Dating back to 2009, the Shamrock Series has taken Notre Dame and its fans all across the country to sites such as Fenway Park in Boston, Yankee Stadium in New York, and Soldier Field in Chicago. The first edition of the Shamrock Series was also played in the Alamodome, so this year’s game brought the Fighting Irish full circle.
Notre Dame’s fan base spreads across the nation, so games in different cities give Fighting Irish fans the ability to follow their team. The storied rivalry between Army and Notre Dame began in 1913, and it’s a rivalry unlike any other in sports.
“It’s a lot of tradition and a lot of unity, and it’s a great experience to be here,” said Emily Vanneste, Cadet Major and Battalion Executive Officer for the Notre Dame ROTC. “This might be a rivalry [between] the football teams, but at the end of the day you're going to see all these guys hug, because they all have a lot of respect for each other.
That feeling of respect could be felt everywhere in the stadium. Patriotism buzzed around the building on this Veteran’s Day weekend, creating an inclusive atmosphere. The Notre Dame band performed the hymns of all five branches of the military, marching in the formation of each branch’s abbreviation during halftime. The show ended with a spectacular arrangement of the outline of the country while the band played “America the Beautiful.”
“This game is all about camaraderie between our two schools,” said Louie Klemm, Flag Bearer for the Army Color Guard. “Of course we want to win, but the character that both schools have and the tradition really motivates us to always do better.”
Apart from bringing two rivals together on the gridiron, the Shamrock Series does a lot to include all kinds of people in weekend activities. On Friday night, Notre Dame held a massive pep rally in front of the Alamo, and then players hopped on riverboats to float along San Antonio’s Riverwalk. Early Saturday morning, runners participated in a 5K race through downtown, followed by a mass at historic San Fernando Cathedral.
Other activities included “Let’s Have a Moment of Science,” an event where the Notre Dame Colleges of Science and Engineering presented hands-on science activities at La Villita downtown. There was also a service project at St. Gerard's High School, where volunteers helped paint, clean, and garden.
With three military bases in the city, San Antonio has become known as Military City, USA. The game attracted both active and former members of the Army.
“I flew down for the weekend from New Jersey with a friend from Houston and came just to support the team,” said Ed Barr, former Army Commissioned Officer. “It’s a great chance for Army to represent the U.S. military as well as the caliber of students who attend the Academy.”
The game itself carried huge importance for both teams. Notre Dame, coming in at 3–6, needed a win to keep its bowl hopes alive. At the same time, the Black Knights, who had five wins, were trying qualify for a bowl for the first time since 2010. While Notre Dame ended up crushing Army, it felt as though the game was secondary in significance.
“I hope kids get an appreciation for not only the dedication and commitment it takes to play at this level, but the camaraderie between two teams that are just coming here to represent the game to the nation,” said Jon Bon Jovi, rock star and father of Notre Dame cornerback Jesse Bongiovi.
At the end of the game, after shaking hands at midfield, Notre Dame players stood together with Army players as they sang the Army alma mater. Then, both teams ran to the opposite corner of the stadium to sing the Notre Dame alma mater.
“There’s a natural respect we have for them,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. “It’s the right way to finish the game.”
Photographs by (from top) Brian Yancelson; Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images