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Fans enjoy ND victory, ‘white sand Christmas’

Kaitlynn Riely | Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Click here to view a slideshow of images from the game
HONOLULU – Notre Dame seniors Alice Ciciora and Ron LaFalce have spent several days touring the beaches and mountains of Oahu, but the highlight of their trip, they said, was watching Notre Dame end its nine-game bowl loss streak with a win against Hawaii.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the University of Hawaii Warriors 49-21 in the Christmas Eve Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, and Ciciora and LaFalce were seated in the front row of Aloha Stadium to witness it.

The weeklong trip to Hawaii, the first time either of them have visited the state, was a Christmas present for both. Ciciora came to Hawaii with her parents and LaFalce came with his brother.

Neither Ciciora, of Chicago, nor LaFalce, of New Jersey, had a white Christmas this year, but Ciciora said they are content with having a “white sand Christmas.” And since it was negative eight degrees when they left Chicago and 80 degrees when they landed in Honolulu, they said they were fine trading Christmas trees and mittens for palm trees and leis.

Cold weather in the Midwest almost prevented Notre Dame senior Brandon Frost, who was born and raised in Hawaii, from returning home in time for the game. Wintry weather in Chicago delayed his flight for 10 hours, and then he had to spend the night in Los Angeles before he could get a connecting flight.

While Frost was making his way home, his mom went with friends to the airport to greet the Notre Dame football team with leis.

Frost watched the game from the front row of Aloha Stadium, directly behind the Notre Dame team.

“We couldn’t see a whole lot, but that’s fine because we were interacting with the whole football team,” he said. “We tried to give them our aloha spirit, and they needed it, because they were in Hawaii territory.”

Although most of the stadium sported Warriors gear, Notre Dame had plenty of fans at the game, which reported the largest attendance numbers in Hawaii Bowl history, with 45,718 tickets issued. Notre Dame Assistant Athletic Director Josh Berlo told The Observer in a Dec. 20 e-mail that the University had sold about 2,000 tickets to the game.

“There were more people cheering for Notre Dame than I expected,” Frost said. “And that just shows that no matter where Notre Dame goes, we have a large following.”

Notre Dame sophomore Mckenna Nakamura, a native of Hawaii, said he wasn’t sure which team to cheer for before the game started.

“I was a [Hawaii] fan when we were 0 and 12, so rooting against them was hard for me,” Nakamura said.

Nakamura compromised his loyalties by wearing a Notre Dame T-shirt and a University of Hawaii hat to the game. But he held a sign that said “Even Santa picks Notre Dame” and after the game was ecstatic about the Notre Dame win.

“I’m so pumped about this,” he said. “I never thought I’d get to see Notre Dame in my hometown.”

The only negative part about the game, Frost said, was that the Notre Dame Marching Band was not present. After the game, to fill the void left by the band, Notre Dame football players Pat Kuntz and Brian Smith led the Notre Dame football team and fans in singing the Alma Mater.

Frost was worried the Notre Dame players would have trouble acclimating to the weather, but said the team looked great and played much better than during the regular season. Frost said he was planning on celebrating the victory after the game and also attending Christmas Eve mass.

“I totally forgot tomorrow was Christmas,” Frost said, “because I was just so focused on this game and our team.”

But the victory was a great Christmas present, he said.

Notre Dame junior Jonah Bautista took some friends from Notre Dame surfing earlier in the week. He said his Christmas would almost be complete with a Notre Dame bowl victory.

“If we get good waves, that will be perfect,” he said.