My trip down to the BCS began in Atlanta, in the home of two 1985 Notre Dame grads and their children, a 2012 grad and a current freshman.
Once I arrived in Miami, I met with the Notre Dame Magazine columnist, Dr. Vincent DeGennaro ’02, who writes about his experiences as a global doctor in Rwanda and Haiti, though he’s stateside for the game this week.
Yesterday evening, while having a drink beachside in Fort Lauderdale, a 2002 alumna and her posse pulled up some stools and joined us, noticing we were also Notre Dame grads. We spent the rest of the evening talking about football and the ’Backer and children and life after ND, though we’d never met before.
Since then I’ve spied elderly men, likely alumni from the classes of the 1950s, hobbling down the beach with their canes and panama hats, ND pins sitting proudly on the brims. I’ve seen babies being pushed in strollers, mini ND caps shading them from the sun. I’ve seen middle-age men wearing ND polos, excited to be reunited with their dorm pals and reliving the days before they had wives and children, jobs and worries. I’ve seen children tossing Notre Dame footballs with their young mothers and fathers who have ND bags and towels in tow.
What I haven’t seen are a wide variety of Alabama fans. They have fans here, certainly: there is a foursome that’s been posted at the corner bar, the Elbo room, for nearly 24 hours, all wearing red-and-white sports polos, an A delicately stitched on their chest. There are middle-age men in the shops, looking over the one rack of Alabama garb while the entire side wall is devoted to ND. And I’ve run into a couple or two in the elevator, and then struggled to resist the urge to hum the Fight Song as we ascend.
But what I haven’t seen is the generational spectrum that we, as Notre Dame fans, take for granted. I’ve seen no babies draped with Alabama blankets or current students sporting Alabama sunglasses. I’ve seen no young Alabama alums bubbling with enthusiasm and trying to relive their college days. I’ve barely even seen that many women donning Alabama gear. It has, from my experience these past few days, been men in their 40s and 50s preparing to cheer on the Tide, getting lost in a sea of blue and gold and green.
Granted, this championship isn’t necessarily groundbreaking for the Crimson Tide — they’ve been here three times since Notre Dame’s last national victory, and this is their third appearance in the past four years. But the Irish still have them beat, at least around Fort Lauderdale, in both quantity and diversity of supporters.
It’s poetic, though, how Notre Dame lets us connect with young, old and in between over a common love and appreciation. Football may just be a sport, but it’s also a good reason to reunite, to meet new friends, and to always have a common ground to launch from.
I prepare now to go to the house of a 2006 graduate who has graciously extended a dinner invitation though we’ve never met. There, the gamut will be on display. I’ll see her sister, a fellow 2012 grad and neighbor from McGlinn, their brothers, 2003 and 2010 grads, and their father, a proud alumnus himself from the class of 1977. A herd of small children will greet us, likely dressed in small cheerleader costumes or baby ND onesies, already brainwashed to love the Irish and lucky enough to witness a championship game so early in their lives.
For the first time I’ll look around and realize not every team has fans in every stage of life. They may not all have fans that are born, live and die rooting for their team. And they all undoubtedly don’t have fans that come from across states, countries and the world to see their team play. For that there’s only one; there’s only Notre Dame.
Tara Hunt is associate editor of this magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.