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On the Notre Dame Weekender Road – Part 1 – The departure and arrival

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

It’s a special edition of WeAreSC’s “On the Road with the Cardinal and Gold – The Notre Dame Weekender. There’s nothing quite like Chicago, the Trojans Friday noon Navy Pier Pep Rally, and later that evening in South Bend for the Notre Dame Pep Rally below “Touchdown Jesus.”

So kick back, enjoy some cheers, and join me for the incomparable Notre Dame Weekender.

Thursday – Oct. 15

7:30 a.m.: Legendary USC coach John McKay said when he coached against Notre Dame, he found himself humming the “Notre Dame Victory March.” Well, coach, I woke up this morning, ready to begin the trip back to the Midwest, and humming the same thing.

8:40: While eating my traditional breakfast, oat bran and an orange, I begin watching the ND Marching Band on YouTube playing the famous Irish fight song and the Notre Dame “Victory Clog,” which is played after each Irish touchdown. Hopefully, they won’t be playing it very often on Saturday evening.

9:00: Done packing, I decide this would be the appropriate time to watch the pre-recorded ESPN “30 for 30 – Trojan Wars,” which gives an overview of the Pete Carroll USC dynasty. I really liked and thought it was very well done. Yes, there’s the Texas game, but it’s all part of the experience. I actually liked the Hollywood connection because during the Carroll era, his Trojans teams for the most part were celebrities in a town full of them. On the road, they were like rock stars, as well.

10:30: After the usual paranoia of what did I forget and worrying for no rational reason that my luggage will be inspected because I am bringing a bag full of oat bran for breakfast and it will be mistaken for contraband, I depart to John Wayne Airport, which is about a five minute drive from my condo.

10:40: My Southwest Airlines flight has an 11:40 boarding call, so I have to find some place to park. Cost of parking at JWA is less a day than parking near the Coliseum. Now think about that one for a moment.

10:50: The good news is that I immediately find a parking spot in Terminal Lot C. The bad news is that I do not have a pre-boarding check mark on my boarding pass for faster security. What it means is that I must stand in long line like fans trying to get to a Coliseum restroom during halftime of an USC/Notre Dame game.

11:20: After going through the security ordeal, I head for Gate 16. I pass a gate for San Jose, and they’re some UCLA fans waiting to head up to tonight’s UCLA/Stanford game. I’ll take the Cardinal, thank you. Upon reaching Gate 16, a Trojans fan is telling those around her you can never trust the weather in Chicago during the month of October. Yeah, like you can’t trust the Irish on whether they’ll be wearing their green jerseys on Saturday night. Of course, they do so often it’s no longer an edge, right?

11:30: The first leg of my Southwest flight will be a stop in Las Vegas. Now really, if you had your choice of stops and it’s either Las Vegas or Denver, what would you choose? Kind of like to deciding whether you want to sit on the 50-line in Notre Dame Stadium or high up behind the end zone not facing “Touchdown Jesus.”

11:40: I am in boarding Group A, which means I will get my window seat and a luggage bin. BTW, my flight has Wi-Fi, so I can watch the first couple of innings, hopefully, of the Dodgers/Met 5th game from Dodgers Stadium. We’re scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 8:15 p.m. Central Time, so I might see a couple of the later innings if I am lucky.

12:15 p.m.: Wheels up and we’re in the air. The flight is bumpy heading into Las Vegas McCarran Airport. Talk with a nice vacationing couple from Atlanta, and they have kids that attended Georgia Tech. They bring up the Sun Bowl and the Trojans loss to the Jackets. Okay, next topic.

1:10: Arrive in Las Vegas. The sounds of slots is very exciting, so is the thought of eating. I eat at a Sbarro’s eatery and have spaghetti and meatballs. Well, it beats a Coliseum hot dog. The flight to Chicago will be late in departing. What else is knew? Boarding will be 2:30. Time to throw down some coins in the slots. Slot loss – $5.

3:10: Okay, you knew it was going to happen – another delay. We are boarding an hour behind schedule. The folks on board are as quiet as after the Trojans lost to Washington in the Coliseum. Well, at least there was no booing.

3:40: We get into the sky…finally.

5:00: Frantically, I try to get the Dodgers/Mets game on the in-flight Internet. No matter where I surf, it won’t come in and I have the MLB package. I am forced to watch the ESPN animation of the game. Well, it’s not Tom Kelly broadcasting USC games during the McKay and Robinson years, but it’s better than nothing.

8:35 (Central Time): We finally arrive at Chicago Midway, but the landing is a hair-raiser, as the pilot apparently misjudges the runway and has to put the petal to the medal so we don’t come up short. He accelerates, and we come to the runway in takeoff speed. Folks begin to panic and when we touch down, the pilot hits the breaks like somebody going 80 mph in their car and five yards away from the stoplight. The flight attendant comes on the intercom and says, “Whew, whoa, we landed,” which brings applause and tense laughter.

8:45: Of course there is a luggage mix-up. It takes 20 minutes for the folks on our flight to learn that Southwest has changed the baggage terminal location, which is at the other end of the building.

 9:15: Getting the rental car is no treat. A bus takes travelers to an off-site facility about 10 minutes away. At this point, I just want to get a car from the “Emerald Isle” and get to the hotel. Time to relax, get a bite to eat, and watch Stanford take it to the Westwooders. The weather outside is in the high 50s. Not too bad considering the worst, they tell me, is yet to come in South Bend come the evening of the game.

9:40: It takes another eight minutes to get to the Holiday Inn Express on South Cicero Blvd. It’s an easy check-in and I am starved. The room is small, but who cares. The place charges $17 for parking, a rip-off, but I am there just for tonight. Turn on the Dodgers game, and they are going down. Bad omen. The good news? Switch to the UCLA-Stanford game and the Cardinal are up 14-3 and it’s just in the first quarter.

10:15: Well, ask for an 8:30 a.m. wake-up call. I am told it will take an hour to get to the Navy Pier and the traffic will be heavy getting into downtown Chi-town.

10:45: After a take-out from McDonalds, the Bruins are now down in the second quarter 28-10. It’s going to be a nice rest of the evening.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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