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Football: ND family extends beyond Domers

Bobby Griffin | Monday, October 30, 2006

BALTIMORE – If the 38-14 Irish victory over Navy Saturday reaffirmed three things, they were as follows: quarterback Brady Quinn is pretty good, the Midshipmen offense is pretty exciting and, most importantly, the Notre Dame family extends far beyond students and alumni.

Let’s start with the first point. Quinn puts the Irish on his shoulders when it matters most game after game. The quarterback was poised against UCLA when his team needed a late-game score, surprising nobody when he delivered under pressure.

And Saturday, amidst questions regarding Notre Dame’s offensive inconsistencies and lack of a big play ability, he led the team to scoring drives on 5-of-6 possessions to start the game. Two of his touchdown passes came on throws of 30 or more yards – 33 yards to Rhema McKnight and 36 yards to David Grimes.

“Sometimes you don’t realize he is that good, but he continues to impress us each and every game,” McKnight said of Quinn after the game.

On the other sideline, Navy showed why it has one of the most intriguing offenses in the country. Of course, Midshipmen coach Paul Johnson (and his .742 career winning percentage) didn’t invent the option – but his team runs it beautifully.

What his team lacks in size, it makes up with athleticism and intelligence, and it took the Notre Dame defense a full half to adjust.

“The scout team gave us a great look, but nobody runs that offense like Navy does,” safety Tom Zbikowski said.

But equally notable, and far less publicized, is how important this game – or any Notre Dame game for that matter – was to the thousands of Irish fans who don’t have the luxury of calling themselves Domers.

Because for every student or graduate who attends home games on Saturdays, there are hundreds more who tune in faithfully on TV.

And these fans are just as loyal as those doing pushups in Notre Dame Stadium after touchdowns.

These diehards – the Sullys from Southy and Sals from Secaucus – never had the grades for “Notah” or “Notuh” Dame, and many don’t have the time to leave jobs as carpenters, plumbers and electricians to make pilgrimages to Northern Indiana.

“The [fans] on the east coast got an opportunity to get to see us play without having to travel as long a distance, so that’s one of the reason I think the crowd was so big,” Weis said after the game Saturday.

But when a game does come around on the east coast – a first in two years under Charlie Weis – I-95 is flooded from the construction work in New England, through the east and west spurs in Jersey, all the way down to the 695 exit in Maryland – for one reason.

The Irish are playing football.

And while many spend much of the year at odds over Yankee-Red Sox allegiances, they make up with a few common interests – unwavering passion for the Irish, a dream that one day their own kids will have the chance to call Notre Dame home and a few cases of Budweiser in the back of their trunks.

And you can bet anything they’ll talk about the experience for the rest of their lives – the time they were lucky enough to get their hands on a ticket to see Notre Dame play football.

After the game Saturday, outside Gate D at M&T Bank Stadium, a Notre Dame fan was commanding attention from the top of what appeared to be a merchandise stand.

His chant – E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles – was ironic based on the stadium’s location (Baltimore) and the nature of the game (Notre Dame-Navy).

But at the same time, it made perfect sense.

Because subway alumni – Notre Dame fans who didn’t attend the University – are not tied together because the Irish are from their home state. They don’t grab on to the Irish because they lack local teams to root for. And they definitely don’t share a passion because they know what the Golden Dome looks like on a snowy day.

But they are into sports. So much so that this particular Philadelphia fan felt the need to let people know who he roots for on Sundays, aware that while spectators might support other rivals – their favorite college football team provides a bond tight enough to compensate for any differences.

So as Quinn inches closer towards a Heisman Trophy and the Irish creep further into the BCS picture, understand one thing.

Not all diehard fans named Fitzpatrick have actually seen the Notre Dame engineering building. But a lot of them are busy working construction on similar ones.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Obsever.

Contact Bob Griffin at [email protected]