By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
NOTRE DAME —
At Notre Dame Stadium, the football game is just part of the Game Day experience.
The parking lots that ring the historic stadium begin filling up early Saturday morning and by midmorning are packed with Fighting Irish fans cooking, eating, drinking — just soaking up the atmosphere that makes Irish football the tradition it is.
One Goshen-based company has turned the tailgate party into an art form over the past few years, hosting its own shindig before each home game.
Saturday was no different as Lippert Components staked out a spot in the Joyce Center lot, raised a tent, fired up the barbecues, cracked open a few adult and non-adult beverages, and invited employees, customers and friends to join in prior to the Irish’s 2012 home opener against in-state rival Purdue.
Company president Jason Lippert said the Goshen-based firm employs about 5,200 people, most of those in Elkhart County.
The pre-game tailgate party was the brainchild of employee Marty McManus, and from humble beginnings, the event now usually attracts anywhere from 200-300 people before each Irish home game –—depending on a host of factors, including the weather and how good the team is at the time.
As the clock struck noon on Saturday — with about three and a half hours to kickoff — Lippert Components plastics group sales manager Rich Clark was manning the large covered tent, talking to guests and steering them toward the free food and drink offered.
Notre Dame football has been a family experience for Clark for more than 50 years. “My dad was an usher when I was young,” Clark said.
The logistics for putting on a tailgate party this large, as one might expect, can be tricky, Clark said.
“We have a setup group that gets here at about 5:30 a.m. to get the tent set up, as well as the tables and chairs,” Clark said. “The food and another group gets here about 9, and then a teardown group takes over at about game time.”
Lippert said the party is a mixture of giving back to employees and customers.
“They give us a budget, and we give them the money,” Lippert said.
Andy Murray, Lippert’s vice president of sales for the RV division, said the party typically draws a mix of employees and customers.
And not only Irish fans need apply.
“We even let the Purdue fans eat and drink with us,” Murray said.
Murray, a lifetime Irish fan, was encouraged by the team’s performance in its Dublin, Ireland, opener against Navy last week: The Irish defeated the Midshipmen, 50-10.
The first game of the year always draws a bigger crowd, Murray said. And as game-time approached, the sun peeked out of the clouds and temperatures neared 70.
Perfect football weather.
Later in the season, Murray said, the crowds will depend on how good the team is and the often-fickle northern Indiana fall weather.
But no matter the weather or how good the product inside Notre Dame Stadium is, outside there will always be a party in the Lippert tent beforehand.
“It’s all about socializing, being with friends,” Murray said.