Knute Rockne. Touchdown Jesus. The Four Horsemen.
None of the University of Georgia’s football players were born when Notre Dame football last won a national title in 1988, but they know all about the tradition of one of college football’s brand name programs.
The Bulldogs will be surrounded by the mystique Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium for a game with an official kickoff time of 7:43 p.m.
“The history is great, guys like Rudy … Joe Montana,” Georgia fullback Christian Payne said. “Being able to go up there and play on that historic field … that big bowl up there, we’re just really looking forward to it.”
Notre Dame is a 4½-point favorite for what will be the 257th consecutive home sellout dating back to 1973 in a stadium with a capacity now of 77,622.
Georgia was allotted 8,000 tickets for the game (not including seats for the Redcoat Band), but that doesn’t come close to meeting demand for the program’s first ever game there.
If you were looking for a pair of tickets Tuesday afternoon on Stubhub, they started at $440 each. The game is the most expensive of the season on the secondary market with an average ticket price of $1,137, according to TickPick.com.
The stadium opened in 1930 after Rockne brought the program to national prominence and recently underwent a three-year $400 million renovation to include a student center and academic spaces. The stadium was originally designed by Osborn Engineering Company, which also was responsible for Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds in New York, and Comiskey Park in Chicago. Rockne “took a personal hand in its design,” according to the school’s athletic website.
“That’s the kind of place growing up that you always wanted to play in,” said player linebacker Davin Bellamy, who, as a kid, rememberswatching quarterback Brady Quinn on NBC. “It’s very legendary just the way it’s built, just the infrastructure of it.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart was a graduate assistant at Florida State when a No. 5 Seminoles team trounced Notre Dame 37-0 in 2003.
“We get to go to a historic place, a special place and we get to go play a good football team,” Smart told players in the locker room after Saturday’s win over Appalachian State, according to footage from his TV show. “We’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us.”
Rich Rodriguez went 1-1 as Michigan’s coach in games at Notre Dame, losing 35-17 in 2008 and winning 28-24 in 2010.
“I remember when we played there, it was always wet and the grass was extremely high, but now they’ve got (FieldTurf) so that’s all different,” said Rodriguez, now Arizona’s coach. “It’s an intense rivalry. It’s an intense place to play.”
Notre Dame went 2-4 last year at home, losing to Michigan State, Duke, Stanford and Virginia Tech during a 4-8 season. Northwestern won there in 2014 and Tulsa in 2010.
The Irish are 31-12 overall under Brian Kelly at home, including 6-3 against ranked opponents.
One of those losses to a ranked team came in 2013 against Oklahoma, a 35-21 Sooners win.
Stoops, who lost 34-30 at Notre Dame in 1999 in his first Oklahoma season, said the Notre Dame aura is “not a factor. With Georgia, Oklahoma, all of us at good places play in a lot of tradition-rich stadiums and play teams like that all the time. In the end, I think what helps you is you’re motivated to go up there and play.”
Smart will take a team that played 17 true freshmen last week to their first road game in South Bend.
“The kids nowadays are different,” Smart said this week. “If it was my freshman year and we were going there, I think it would be much more intimidating. To be honest with you, these kids know Notre Dame’s players. A long time ago, you didn’t know Notre Dame’s players unless you saw them on TV because you didn’t get recruited with them. These kids have gone to All-Star games with those guys. They know those players. … There are a lot of guys who have played in big games before. I know it’s not the same thing as playing at Notre Dame, but to them there is not a huge difference.”
Safety J.R. Reed calls himself a “football buff” and wants to see Touchdown Jesus for himself. The “Word of Life” mural looms over Notre Dame Stadium.
“Just being able to see that will be amazing,” he said.
Reed has heard stories from his father, former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jake Reed, about playing at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field and how it “awed” him. His father will get to South Bend in time this week to tour the city and campus
“You’re going to see all of their fans, you’re going to see the history, the Heisman winners,” said Reed.
Seven Heisman winners, 11 national titles and probably the most famous walk-on ever in Rudy, made famous by the 1993 film that depicted Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger.
Payne says he’s seen it about 14 times.
“I feel sympathy for him as a walk-on,” said Payne, who joined the Georgia program without a scholarship. “I can relate to him.”
Reed figures all of the Notre Dame lore won’t matter once the game kicks off.