The “World’s Largest Drum” won’t be allowed inside Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday afternoon, but the 500-pound traditional showpiece of Purdue’s All-American Marching Band will be stationed just outside.
Keeping out fans of the Boilermakers, stationed two hours away in West Lafayette, Ind., could be a little more difficult.
At several points in last week’s narrow Irish escape over Toledo, a larger-than-expected group of visiting fans in one distant corner could be heard chanting their support. While the student section filled in after kickoff, the official attendance of 62,009 marked Notre Dame’s smallest home crowd (2020 aside) since the expansion a quarter century ago to the current capacity of 77,622.
This, mind you, came in the first home game for Brian Kelly’s program since a return to full capacity. In the wake of that 32-29 nailbiter against a pesky MAC foe, Kelly was asked his thoughts on the smallish crowd.
“How much time do I really have to worry about getting fans in?” Kelly said. “Would I like 76,000 or what our capacity is? Yeah, but we’re living in a time where there’s electronic tickets, there’s COVID. Did people see it as a marquee matchup? I don’t know.”
Those who chose to stay home were forced to subscribe to Peacock, NBC’s new streaming service, if they wanted to watch. Purdue’s visit, along with the remainder of the typically compelling home schedule, will be broadcast as usual on NBC.
Yet, with Kelly questioning his 2-0 team’s intensity level at times against Toledo, it’s fair to ask if that 25-game home winning streak isn’t in serious danger. Only one such streak in school history was longer: a 28-game run from 1942-50.
The opponent that beat Frank Leahy’s team 28-14 that October day? Purdue.
“I have so many problems I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said. “I have to hope our marketing people and everybody else takes care of that.”
Then again …
“I don’t want to be in here when we play other teams and there’s more (visiting) fans in the stands than our fans,” Kelly added. “That’s when I’ll really be concerned. But you bring up a valid point. I just don’t have time to really concern myself with it.”
Even with two trips to the College Football Playoff in the past three seasons, is it possible Notre Dame’s notoriously demanding fan base has grown a little bored with such sustained, title-free excellence? After all, the national championship drought is at 32 seasons and counting.
“Look, we’ve won 35 of our last 40 games,” Kelly said. “If that’s not good enough, I don’t know what else to do.”