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Usher travels from Canada for football games

Nicole Michels | Monday, November 26, 2012

While even Midwestern Irish fans might come for a few home games each year, usher Paul Matthew journeyed 15 hours from Ottawa to South Bend for each and every one of Notre Dame’s home games this season.

A volunteer usher since 2002, Matthew recently signed on as a full-time usher. He said he has seen a positive progression on the field and in the stands in recent years.

“The team’s come so far – if we don’t do it this year, the future looks very bright,” Matthews said. “I think this year I’ve noticed the crowd’s been louder more often, but the odd thing about Notre Dame is the Stadium is always packed. Other schools have successful years but then during the unsuccessful years the crowds don’t come – not so at Notre Dame. The smiles just got a little bit bigger this year.”

Matthew makes a significant trek to see those smiles throughout the season. After a three-hour drive to Syracuse, N.Y., he boards a 12-hour, overnight Amtrak train ride to South Bend, arriving early Friday morning.

While he maintains a full-time job at home, working as a statistical analyst for the Canadian government, Matthew said his trips to Notre Dame do not complicate his working life.

“From a work standpoint, it doesn’t affect work[ing for the government,]” Matthews said. “I get five weeks of vacation each year, and I’m there for seven games – that’s fourteen days. I still have three weeks of vacation time, and because it’s only two days at a time I still have three work days in between.”

Matthew said his interest in American college football is not the norm for Canadians.

“To the Canadians this is all a foreign concept, college football,” Matthews said. “When I first started doing this it was a true culture shock, and then I realized it was a pretty cool gig.”

Despite his usual Friday-morning arrival, Matthew said his responsibilities typically don’t begin until early Saturday.

“We have a meeting [Saturday morning] to find out what’s going on that day, how many people to expect on the sidelines, who is coming, who will help with the players’ entrance: What’s happening in the stadium that day,” Matthews said.

Matthew is usually stationed near the north end zone by the tunnel and helps control the crowd and facilitate the entrance of the team, coaches, media and notable fans.

“A lot of the work is pregame: Some people who have tickets to the game get access to the field, some people just have the pregame pass that allows them to be on one side of the tunnel until just after the Irish football team enters the game, some people have field passes and are allowed on the field for the entire game in a different area,” Matthews said. “You also have to separate recruits … they go on the side with the Irish and get to hang there during the game.”

While he does not have much direct communication with those on the field, Matthew said he has gained a new appreciation for all the people working behind the scenes for the football program.

“They have a job to do, so I’m an observer,” Matthews said. “There’s some minimal dialogue, very minor small talk … but I have developed a perception of the network behind the team: the trainers, coaches, doctors, the people who tape and retape the players when they get hurt.”

Matthews said he has been awestruck by some of the people who have passed through the tunnel.

“[Basketball legend] David Robinson was coming down the tunnel because his son was coming to Notre Dame … I made sure I was the person who said ‘Welcome to Notre Dame, Mr. Robinson,'” Matthews said. “He stopped, turned around and stepped towards me, offering me his hand to shake … I had to calm down after that; that was a personal highlight.”

Matthews said he was thrilled to meet the Canadian Olympians during the tribute to the Notre Dame Olympians earlier this season.

“I knew about the women’s basketball player [Natalie Achonwa], but I didn’t know about the two women on our soccer team [Melissa Tancredi and Candace Chapman],” Matthews said. “They stopped and introduced themselves to me – famous Canadians introducing themselves to me, an unfamous Canadian.”

Matthews said the unpredictability is one of his favorite parts of the job.

“That’s the beauty of the job: you never know who’s going to show up that day,” he said. “All I can do is to try to take it in stride and do my best … I have a job to do.”