When the Fighting Irish take the field Saturday against Wake Forest, the many thousands of fans who have traveled to South Bend will pack Notre Dame Stadium for the final home game of Notre Dame's 2012 season. It's forecasted to be a Saturday afternoon seemingly made for football: a clear blue sky, a slight breeze, a mild autumn cool.
And while Saturday's game has obvious importance for Notre Dame's season - win and continue the undefeated streak and a shot at the national title - it also presents the opportunity to step back and acknowledge two important stories that are more important than Notre Dame's BCS ranking.
First, it's Senior Day. Today, 29 seniors and graduate students will say farewell to Notre Dame Stadium. Yes, Notre Dame captain Manti Te'o is justly the focal point of much media coverage. At the same time, it's important to remember that the entire senior class as a whole has contributed to Notre Dame's striking ascent from a 6-6 regular season in 2009 to this year's meteoric campaign. The Observer and many other news outlets have published excellent features on all 29 of Notre Dame's graduating players - all worth the read.
So as the senior players follow the stirring sounds of bagpipes and drums into Knute Rockne Gate for one last time, bear in mind how far we've come - and how much this iconic class has inspired faith in football once again for Notre Dame fans.
But even more important than Senior Day is the University of Notre Dame's recognition of the many military veterans who fight for the United States of America. Because today's home game falls closest to Veterans Day, representatives from each of Notre Dame's three ROTC branches (Army, Navy, and Air Force) will stand at attention during the pre-game flag presentation. At halftime, the Notre Dame Marching Band will perform a patriotic program. And there are some rumors of a flyover of F/A-18 Super Hornets, which always gets hearts pumping for gameday.
Notre Dame is also partaking in Operation Hat Trick, a non-profit organization that helps support the recovery of wounded soldiers and veterans through the VA General Post Fund. Dot Sheehan, the founder of Operation Hat Trick and athletic director at the University of New Hampshire, spoke movingly at the Football Friday Kickoff Luncheon about the Operation's service work and the good it does. Notre Dame is a partner with Operation Hat Trick, and helps place blue and gold caps on the heads of our wounded combat veterans.
Most importantly, eleven Wounded Warriors will be here at Notre Dame Stadium for today's game. We're proud to honor them and their sacrifices for our country.
To the 29 graduating players, thousands of American veterans, and their families: we salute you.
God. Country. Notre Dame.