Gay photo

The columnist with his wife Pattie and daughter Bridget at their seats at Notre Dame’s Sept. 7 home game.

One result of Highland Country Club’s demise has been the return of coyotes to the area, forcing me to go outside whenever our dog Tiger decides he needs to use the facilities before sunrise or after sunset.

On one of those recent trips a small rabbit jumped out of a bush and I felt my entire body break into goosebumps the size of golf balls.

People have told me about trips or events that gave them goosebumps, but I had never experienced the sensation under those circumstances…until the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 7.

My wife Pattie, daughter Bridget and I decided back in April to see Notre Dame host Ball State. Knowing tickets would be difficult to buy at face value, I contacted Jim Brennan to see if he might be able to help us find some.

I always thought highly of the former owner of North Attleboro’s Jeweled Cross from the many times he beat me in golf. What I didn’t know was the respect the Notre Dame community has for the school’s 1958 graduate.

The three of us arrived on campus that Friday just after 1 p.m. and immediately made our way to the far end of the stadium and the Knute Rockne gate. I am not exaggerating when I tell you every person we met on our way took the time to acknowledge us by saying, “Welcome to Notre Dame.”

I literally had goosebumps when we were invited to walk down the tunnel the Fighting Irish use before every game. The 11 national championship banners swayed overhead in the light breeze as we walked past the spot where the head groundskeeper nodded in the movie “Rudy” and then past the door Notre Dame players exit after touching the “Play like a champion today” sign.

“Welcome to Notre Dame,” the stadium employee said as she offered to take our picture. You would never know the 88-year-old stadium seats 10,000 more fans than Gillette Stadium due to its classic bowl design.

We walked back up the tunnel and were immediately approached by another gentleman in a green coat. “Welcome to Notre Dame. You look like you could use directions,” he asked. I told him we were headed to the bookstore and he flagged down a man driving a golf cart. “He’ll take you there,” the gentlemen said.

The majority of the buildings on campus look like Attleboro’s St. John the Evangelist Church. The interior of the bookstore is much different, however, with two floors packed with tens of thousands of items all with the ND logo.

We were met in the bookshop lobby by students selling green T-shirts. “The Shirt,” as it is officially known, is designed every year by students and proceeds support clubs, organizations and numerous charities. More than 2.5 million have been sold over the past 29 years, raising more than $11 million.

The cost of the green tees and too many items to list resulted in a price tag of well over $300. “We’ll probably never come here again,” I told Pattie, hoping to justify the golf shirt and two hats I added to the pile.

The inside of the famed golden dome was our next stop. The belly of the dome features four levels and the day before a football game 70 members of the band’s trumpet section spread out over those levels to perform the school’s alma mater and fight song. “Trumpets in the Dome” lasted only a few minutes, but was easily the most emotional moment of the weekend and had more than a few people in tears.

We were sky high after the pep rally later that night and then breakfast on campus the next morning, followed by the “Shake Down the Thunder” alumni tailgate party (set up by Jim).

I wanted to get inside the stadium and we did so more than an hour before kickoff. “Welcome to Notre Dame,” the usher said before taking our tickets.

He looked at our tickets and asked, “You don’t know where these are, do you?”

“Somewhere around here,” I motioned.

He smiled and asked us to follow him. It turns out Jim had set us up with 50-yard line seats in the front row directly behind the Notre Dame bench. The goosebumps reappeared.

The Fighting Irish could’ve played better, but still came away with the victory to remain the No. 8 ranked team in the nation.

Thanks to Jim Brennan, we would rank the entire weekend No. 1.

Peter Gay is the executive director of North Attleboro Community Television Inc. — North TV. The views expressed in his column are not necessarily those of North TV. He may be contacted at pgay@northtv.net.

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