SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The lunchtime discussion was intense. Hunched over a table at Notre Dame’s LaFortune Student Center, they seemed oblivious to everything around them.
What could be so pressing on a Thursday afternoon for the three third-year law students? An upcoming exam? The November election?
“We were trying to decide how we’re going to paint our faces,” Andrew Leyden said. “One side blue, one side gold.”
“Or maybe one of us blue, one of us gold,” Chris Turk added, pointing at his friends.
The hysteria has begun.
No. 4 Ohio State comes to town Saturday for the biggest game at Notre Dame since then-No. 1 Florida State visited in 1993. Even though it’s only September, the No. 5 Irish have to win to keep their hopes for a national championship alive, and so do the Buckeyes.
“It’s just huge,” Turk said. “With Nebraska losing last week, everything is going our way.”
The national rankings aren’t the only reason the game is big. Although the Buckeyes and Irish have only played each other three times, the series has a rich tradition.
The first meeting in 1935 is still known as “The Game of the Century” after Notre Dame knocked off a heavily favored Ohio State team 18-13. The Irish also won the game the following year.
The two didn’t play again until last season, when the Irish traveled to Columbus and lost. That game generated even more enthusiasm than the Buckeyes’ yearly meeting with Big Ten archrival Michigan.
“I probably signed more Notre Dame-Ohio State footballs, hats, T-shirts, pictures and that kind of stuff for that game last year than for all the other big games we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Ohio State John Cooper said.
Ticket prices were sky high for that game, and this year is no different. Scalpers are now asking $1,000 for one seat on the 50-yard line. End zone seats are cheaper, costing about $350 apiece.
The game has been sold out for months, but that hasn’t stopped hundreds of people from calling the Notre Dame ticket office this week, said Perry Baert, ticket manager.
“We’re answering over 600 phone calls a day where normally it might be 400 or 300 a day,” he said. “And they’re all about Ohio State.”
Some people are so desperate for tickets they’ve resorted to lying. Baert said he’s heard everything from people who “lost” their tickets to someone claiming his father was seriously ill and had always wanted to see a Notre Dame game.
Notre Dame’s sports information office has been besieged, too. The staff has issued 643 media credentials, only about 100 less than for the Florida State game in 1993. The game, like all other Irish home games, will be televised nationally on NBC, and ESPN is broadcasting its “College GameDay” show from here.
Radio stations in South Bend have been talking about the game all week. One morning show began prank-calling stations in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday, conning people into putting them on the air and then playing the Notre Dame fight song.
In Columbus, most callers to radio shows predict a huge win for Ohio State. George Lehner, the sports director at radio station WTVN-AM in Columbus, said it reminds him of the fervor before last year’s Michigan game.
“They all called up and had it 70-10 for Ohio State, and look what happened there,” he said, referring to the loss that cost the Buckeyes a trip to the Rose Bowl. “Ohio State fans are apparently plagued with short-term memory loss.”