Column: Notre Dame students rushing the field after an epic win over Clemson was a beautiful but scary scene

Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune
·5 min read

The Green Wave that washed over the field at Notre Dame Stadium late Saturday was a beautiful yet cringeworthy sight for many, no matter your feelings about the epic win over top-ranked Clemson.

I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Touchdown Jesus face-palm as hordes of Notre Dame students rushed to midfield to celebrate the 47-40 double-overtime win with no security in sight, creating a giant mosh pit that could become a COVID-19 superspreader event rivaling Amy Coney Barrett’s Rose Garden fiasco.

Coach Brian Kelly was called a “prophet” for predicting the celebration, and running back Kyren Williams said it was a “cool experience.”

In normal times, I’d wholeheartedly agree. I was lucky enough to storm the Notre Dame field myself 42 years ago after my school, the University of Missouri, pulled off a 3-0 upset of the Irish in the 1978 season opener in South Bend, Ind.

There are few better feelings as a student than standing on a football field and waving your index finger in the air after a huge win for your school, so it was completely understandable Notre Dame students would go crazy.

It already was a memorable day with the calling of the presidential race and the unseasonably gorgeous November weather. And after a roller-coaster ride like Saturday’s game, there was a lot of pent-up energy in the stadium.

The scene was inspiring and downright scary at the same time.

With the number of positive COVID-19 tests spiking at the university and one Notre Dame football game having already been rescheduled because of a coronavirus outbreak among players, it seemed as though there could’ve been a more responsible way for the 11,000 fans to celebrate.

Most fans wore masks, but others did not and some were half-masked. It looked like a coronavirus Petri dish that grew bigger by the second. NBC analyst Tony Dungy made a pithy comment the fans weren’t socially distanced, which I assume was supposed to be funny.

I’m not sure what the university could’ve done to stop the rush after the first wave of students jumped over the seating area, but obviously the school knew it would be a possibility and still was ill-prepared to deal with it.

Adding to the saga is the ongoing issue of people not following protocols at the university. According to the South Bend Tribune, the university’s faculty senate recently passed a resolution expressing “disappointment” in Notre Dame President John Jenkins for failing to abide by the school’s COVID-19 precautions when he failed to wear a mask or socially distance during the White House event relating to Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination.

Will it now make another resolution registering disappointment in the students?

We won’t know whether the Green Wave leads to another uptick in positive coronavirus tests for at least a few days. Let’s hope not because many of those students will probably be heading home soon for Thanksgiving with their families.

Otherwise, it was a great day for the Irish and a bad day to be Dabo Sweeney.

The overdramatic Clemson coach appeared to be a graduate of the Lee Strasberg school of method acting, whether it was throwing a tantrum about an official review or bullying the refs into picking up a flag on what could’ve been a pass interference call on Clemson during a late drive by the Irish in the fourth quarter.

Often excused as being a “fiery competitor,” Sweeney’s act is a tired one, much like the nonstop rantings of the late Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes or former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight.

Had Notre Dame not come back to win, it would’ve dropped in the polls and Sweeney’s apparent influence over the officiating would’ve been a major storyline in the battle for the four playoff spots. Instead, it was just another game that might not mean all that much to Clemson by the end of this strange season.

“We’re 7-1,” Sweeney said afterward. “Nobody was handing out a trophy tonight. Nobody was rolling a stage out there tonight. We got a ways to go.”

True, it wasn’t a championship game, and the Tigers were playing without quarterback Trevor Lawrence, one of the best players in the nation and a possible No. 1 draft pick. But freshman backup D.J. Uiagalelei threw for 439 yards and put Clemson in position to win late in the fourth quarter, so Lawrence’s absence due to a positive COVID-19 test was basically irrelevant.

The Tigers couldn’t stop Irish quarterback Ian Book on the electric, game-tying drive in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, and the Notre Dame defense came up huge in the second OT to seal the deal.

Kelly outcoached Sweeney, which few could’ve expected, finally giving Irish fans the kind of win they had awaited since his hiring in 2009. Now the Irish have to avoid a letdown next week in the “Holy War” matchup in Chestnut Hill, Mass., against Boston College, which famously beat a top-ranked Notre Dame team in 1993 the week after the Irish’s epic win over Florida State in the “Game of the Century.”

Lou Holtz still hasn’t been forgiven for that one. If Kelly doesn’t pull a Holtz, the Irish have only one more regular-season test remaining, Nov. 27 at North Carolina. They figure to cruise in their last two games: at home against Syracuse and the rescheduled game at Wake Forest.

Clemson likely would then get another shot at the Irish in the ACC championship game in Charlotte, N.C. And barring injury, Lawrence should be back after missing the last two games because of coronavirus protocols.

A classic fight like Saturday’s deserves a rematch.

Now Notre Dame must hold its breath and hope the Green Wave didn’t wash over its players, who were trying to escape the field under the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus.

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