(And yes, technically the rankings don't come out until tomorrow night, so it's not official official right at this moment, but whatever.)
Tonight, Notre Dame is the best team in the country. And tonight, the students of Our Lady's University found out what it means to embody joy. The most joyful parts of the day were, of course, in the last few hours, but let's think back a bit and begin at the start of this beautiful, joyful day.
At 8:00 this morning, I was tooling down the highway, Rihanna (yes, Rihanna) blasting from my speakers and frost-covered farmland flying by on all sides. After a night spent watching my sister star in her very last musical at my high school, I was headed from my first home back to my Irish one. The play was Oklahoma, and this morning, driving through northern Indiana, oh, what a beautiful morning it was.
As my distance from South Bend grew smaller and the tailgate-ready traffic grew thicker, I was reminded of a conversation I'd had several times of late with my friends and classmates. We, as Notre Dame students, are afforded an opportunity practically unmatched in the world of higher education. For most of the country, Notre Dame is a vacation spot to rival DisneyWorld. It is magical. It is sacred. It is, on days like today, a surely incontestable holder of the title, "the happiest place on Earth." And we live here. We love here. Yes, we even study here. As students in this magical place, our entire existence is a fast pass.
This morning, I pulled past blocks-long lines and dozens of security guards to take my place in a lot only yards from my dorm, reserved entirely for students - for fast-pass holders - like me. I walked past toddlers throwing footballs and alumni snapping pictures to enter the library. Here, silent Facebook study breaks and newly-minted Au Bon Pain coffee are the most interesting attractions, yet visitors still flock by the hundreds to take a look around. Even this most mundane aspect of their Notre Dame fantasy world simply must be experienced by visitors of all kinds, and as students, we get to just sit there and be part of the idyllic academic scenery.
Eventually, after exhausting my library quota for a whole season's worth of gamedays, I switched gears and headed to a tailgate. Standing under a bow-bedecked tent and in the middle of a sunny street, I was filled to the brim with friendship, Wobbling, and yes, even commemorative buttons.
En route to the game itself, my friends and I crossed paths with the personal golf cart of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, a man who has advised Presidents and protested alongside Martin Luther King, and with whom each of us has conversed at least a time or two in his Cinderella-castle office on the thirteenth floor of the library that bears his name.
At the game, we thanked our seniors. We offered our cheers and thanks to every last senior man who's helped lead us to the first 11-0 start that any undergraduate on campus has ever seen, and to the Manti who has inspired not just a campus, but a nation, to be great. We watched a 38-to-zero blowout. We threw many, many marshmallows. In the end, we watched all of the seniors who don't don football jerseys make their own way to the field. They, like all of us, love Notre Dame. They love the school that has given them so much in their four years, and they love each other. And in the looks on their faces as they milled around the field, you could see: they wanted this moment to never, ever end.
Only then, after all of these incredible moments, did the moment come that truly defined this magical day. In dorm rooms and study lounges, on laptops and widescreen TVs, a campus watched as the biggest teams in the country fell. We watched in awe as an unranked team mowed over the #1 team in the nation, knowing what this meant for #1, #2, and a certain big game in Miami on January 7. With only one team standing between us and the most coveted spot in the country, we watched as the #2 team, too, came crashing down, and we knew: the number-one team in the country now?...is us.
Then - at last, then - came the joy. The screams, inside dorms and out on the quad. The parties, springing up in what seemed to be every corner of the world. And the first phone call: "I'm running. Just running. Come with me."
So, as a student body full of blessed, joyful fast-pass holders, we ran. We ran to Stonehenge. We ran through Stonehenge. We ran to the lakes. We ran anywhere we could. Because in this moment, on this night, we are undefeated. We are #1. And we are Notre Dame. No matter what the coming weeks bring, tonight, this campus knew - no, this campus was - joy. If you need us, we'll be sitting in our dorm rooms, happy-crying ourselves to sleep and booking our tickets to Miami.