Senior Day isn't only an emotional time for the players. Students, families, coaches, and friends alike share in the celebration of four years of preparation, hard work, and dedication of the men that don the blue and gold each week. And this particular Saturday was my last game In Notre Dame Stadium as a student.
I couldn't help but think about it before the game. Fighting Irish Digital Media created a senior week primer video that I had to have watched about sixty times, (watch out, you may cry), and all week I had spent time looking back on the twenty-five home games in my career here at Notre Dame (we had a 17-8 record in those games) in amazement at how fast the time had gone. I remember my first student game like it was yesterday -- Jimmy Clausen was back as a junior, throwing bombs to Michael Floyd like it was nothing as we shut out Nevada 35-0. As freshmen, we were convinced the Irish were back and we were going to have four years of greatness ahead -- the sky was the limit.
Eleven games later we were 6-6, head coach Charlie Weis was fired, and it was back to the drawing board. We were still searching for a way back to the top of college football.
But this game, my Senior Day, was different. There was no more hoping and wishing for a Notre Dame revival -- we had been watching it with our own eyes week in and week out. And for me, I wanted to appreciate every bit of that revival and soak it all in one last time.
Every bit of the game day experience was a little more surreal. Looking around I saw so many faces that I have spent four fantastic years with -- from crashing the parking lots bright and early to tailgate to jumping up and down on the wooden benches in The House That Rockne Built. And our time was coming to an end.
But we still had unfinished business. Our football team was 10-0 for the first time since 1993 and we were going for our first undefeated season at home in 14 years. We didn't come this far to stumble on the doorstep.
One of the most underrated parts of every game is belting out the national anthem with friends. A moment where a feeling of togetherness just permeates the air. We sing along to the music played by the greatest of all university marching bands, the Band of the Fighting Irish. And of course, nothing beats a Notre Dame flyover.
I know how special my time at Notre Dame has been, but I can only imagine the emotions that were running through the senior football players. Getting to see the senior captains (especially Manti Te'o as the fans honored him again with leis) run out of the tunnel to meet their families at midfield and the utter joy on their faces was truly something to appreciate. Really, Saturday was all about them.
This game was all about style points. We were third in the BCS Standings and by all accounts we needed outside help to get into the national championship game. People respected us as a good football team, but said we weren't as deserving as Kansas State or Oregon. Why? Because our offense has stalled at times this season and we hadn't blown out inferior opponents.
Well, that changed in a heartbeat.
On the first drive of the game, senior running back Cierre Wood ripped off a 68-yard touchdown run and the Irish never looked back. That run itself sealed the deal -- Wake Forest would not crack the Notre Dame defense for a single point. When Notre Dame led 21-0 after the first quarter, the seniors' attention turned to one thing only: the halftime marshmallow fight of Notre Dame lore.
It was a battle.
I unleashed bags upon bags of jumbo marshmallows on my classmates, and definitely took my fair share of hits as well. All the seniors made sure that we showered the gold-seated alumni beneath us as a final farewell, and we turned the student section into a sticky mess that literally made it feel like you were stuck standing in cement.
The Irish went on to cruise to a 38-0 victory, and after the most emotion-packed alma mater ever (I even thanked Usher "Dave" who stole my Owen Wilson ball -- to be fair, he was an excellent usher all year outside of my heartbreaking story) , the senior class had a chance to run on the field one last time. It was likely to be the final game ever played on the natural grass of Notre Dame Stadium (Notre Dame is rumored to be switching to FieldTurf next season), and we all made sure to take some of the grass with us as a souvenir for the ages.
That final game as a student in Notre Dame Stadium is more than I could have ever dreamed of, but the Class of 2013 was in for a special treat on Senior Night. The two teams ahead of us in the BCS Standings, Oregon and Kansas State, would go on to lose and leave Notre Dame just one win away from a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
To the senior class, I want to say thank you for a great four years in the stadium (and don't worry, we aren't done with football yet, I'll see you guys in Miami) -- we've had a great run. To be the first class in 14 years to see the Irish go undefeated at home is something to be proud of, and something we all helped contribute to with our incredible unity and fan support. No, we'll never sway arm-in-arm again in Notre Dame Stadium as students, but this is a memory we will all share for a lifetime.
We can say we have put the fight back in Fighting Irish, and we can say we have reawakened the echoes, but one thing is clear to everyone in college football: Notre Dame is back on top. We are number one.