sept. 30; USC, Oct. 21; North Carolina State, Oct. 30; Wake Forest, Nov. 4; and Navy, Nov. 18.

George and USC likely will be ranked – possibly in the top 10 — when they arrive in South Bend. Temple, Miami (Ohio), North Carolina, Wake Forest and Navy are all coming off bowl seasons.

“There has to be a great sense of pride when you walk into that stadium and that pride has to carry over in your preparation and being focused and locked in every time we come into the stadium,” Kelly said. “It’s a stadium that is rich in tradition. Our guys need to know that they play football at the University of Notre Dame and it’s a great, great thing that they have and appreciate it.”

New chapters of Notre Dame’s lore are waiting to be embraced.

Follow Tom Shanahan of FanRagSports on Twitter at @shanny4055

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