In Ireland, we associate the words ‘September’, ‘football’ and ‘Irish’ with the commencement of international football (soccer) campaigns, however frustrating the results may prove to be. But for the Irish in America, these words mean only one thing: the start of another season for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
We’ve all seen the t-shirts and baseball caps, be it in films or actually in person, being worn by Irish people who really have no idea what it refers to.
But for Irish Americans, the University of Notre Dame football team provides an opportunity to express their unique Irish identity in a sporting context, making the Fighting Irish the best supported college football team in the USA.
For the uninitiated, college sports may seem somewhat irrelevant. Certainly, in Ireland, university sports are an almost esoteric experience, with only the Sigerson Cup attracting even a minimal public interest beyond the families and friends of the participants.
But in the USA, college sports are as big- if not bigger- than their professional equivalents in Football and Basketball. Notre Dame, for instance, play to sell out crowds of more than 80,000 spectators for their home games, with tickets being sold out years in advance.
I must confess a selfish interest at this stage. As someone born and raised as an Irish catholic in America, I was reared as a Fighting Irish fan from my youngest days (the university is considered the most prestigious catholic educational institution in the country.) The university, situated in South Bend, Indiana, has retained an impressive reputation for both its academic as well as sporting credentials throughout its existence.
The team’s most famous head coach, Knute Rockne, was the subject of a famous film in which the future US president, Ronald Reagan, played a starring role as George Gipp. (Incidentally, the legendary speech reputedly given by the then Notre Dame head coach to his players during that 1920s fixture against Army, was the subject of a hilarious sketch in the classic Notre Dame’s team song, tells a stewardess to ‘win just one more for the Zipper!’)
This season, Notre Dame enter the season ranked second in the National rankings- a complex procedure I won’t even attempt to explain to the newcomer. Suffice to say, Fighting Irish fans are looking forward to their team challenging for their first National title this year since 1988. The Fighting Irish kick off their season with a tough away game to Georgia Tech. However, regardless of their result today, the Fighting Irish will remain much more than a team for their millions of Irish American fans.