Sometimes it’s lonely being a Notre Dame fan in southern California.
I was raised in the Midwest, where Irish fever is omnipresent, but since my move to Southern California, the Notre Dame fan in me has felt a little blue. Aside from a small group of ND alum who watch games with me, I’m pretty alone in the sea of Trojans.
On Friday night, I attended the Notre Dame Club of Orange County’s pep rally for the Fighting Irish at the Hyatt Regency in Garden Grove. Over 1,700 of the Irish faithful from all over southern California were in attendance. I had forgotten what it feels like to be in a room full of fired up Irish fans.
I felt like part of a nation.
The night opened with an address from club president Tom Walsh. Next, the Notre Dame leprechaun and cheerleading squad made their way through the standing-room only crowd to “Here Come the Irish”, taking photos with fans. When they reached the stage, they led the crowd in singing the "Victory March."
Next to speak were former Irish football players.
Tom Carter, a former All-American, spoke of the importance of cheering for the team. His son Alex will play at Stanford University next year.
Oscar McBride, who was coached by Lou Holtz, told the crowd about the famous coach telling his team in 1993 (the last year the Irish were No. 1): “There’s always going to be challenges, because you’re the best in the country. You’re like fall leaves; you can turn gold, or you can turn pale yellow.”
Eric Patton, who played for the Irish in 1968-1971, came to the rally with his grandchildren. He spoke of the storied USC-Notre Dame rivalry, stating that it began before his time, “but not by much."
Kory Minor played Notre Dame football between 1995 and 1998 and went on to play with the San Francisco 49ers. A native Californian, he said that when people asked why he did not attend USC, he replied “because they don’t have a Touchdown Jesus.” He also gave his personal email to the crowd and invited everyone to contact him after the Irish victory against USC.
Rhema McKnight then took the stage to remind the crowd that they must do their part by cheering for the Irish at the big game saying, “No matter what, we will be No. 1."
Joey Getherall is also a native southern Californian. He played for local catholic high school Bishop Amat before playing for the Irish in 1997-2000. He jovially called out ESPN’s Mark May on all his false predictions this year. Getherall finished by telling the children in the audience to always follow their dreams, concluding with, “I’ll see you in Miami.”
Following the former players’ rally speeches, the Notre Dame cheerleaders’ were introduced. Their majors included mathematics, business, history, sociology and pre-med.
The Notre Dame leprechaun is studying science, business and pre-med as well. They led the crowd in an old-school cheer revived for the occasion.
Next, a video was shown of 9-year-old Orange County resident, Nick Garner interviewing head coach Brian Kelly. He asked what the secret to success was in the coach's third year, and Kelly answered jokingly, “Magic dust.” You can see his entire interview here on SportsTalk4Kids.com. Young Nick is a good journalist!
In the last video presentation of the night, the club played the “What Would You Fight For?” featurettes, highlighting Notre Dame students Lindsay Brown and Caitlin Crommet.
Brown’s film detailed her charity work in Nepal, where she taught young girls to play soccer. (She was given a full scholarship to play soccer for Notre Dame, but later gave it up to focus on her charity work.) Her efforts have sent more than 50 girls to school. After the feature, Brown was called to the stage to cheers of “go Irish!”
Crommet, also from Orange County, was featured working with her charity, Dreamcatchers, which she founded at age 15. The organization grants wishes for senior citizens on hospice. The video chronicled an elderly man dying of emphysema, whose last wish was to have a family reunion, but he could not afford to travel. Crommet’s foundation made that dream a reality.
To conclude the night, Dolly Duffy, executive director of the Notre Dame Alumni Association, thanked the club for all the hard work and commitment to service. She talked about how service was at the core of what Notre Dame stood for. According to her, the Notre Dame Club of Orange County has been responsible for over 100,000 hours of community service this past year.
Bryce Burton, the Notre Dame leprechaun, stayed next to the stage until all the Irish fans took photos with him. He was also kind enough to say to me, “It is a great opportunity to be No. 1.” He looks forward to beating USC tomorrow.
The school song was sung, and giddy fans left the building with bulging bags of Irish merchandise purchased from the Notre Dame bookstore, which set up shop in the Hyatt for the night.
Anticipation hung in the air like the night before Christmas.
Should Notre Dame win tomorrow, it will go on to the BCS National Championship. The loyal Irish faithful of southern California will be right to watch this historic moment occur.