In Tech’s most consistently inconsistent historic matchup, Tech gets the chance Sunday not only to square off against a top ten team, but also one that Tech coaches and teams throughout the ages have struggled to beat. The fact that this game takes place in late fall in northern Indiana only adds to the sense of time and place. Georgia Tech seeks just its fourth win in South Bend in what will be its twentieth try.
Quite frankly, after writing somewhere over 4,000 words on this topic last year, it’s a little bit daunting to have to come back and revisit the topic. Surely there are things I missed last year, and just as certain is the probably unending list of things I could have worded better, cleaned up grammatically, or gone into more detail on. Of course, it’s rather lame to just tell you to go read that instead, so I won’t do that, and instead, rather than focus on Notre Dame in football, today I will try to focus more on the campus, the stadium, and perhaps the city of South Bend at large. Honestly, I’m writing this as I go, but it will definitely be different than the usual content of these features. Regardless, if you want more football-related details, especially about the history of Tech and Notre Dame, I encourage you to check it out.
It is not uncommon for city names in America have an origin tied into some geographic form or figure. Though some are rooted in other languages, be they of indigenous or European etymology, it is not wholly uncommon to find places named for the things they are near. South Bend, Indiana is no different, given its name represents its position at the southernmost bend in the St. Joseph River, a waterway that winds itself through southern Michigan, briefly dipping into Indiana, before spilling out into Lake Michigan in the aptly named town of St. Joseph, along with its twin of Benton Harbor. As an aside, the eastern shores of Lake Michigan are a wonderful place to spend a weekend, or to buy a bathroom fixtures, if you are a fan of Whirlpool products.
For those that prefer Kohler for their plumbing needs, well, stick to the west side of the lake, though that’s a ramble for a different column.
Anyways, South Bend was named for its location on the St. Joseph River, and, like most modestly navigable waterways of the early days of the settlement of the Midwest by Europeans and, later, Americans, the superlative locations — furthest in a cardinal direction, closest to another river, etc. — were common places for commerce, particularly fur trading, to be conducted. Situated at a nexus point for travel from the west via the Kankakee, which flows to the Illinois and on to the Mississippi, and the St. Joseph, which flows both northeast and northwest, the point rapidly grew into a place of regional significance.
HTS: Notre Dame
Of course, any reader of this column cares probably far more for the details on colleges and sports than ramblings on the waterways of the greater Great Lakes region, and for that, I thank you for humoring me. On the way to talking about the actual school, here’s two links to one of the more interesting stories in American transportation, the story of the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend, the country’s last interurban railroad.
When Notre Dame was founded in 1842 on a gift of land from the Bishop of Vincennes by Edward Sorin, the town was just about a decade removed from being a barely-incorporated hamlet of 128 people, yet also the county seat. Today, despite woes following the departure of a not-insignificant portion of the city’s manufacturing, particularly the Studebaker plant that had been an anchor for the first century or so of the town’s existence, South Bend is the fourth largest city in the state of Indiana.
While most people are familiar with the colloquial name of the school, most do not know that Notre Dame’s full name is the University of Notre Dame du Lac, which it received upon being officially established as a university in 1844. As the school was founded as an all-male institution, a female counterpart, St. Mary’s College, was also founded in 1844. While the former became co-educational in 1972, the latter remains resolutely all-female, and even turned down a merger proposal by Notre Dame in the early 1970s.
Over the course of the first four decades of the school’s existence, the offerings steadily grew, with the main academic facilities being completely rebuilt three times before Georgia Tech came into existence in the late 1880s. Much as Tech’s Old Shop Building burnt to the ground unexpectedly, so too was the third reconstruction of Notre Dame’s Main Building in 1879, when it was replaced with its modern form. Of course, most casual observers would know it by its much more common name, the Golden Dome, a name so identifiably associated with the school that their students are colloquially referred to as Domers. Architecturally, the building is a bit eclectic, but definitely worth a trip since, as with most eclectic things, that also makes it rather unique to behold.
Interestingly, the rebuilt Main Building hosted the library at the time it was completed, however one would not be wrong to say that a building of likely equal fame and notoriety serves as the current home of the campus library. The building in question, of course, is the Hesburgh Library. The library was built in the familiar 1960s style of collegiate library, in the vein of Crosland Tower at Tech. This, of course, meant that the building’s large, unadorned walls lacked windows and exterior decoration, much in contrast to the more ornate style seen throughout the rest of campus, most starkly in contrast to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, which is understandably a well-decorated church and a stark contrast to plain, featureless walls. These walls were made decidedly less featureless within a year after the building opened when a mural formally called the Word of Life was unveiled on the side of the building. This, of course, is the origin of the famous “Touchdown Jesus” expression, as the library overlooks the football stadium.
In its modern form, following a renovation and modernization completed in 2017, it is said that the view of the mural at the iconic perch overlooking the stadium is no longer perfectly visible, though this is a claim this writer will have to investigate come time for the game.
Georgia Tech has a fair bit of history with the stadium, as is understandable for a team that has played at Notre Dame Stadium twenty times. However, the most significant bit of stadium-related history between the two teams is certainly the opener of the 1997 season, as Tech helped open the previous major addition to the stadium, when capacity was increased from 60,000 to 80,000. When the stadium was built, it was designed to be a scaled version of Michigan’s Big House, and intended to be a massive step up in capacity and scope from their previous home field. Prior to the renovation, the old outer wall could be seen at the entrance gates, as the stadium was built as a complete concrete and steel bowl, and when it was expanded, it was proportionally expanded out in all directions at the top of the bowl. Even despite the massive increase in capacity, Notre Dame was able to continue a streak of continuous sellouts alive until 2019.
Georgia Tech will get another entry into the long and storied rivalry with Notre Dame on Saturday as they head up to South Bend for the first time since 2015. Though Tech and Notre Dame played annually in spurts in the 1920s, 1940s, and 1970s, the series was incredibly intermittent outside of those time periods. Brief renewals brought a one-off regular season contract for the stadium opener in 1997, followed by a Tech bowl win in Jacksonville a few seasons later, and a home-and-home in the 2000s, which featured the only time to-date Tech has hosted College Gameday on campus. While the two schools played their first meeting in the Notre Dame-ACC football scheduling deal in 2015, the five years that elapsed between the subsequent meeting in 2020 represent the largest gap between the two schools meeting before 2036.
If Tech misses this opportunity in South Bend, well, start circling Saturdays for trips to Indiana in 2027, or put down a deposit on season tickets at home for 2024. By then, I think it’ll be more than time for a refresh of this column’s football history counterpart.
Saturday afternoon, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame kickoff at Notre Dame Stadium for the second year in a row, albeit also for the last time in the near future. Tune in here at From the Rumble Seat tomorrow for coverage through the gameday thread and the postgame recap, along with live updates via @FTRSBlog on Twitter.