With about twelve minutes left in the fourth quarter of last Saturday's game, a sense of jubilation swept through the Notre Dame fans' section. With the Irish about to begin another drive, it seemed as if they already cemented a victory. Not only did the score (14-3) indicate a two-possession game, but the Irish controlled the tempo on both sides of the ball.
Meanwhile, the rest of Spartan Stadium seemed to have lost hope; even the Spartan players pre-maturely expressed their exhaustion and defeat. All momentum belonged to Notre Dame. At that moment, ND fans settled in on cloud nine as the dream of a 3-0 start became more and more of a reality.
This all changed, however, as a frightening crack of thunder echoed from the loud speakers throughout the stadium. As soon as the noise regathered everyone's attention to the actual game, Spartan Stadium began to blast "Crazy Train" so loud that the whole MSU campus could hear it. All of this, in addition to some eye-catching, provocative visuals on the two jumbotrons, quickly helped the Spartans reenergize and motivate themselves for the task ahead (erasing the deficit). Consequently, the clear excitement the players displayed on the field immediately propped the Spartan fans back on their feet and got them cheering their lungs out, as if the score was tied. To put it short, MSU regained a powerful force: hope.
We all know the end result; MSU did not bounce back but, rather, lost by an even bigger margin - but that's not the point I'm trying to make. Although the Spartans did end up losing, for a split second, belief spread amongst the Spartan community. It regained hope that, despite the way the game played out up until that point, the Spartans could fight back to pull out a victory. To say that Spartan Stadium's use of lights, sound, and media in general had nothing to do with that would just be plain ignorant.
What happened at that moment was completely new to me and got me thinking about the in-game experience at Notre Dame Stadium. Since ND played its first game in 1888, the focus, outside of the game, has always been on the Band of the Fighting Irish, universally known as the top marching band in the country. The ND Victory March, along with the plethora of other hits the band belts out, have never gotten old to alumni, who don't see a need for any other form of entertainment to add to the in-game experience (tradition is good enough). The feeling amongst the students is mixed, however; many crave a more modernistic atmosphere. For years, there has been an on-going debate amongst fans of all ages about the use of media for introductions, third downs, and timeouts.
Only recently (beginning half-way through the 2011 season) has Notre Dame Stadium started playing music through its stereo speakers. It came as a surprise to most when "Shipping Up to Boston" blasted through the speakers as the Irish ran out of the tunnel to face USC. While the majority of the student section gave a wild, electrified response, it didn't come without a giant alumni/donor uproar. Immediately following the game, Notre Dame's AD heard it from those who disapproved of the stereo music. Despite the outrage, the stadium continued to play music through the speakers, to the pleasure of some and the displeasure of many others.
There are rumors now, however, that ND's Athletic Department plans to significantly reduce the amount of stereo music due to alumni/donor disapproval. Once again, the reduction (and possible removal) of stereo music will come to the pleasure of some and displeasure of many others. In my opinion, however, everyone is missing the bigger picture.
This all is not simply a question about whether or not Notre Dame Stadium should play music through its speakers, or if it should add a jumbotron, for that matter. To look at the issue with such a black-and-white perspective would be a mistake. ND should not be seeking to hold on to tradition, nor should it be aiming to modernize the in-game experience. Rather, the appropriate goal (which should be an ever-lasting goal) is to improve its home-field advantage; Notre Dame Stadium must be a place that makes both its team and its fans believe that the Irish always have a strong chance of winning, no matter the circumstances. To put it short, it must always provide hope, just like Spartan Stadium did for its players and fans.
Adding different forms of media (stereo music, jumbotron, etc.) is certainly one way of improving the home-field advantage. It is definitely not the only way, however.
Take Duke basketball for instance (different sport, but the same idea); I recently attended a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium and was blown away by the passion, excitement, and overall insanity expressed by its student section throughout the game. Whether it was because of the crazy costumes filling the first two rows, the ridiculous cheers directed at the other team, or the fact that students camped out in preparation for the game, never for a second did anyone believe the Blue Devils would lose that game, despite them trailing at different points in the game.
Yes, they did play a little of bit of music through its speakers, but that didn't seem nearly as impactful as the wild atmosphere created by the Cameron Crazies. While Notre Dame should continue to explore the option of adding media to its stadium, there are a number of other options that it should consider as well. By any means, Notre Dame should be focused on improving the intangibles that influence the outcome of the game, not making the stadium as charming or as modern as can be.
ND's home-field advantage needs to improve because, as Coach Kelly would say, 'If you're not getting better, you're getting worse.'