Notre Dame has an undergraduate population of about 8,000 and a graduate student population of about 2,000. Notre Dame Stadium has capacity for 80,795 spectators. Until 1996, Rock’s House had seats for 59,075 fans. The stadium was renovated in 1997 for the first time since its dedication in 1930, and the University added 21,000 seats in an upper bowl. Notre Dame has sold out every home game since 1966 except for the Thanksgiving Day game against Air Force in 1973. If we begin in 1973, Notre Dame has a 214 game sell-out streak.
Let’s do some math. We’ll assume that all of the 8,000 undergraduates and all of the 2,000 graduate students go to football games. That makes 10,000 Notre Dame people. It’s a very high estimate, considering that probably 1/3 of the junior class is abroad and that many grad students elect not to attend football games. But let’s just call it 10,000 and assume that the difference is made up for with various faculty and staff members who get football tickets.
The size of the student body has grown over the years, but to make my calculations a little simpler, I’m going to leave the student number at 10,000. I’m also going to assume that Notre Dame played 6 home games a year. I know that hasn’t always been the case (and now with this crazy 7-4-1 scheduling, who knows how many home games we’ll play in the future), but I’m no math major. 10,000 students, 6 home games.
In the 24 years of sold-out games in the old stadium, Notre Dame welcomed 49,075 visitors per game. At 6 games a year, the yearly visitor count is 294,450. Over 24 years of sold-out games, Notre Dame hosted 7,066,800 fans. After the stadium’s capacity was expanded for the 1997 season, the numbers change. 13 seasons of football have been played in the new stadium. 420,450 visitors come to Notre Dame each year, over the course of 6 games. Multiply that number by 13 seasons, and the grand total of new stadium visitors reaches 5,465,850. So since the 1973 season, Notre Dame Stadium has hosted 12,532,630 people.
I’m going through these numbers so closely because I really want to give a scope of the scale of a Notre Dame football weekend. Over 70,000 people descend on campus for a few days at a time, a few weekends each year. That is a mass of humanity. Some of the visitors are fans of the opposing team, but the majority of the visitors are Notre Dame fans. Fighting Irish. Domers. Alums. Subway alums. Rudy-wannabes. High school kids. Preschool kids. Parents. Grandparents. All of them come, and all of them experience the magic of a football weekend at Notre Dame.
For six weekends each fall, Notre Dame welcomes an entire city of people. The campus population septuples for two days, three at best. I’ve heard it said that Notre Dame becomes “Catholic Disneyland” on football weekends. The rituals, the traditions of football weekends take on an almost-sacred character. It’s a pilgrimage for football fans and Catholics alike.