SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In a small lobby inside Notre Dame Stadium hangs a display case, with the words “WELCOME TO NOTRE DAME.”
The memorabilia exhibited includes an OU cap, ticket stubs from the 1956 and 1961 OU-Notre Dame games, programs from the 1952 and 1961 OU-Notre Dame games, a three-paragraph synopsis of the Sooner football tradition and OU's series with the Fighting Irish, photos of the 1957 and 1968 OU-Notre Dame games, and an explanation of the Sooners' mascot history, from Mex the dog to Lil' Red to the Sooner Schooner.
Plus a T-shirt that proclaims “THE BATTLE OF CHAMPIONS” and lists the combined exploits of these programs: 18 national championships, 12 Heisman Trophy winners, 261 consensus All-Americans.
Yep, Notre Dame honors its visitors.
And Sooner fans are honored to be visiting.
OU and Notre Dame play at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the nation's most hallowed football stadium. It's the 11th game in the series, OU's sixth trip overall to Notre Dame, but only the second since 1968. And Sooner fans have been flocking to the campus since early in the week, taking in the sights and atmosphere of a university known not just for football, but for being America's pre-eminent Catholic school.
“There's just so much tradition, it's so awesome,” said OU fan Janet Griffin of Rock Port, Mo. “You just go from place to place, ‘Oh, I've seen this in a magazine.' We're hitting all the hot spots on campus.
“The friendliness of the people is No. 1. Everybody is asking us, ‘Can we help you?'”
Notre Dame home games are a weeklong celebration on campus.
The Notre Dame men's glee club stages a Friday rehearsal open to the public that includes Notre Dame songs and a medley of college fight songs. Alums walk through the student fitness center and rub the nose on a bust of Knute Rockne. Fans mingle at the Morris Inn on campus, where former Irish greats hang out.
And Notre Dame Stadium's tunnel to the field is open for fans to walk down to the stadium floor. Even OU fans were invited down the tunnel.
“This Friday thing they do here is fantastic,” said OU fan Ray Brashear of Coweta. Brashear's family posed for a picture with a gold helmet just inside the stadium gate, with a Rockne statue in the background.
“The fans here have all been great — all very welcoming,” Brashear said. “I just talked to one guy who said we did the same thing a year ago. I'm glad he had a good experience.”