Notre Dame has won 26 consecutive home games, the second longest in the country
When you walk through that north gate and walk down the tunnel before sunrise for a summer workout inside the Notre Dame Stadium, you realize what it all means.
When you perform each step on both levels of the old arena as part of this conditioning exercise, you get it.
When you join Notre Dame’s football program, you quickly learn one of the non-negotiable tenants – protect the pitch at all costs. Losing on this holy ground against any type of opponent in any type of outcome is just not part of the program’s protocol. Already.
Losing a game on the road the week before, or finding a way to figure it out and escape doesn’t matter much. When that game ends and the week turns and a home game draws near, the feeling in and around the dressing room, boardroom, training ground, is still the same for the Irish No.9.
They play at home and they don’t lose at home. Already. The players know that. The players are talking about it. It is an open subject. Everyone understands it. Everyone is discussing it.
“It’s definitely a major goal that we don’t lose at home,” said wide receiver Braden Lenzy, a senior who has never lost a home game (21-0). “It’s always a goal to win, but especially at home. It’s more a matter of pride and it touches the heart of Notre-Dame. ”
It has also become one of college football’s biggest mysteries. Not the unsolved kind that is made for television, but just in general. How did Notre Dame achieve 26 straight home wins, the longest streak in modern program history? How have 1,484 days passed since that last loss to Georgia No.15 in 2017? How did Notre Dame quietly find its way into the country’s second longest home winning streak, behind Clemson (30)?
How? ‘Or’ What?
Previously under Brian Kelly, who lost three of his first six home games as a head coach, Ireland’s best home winning streak was 10 (2011-13).
Of course, history and tradition oozes from the concrete walls and those still cramped bleachers, but much of what happens in this 77,622-seat structure twice renovated since 1997 sort of ends there. Consider other places Notre Dame has performed in recent years. There’s a crazy common denominator that doesn’t match Notre Dame’s home court advantage.
Like that Saturday night of 2019 at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, which was a four-hour assault on all senses. There is noise and then there is the kind of noise that was generated that night. Don’t try to see where it might fall on the charts. It was off the charts. The state of Florida gets carried away in the minutes leading up to kick-off when Chief Osceola passes from the east end of Doak Campbell Stadium and plants a flaming sphere – with real fire – in midfield. The place is up for grabs.
Even next week’s trip to Lane Stadium – as overrated as the pre-game hype tends to be with “Enter Sandman” – is worth at least a small price of admission when Virginia Tech comes out of its sound tunnel. by Metallica. Yet when that moment fades, it becomes just another stadium, just another game.
A bit like at Notre Dame.
There are advantages in the field, and then there is Notre Dame. A nice and friendly place to visit where ushers and ticket scanners and concession stand employees handing out hot dogs greet you with a kind note and then thank you for the visit at the end of the game.
It is the Notre-Dame stadium.
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What makes this stage so difficult?
There isn’t a single signing moment that Irish fans look forward to for the whole game – we see you Camp Randall Stadium and your ‘Jump Around’. It’s just kind of a game. The place can get noisy when it has to – see Toledo – but it’s usually still a serene setting to play a game for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon / evening.
The place doesn’t shake, certainly not like the old press box in 1993 for that Florida State game. Quiet counts are not often necessary. It all unfolds in a way. Noise. Silence please. Sit in the stands and those around you might tell you to sit down and shut up – and they’re serious.
“Home games, for me, I consider them to be relatively calm,” said Lenzy. “It’s definitely a little different atmosphere. It’s just a comfort.
A comfort and a conviction that Notre-Dame will come out of it. Like the Virginia Tech game in 2019 when the Irish were down and practically absent. Ian Book and the offense found a way with 29 seconds remaining to escape, 21-20. Like the Toledo game. Notre Dame was also down and almost 69 seconds from losing to a creepy Mid-American Conference team.
Jack Coan ignored a dislocated middle finger on his throwing hand to throw a winning touchdown pass to Michael Mayer. Another home loss averted; another assured home victory.
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“Whenever we are at a dead end at home, it is in our mind that we will always be able to do it,” said Lenzy. “There is no doubt that it cannot be done because we have seen it done so many times.”
Can it be done again on Saturday for a back-to-back home win over No.27 Cincinnati in the standings? The Bearcats burst into town undefeated (3-0) and full of confidence that they will walk away with arguably the biggest win on the program since Kelly was a coach.
Notre Dame has already been tested at home this year. Saturday will be no exception. Cincinnati has playmakers. Cincinnati is swagger. Cincinnati has the confidence that it can earn. Oh, and the team with the third longest winning streak at home with 23 consecutive wins?
It would be Cincinnati, which would love to drop to No.2 early Saturday night. Expect to see lots of red and black in the stands at Notre Dame Stadium. It’s going to get noisy. It will become interesting. But in the end, Notre Dame thinks she will do what Notre Dame does at home.
This is instilled in the Irish when they run the stadium steps in the summer. When they train in the stadium on Thursdays home game weeks. When they pass the leadership torch to the next group of seniors each spring. That’s the DNA of the program – don’t lose it at home. Already.
Winning at home is a big part of the overall process that Kelly so often preaches. He believes it. Its players believe it.
“It’s just a state of mind,” said senior defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola. “You come to our stadium …”
Ademilola paused, trying to either find the right words or leave them there for dramatic effect before starting over.
“You come to our stadium …”
Another pause. Then a smile. And a laugh. It was almost as if Ademilola knew what was to come, but didn’t want to say it. No need to finish the sentence. You know what would have happened next.
You don’t win.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI