Saying ND isn't a Chicago school gets my Irish up

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Did you go to Notre Dame?”
I’ve heard that question many times over the years, usually when I’m wearing my ND garb or talking Irish football. And I own a lot of ND apparel and talk lots of Irish football.
The answer, of course, is: “No, I certainly did not go to Notre Dame.” That’s laughable. I did my time at the local community college after a stellar run at Brother Rice High School.
I am, however, a huge Notre Dame fan. A member of the subway alum, as it’s known.
We weren’t Notre Dame students, but for one reason or the other grew up rooting for the Irish. It’s tough for some people to understand, but I thought I’d try to explain my allegiance to the university.
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago and attending St. Thomas More School, Notre Dame is all I knew. We related to Notre Dame on a variety of levels—Irish, Catholic and it was close by.
A friend from my grammar school days recently posted on Facebook that guys like me drank the ND Kool-Aid. He’s a Michigan fan, so I will forgive his senseless observation.
Another friend, a Marquette University alum, has argued with me for years that Notre Dame sports are overplayed in the Chicago media. He’s even done research that shows there are more Marquette alums in the Chicagoland area than there are Notre Dame alums.
It’s not a Chicago school, he maintains, so why in the world does the football team get regular newspaper and television coverage in Chicago? I’ve argued with him unsuccessfully that Notre Dame is (though not geographically speaking) a Chicago school.
The Chicago area is loaded with Notre Dame fans who are passionate about the football team and, to a lesser extent, the basketball program. Many of them are fans for the same reason I am. Never attended the school, but have a huge rooting interest.
And, Notre Dame benefits from a dearth of other major football programs in the area. OK, there’s Northwestern, but for years students would storm the field if the Wildcats won a single game.
Northern Illinois University football fans are bound the make a case for the Huskies, but the team is not in a major conference. The University of Illinois will field a decent team now and then, but Illini fans never have struck me as passionate.
We live in Big 10 country, but for years the conference was comprised of the Big 2 (Michigan, Ohio State) and the Little 8. New additions to the conferenced have changed that a bit, but who in Chicago is rooting for Penn State or Nebraska?
My wife, Annette, often groans about “more football” when I flip through the television channels on a Saturday afternoon looking for a good game. But after attending her first Notre Dame game a few weeks ago, she was talking about going again.
What led to that conversion?
The game day experience, of course.
My wife, on her feet, screaming, “Go Irish.” Never thought I’d see the day. She’s always been a passive fan because I like the team, but this was different.
“It’s a special place,” a friend and ND fanatic related, when I mentioned Annette’s “odd” behavior.
Indeed it is.
Annette and I arrived well ahead of game time and heard the band play on the steps of the School of Architecture. We walked to stadium, took our seats and waited for the moment when the team took the field. Seeing the players with the golden helmets emerge from the tunnel will never cease to excite me.
Mix in the various cheers, songs the band plays, the 1812 Overture before the start of the fourth quarter and singing of the alma mater immediately after the game and you’ve got yourself an afternoon.
And who can forget the safety announcement—the clever play on words delivered by Mike Collins, the voice of Notre Dame Stadium at the end of the third quarter?
Traditions are by no means exclusive to Notre Dame. They can be found all over the college football landscape and they define the game.
I’m no Michigan fan, but I dig the traditions. The extra seat reserved in honor of legendary athletic directorFritz Crisler, the “Hail to the Victors” fight song (sorry, ND fans, I like it) and No. 1 jersey, worn by only 12 players in the history of the program.
I think the Ohio State marching band forming script Ohio is very cool. It goes back to 1936, and the highlight is when a sousaphone player dots the I.
There’s plenty more traditions in the game, too many to mention here. But they’re what draw folks to college game. Good season or bad, they provide a connection to the team that fans grew to love as students or simply as fans, like me.
As the last line of the alma mater goes, “Love Thee Notre Dame.”