Here in Washington, you’re either a Cougar or a Husky. There might be a few stray Gonzaga, Oregon or Oregon State fans around … but sports fans in this state are defined by whether they root for Washington State University (Cougars) or the University of Washington (Huskies).
So people are always surprised to find out that my college sports heart is located a couple thousand miles away in South Bend, Indiana: home of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
I grew up in Pennsylvania, went to college in southern California, and have lived most of my adult life in Washington. How’d you get to be a Notre Dame fan?, everyone around here asks.
It’s actually pretty simple.
1.) I’m Irish and grew up in a Catholic neighborhood and school.
2.) My aunt got her PhD at Notre Dame and was an associate professor there. And, get this … one of her students was a guy named Joe Theismann. True story. They reconnected a few years before my aunt died at some kind of reunion or similar event, and they took photos together and he signed some footballs for her — one of which is still in our house right now.
3.) My childhood neighbors were a Notre Dame family. The father and first son, I think, both went to Notre Dame and were big fans. So whenever I’d be at their house on a Saturday, the Notre Dame game would be on.
4.) Notre Dame was (and still is) a national program that was on TV all the time. Not only on Saturdays, but also on Sundays. Every Sunday morning, either before or after Mass, the Philadelphia TV channels aired two separate college football shows — a one-hour highlight recap of the Penn State game a day before, and a one-hour highlight recap of the Notre Dame game a day before.
So, in a nutshell, I was surrounded by Notre Dame via family, friend and neighborhood connections, and they were on TV all the time.
It was easy to be a Notre Dame fan. It’s been more difficult over the past 20 years or so, but now the Irish are relevant again nationally and I’ll be screaming at the top of my lungs when they play Alabama for the national championship in a couple weeks.
You can have your Huskies or Cougars. I’m all Irish!