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Football fans travel for season finale

Maddie Hanna and Karen Langley | Tuesday, November 27, 2007

PALO ALTO, Calif. – It was an anticlimactic end to one of Notre Dame football’s worst seasons, but thousands of Irish fans – many from the Bay Area -showed up Saturday to watch their team manage a win over Stanford.

Outside Stanford Stadium, it seemed like every other person was a Notre Dame fan. Notre Dame tailgates blared the Victory March through the eucalyptus groves, and the Notre Dame Alumni Band repeated it inside the stadium after each Irish touchdown. With their trombones, saxophones, trumpets – and members ranging from 13 to 87 years old – the band sat high above one end zone.

There were hundreds of empty seats at Stanford Stadium, which was renovated before the 2006 season and now seats only 50,000 people. Throughout the game, the motley Stanford band – attired in vests or jackets with phrases taped on the backs – played to a student section of far fewer than a thousand students.

Dancers clad in red sundresses stood by late in the game as the Stanford cheerleaders donned their wind jackets.

Irish fans at the game said Saturday was a welcome opportunity to watch Notre Dame football, regardless of the team’s then 2-9 record.

“This is our one chance in the Bay Area to see the Irish,” said Anne Stricherz, a 1996 alumna who now teaches near San Francisco.

Stricherz said the atmosphere at Stanford didn’t compare to that of football Saturdays in South Bend.

“In the Bay Area, we’re not apathetic, but it’s not like some sports towns,” she said. “We’re kind of laid back. It’s like Club Med here.”

She called Saturday’s game “really emotional” and said the Irish played like “they’re willing to prove something next year.”

“I don’t know what to expect,” Stricherz said. “This year, people knew we weren’t going to be that strong. I’m hoping we mature and get stronger and better. I don’t feel like everyone’s giving up on Notre Dame, and they shouldn’t.

“I joke it’s like wedding vows – for better or worse.”

That’s how Cindy Aselage and her husband Steve see it. This year, the couple, who live in Pleasanton, Calif., went to four Notre Dame games: Georgia Tech, UCLA, USC and Stanford.

But that wasn’t enough. The Aselages recently purchased a house in South Bend, where Cindy Aselage said they hope to spend future football seasons.

Steve Aselage graduated from Notre Dame in 1973, his wife said, and started going to Irish football games with his father – also a Notre Dame alumnus – nearly 50 years ago. After college, Cindy lived in Ohio, and Steve in Iowa. The two met in South Bend to watch Notre Dame games, Cindy Aselage said.

“It’s nice to see the spirit of Notre Dame,” she said. “You watch the players and you see the different coaches through the years. … The fans don’t give up. I just feel bad for the team. You feel bad for the fifth-year seniors. You have your ups and downs.”

While many Notre Dame fans at Stanford went out of loyalty to the team, Dave Heine wanted to support Irish tight end, and fellow Minnesotan, John Carlson.

“We all rally around John,” Heine said.

Heine was disappointed in Notre Dame’s season, but enjoyed Carlson’s performance.

“John had a great game,” he said. “He had three catches today. … It’s great to be around his parents and his family and watch everyone rally around him.”

Mary Kate Malone contributed to this report.