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A triumphant return

Matt DeFranks | Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The cold weather and early hour did not stop hundreds of Notre Dame fans from greeting the No. 1 Irish as they returned to campus from Los Angeles.

Notre Dame, with a 22-13 win over USC on Saturday night, finished the regular season undefeated and punched its ticket to the BCS National Championship Game in Miami on Jan. 7.

In frigid 25-degree weather, fans lined the sidewalks leading into the Guglielmino Athletics Complex as the team arrived at 6:13 a.m. Sunday morning. A procession of police vehicles escorted the team from South Bend Regional Airport back to campus.

As the Irish approached, Notre Dame fans broke out into chants of “Here come the Irish” and “Let’s go Irish.” The crowd was mostly South Bend residents, since many Notre Dame students were away for Thanksgiving break.

Sophomore Jeff Wilush was one of the students on hand and said the decision to come out early and in the cold was an easy one.

“It’s definitely worth it,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s been 24 years since the last time we were undefeated so you never know when you’ll have this chance again. I’m a student so you have to take advantage of it and show support for the team.”

Wilush said his father went to Notre Dame and believed the Irish would make the national championship game again.

“Ever since I was born, I was destined to go here,” Wilush said. “I think he [expected Notre Dame to get to the championship] but I don’t think he knew when it would come so he’s just as excited as I am.”

While the Irish began the season unranked and facing one of the toughest schedules in the nation, the team is undefeated for the first time since 1988, when Notre Dame took the title.

Sophomore Joseph Abbamonte confessed he did not expect Notre Dame to have a perfect season initially.

“Not at the beginning of the season, no,” he said.

The Irish will face either No. 2 Alabama or No. 3 Georgia in the BCS National Championship Game. The two teams play Saturday in the SEC Championship Game.

The Irish are 5-1 all-time against the Crimson Tide but have not played Alabama since 1987. Notre Dame lost its only meeting against the Bulldogs in 1980.

Wilush said he would like to go Miami for the game but fears tickets may be too expensive.

“I’m going to be on a family vacation in Orlando during the game so I’m hoping so,” he said. “But tickets are already like $1,400 for the worst seat in the house. We’ll see what happens.”