Ohio State turning Notre Dame Stadium red a reality and a compliment, not an Irish failing

They are coming. Many of them are already in South Bend. And rest assured, more Ohio State Buckeyes fans are on their way, to the chagrin of many Notre Dame fans.

Irish fans have seen it before. If/when Notre Dame Stadium reaches Saturday’s 7:30 ET kickoff with the NBC broadcast finding significant portions of red distorting the university’s attempt at an “Irish Wear Green” evening, it will be a familiar nightmare.

Cincinnati fans filled 20,000 or so seats in 2021. Georgia fans took over more than that, many more, back in 2017. And famously, Nebraska’s trip to South Bend in 2000 is simply known as the “Sea of Red.”

The only coincidence here is that they all wore red. Everything else is a logical pattern, one that will repeat itself this weekend, no matter how much Notre Dame may try to avoid it.

“It’s a topic of discussion because we don’t want that to happen again,” director of ticketing Brett Jones said to The Observer. “We know [the ticketing office is] a big part of creating a home field advantage. So we obviously want there to be a sea of green out there on Saturday and limit the amount of red in there.”

The ticketing office may have more luck making water flow uphill.

Cincinnati fans knew they were on a once-in-a-lifetime run, eventually the first Group of Five team to pierce the College Football Playoff, and if they ever wanted to see their team play at one of college football’s most historic sites, this would be their once-in-a-century chance, the Bearcats and Irish last playing in 1900.

“It’s such a bucket list trip for the visiting team,” Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick said to The Athletic.

That, that right there, is the truest piece of this Irish lament. With only 45 percent of Notre Dame Stadium filled by season-ticket holders, there are inevitable ways for Ohio State — or Cincinnati or Georgia — fans to find tickets. The university can attempt to limit late resales of tickets, offering returned tickets this weekend only to people associated with the school, but only so much can be done.

Per a Vivid Seats’ PR email usually deleted from the inbox, tomorrow’s tickets are the second-most expensive Notre Dame tickets since 2009 (when Vivid’s data begins) at $577, topped only by Georgia’s journey in 2017.

The Bulldogs had not played north of the Mason-Dixon Line since 1965, with one 2010 exception of a trip to Colorado. Georgia fans had not needed to make a genuine weekend trip in more than 50 years. No wonder they showed up in the Midwest with such force that they “called the Dawgs” at that Friday’s Cubs game.

When a fanbase is so motivated to go to a game that they spend four figures for a pair of tickets and overwhelm a historic venue in an entirely different sport in an entirely different state, how much could Notre Dame have really expected to keep them out?

They saw a twice-a-century opportunity, and they took it. Most college football fans would. They found their tickets via Irish fans looking to cover a mortgage payment — the audacity! — or via the realities of ticket sales in the 21st century.

Maybe Nebraska fans relied on more duplicitous means in 2000. Probably not, but maybe.

“It looked like they stole tickets or beat people up outside to get in,” Cornhuskers quarterback and eventual Heisman-winner Eric Crouch said. “There was way more people than I anticipated being here.”

Columbus is closer than Lincoln and Athens, though this is not as rare a moment for Ohio State fans. Maybe that means half of Notre Dame Stadium is clad in red. Maybe it means only 10,000 Buckeyes fans show up.

“I’d expect a strong contingent of Buckeye Nation to make the trip,” Columbus Dispatch reporter Joey Kaufman said in this week’s “And In That Corner …” “It goes everywhere, and there is the novelty factor.

“This is only Ohio State’s third-ever trip to South Bend and I am guessing there aren’t many left who made the first one in 1936. Without another home-and-home series scheduled, this is the last chance for a while for any OSU fan to see them play at such a historic site.”

Notre Dame can acknowledge the compliment of opposing fanbases so desperately wanting to make the most of their rare chances to see the campus and the House That Rockne Built while naturally still trying to keep them on the outside looking in.

Michigan fans do not invade South Bend to the same effect. USC fans don’t. Just like Auburn fans do not populate Alabama’s years hosting the Iron Bowl or even Ohio State fans do not turn Michigan Stadium red every other year.

None of those are rare occurrences. The Irish and Wolverines could not even finish their last short series without announcing the next one on the morning of the last scheduled game.

Buckeyes fans have no expectation of a chance to return to South Bend. Of course they are coming, if they are not already in town. It’s a credit to them and a testament to the college football history at Notre Dame more than it is anyone’s failing.

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