An 8 a.m. - noon solo drive from Louisville to South Bend in early February should take the place of capital punishment in all countries that utilize it. I've never felt more alone, and I'm not sure I would have survived had it not been for Sirius XM's top 30 countdown from the first week of February, 1998. Janet Jackson's "Together Again" claiming the top spot was a letdown, but the steady dose of Mase and the glory that was Uncle Sam's "I Don't Ever Wanna See You Again" more than made up for it.
As anyone who's driven anywhere with me could have predicted, I got lost on Notre Dame's campus. Ended up being that person who drives as far as he can towards the academic buildings before hitting the "what the f--k are you doing, this is a college campus" loop. Pretty campus.
Stayed at same hotel as the team. Talked to Gorgui, saw Wayne eating...pretty much all you could ask for in an afternoon.
Notre Dame fans in South Bend fall under three categories:
Students - Nerdy and obnoxious, but relatively harmless.
Locals - Gruff, Chicago types who give off an unapproachable vibe but who are actually very willing to help if you ask (I owe you my life for fixing the darts machine, CJ's bartender).
Old People - Fully decked out in Notre Dame garb, but completely indifferent to Notre Dame sports, their surroundings and life in general.
Darts record (team cricket): 2-2. Pretty disappointed.
We drank at CJ's for pretty much the entire day, and then left approximately five minutes before Manti Te'o showed up. Probably would have kicked his ass. Probably.
I knew the Joyce Center was small, but the compactness still took me a little bit by surprise when I walked in. The best comparison I can think of is WKU's Diddle Arena.
We got to the game about 40 minutes early and walked down behind the U of L bench so we could be there when the team came out for warm-ups. At that time, Louisville fans definitely out-numbered the non-student section Notre Dame fans. Our actual seats were near the top of the arena, but we still had a better view of the court than the worst seats in the lower bowl at the Yum Center. We were sandwiched between rows of Fighting Irish fans, which proved to be almost unbearable during the end of regulation comeback.
I don't know if Notre Dame's PA guy got a pronunciation guide or if he was simply choosing to ignore it, but "Georgee Ding" wasn't accurate the first, second or 54th time he said it. It bothered me about ten times more after the "USA" chant from the students directed at Gorgui.
Notre Dame fans have a tenuous grasp on the concept of a travel.
We had been drinking all day, but I'm not sure I've ever been more sober than I was by the time the second overtime rolled around. I'll never forgive the Joyce Center for not selling alcohol. Also, it was really hot inside there.
After the final horn sounded, we watched the court storm for approximately two seconds before grabbing our coats and getting the hell out of there. We weren't alone, as the concourse was about 95 percent Louisville fans, 4.9 percent Notre Dame fans, and one chotch wearing a UK hoodie and a green Fighting Irish hat.
This was almost the breaking point.
The only other time I've been in this situation - committed to staying the night with a group of friends in enemy territory after a crushing late night loss - was after we lost to North Carolina in the '08 Elite Eight in Charlotte. We did exactly the same thing we did on that night: found the closest bar, walked in, and went straight to the corner.
It was mind-blowing to me that the biggest bar near the Joyce Center could be so scarcely attended after a monumental Saturday night victory. There was a decent crowd inside (which included Luke Harangody and his beanie), but nothing like you'd see at any of the establishments on Main St. if the Cards had pulled off a similar feat...or a much less significant feat.
By the time we got from the arena to the bar, it was already 1 a.m., which meant there wasn't ample time for alcohol to save the night. We went back to the hotel, ordered pizza from Vesuvio's (which left "Sussudio" stuck in my head for a solid three days) and chalked the whole trip up as a loss.
Listened to the 1998 top 30 countdown again on the way home. I felt just like Uncle Sam. Still kinda do.