Father Jenkins said his father hooked him on watching Notre Dame games when he was growing up in Wisconsin. “It became your identity,” he said. “Your teams when you’re 13 are the teams you root for, for life. It’s associated with memory, family, coming together. It has this resonance that goes beyond the sport.”
For many around the country, Notre Dame represented something bigger than a school or a team. “My dad was an Irish-Catholic blue collar man who took great pride in what Notre Dame stood for,” Mr. Delaney said. “It was a matter of pride to my dad that the football players graduated, became doctors, became lawyers and some of them became clergy, but Notre Dame football gave them entry into the American mainstream. Guys like my dad who didn’t go to college identified with that.”
Mr. Mulroy — who graduated from The College of Staten Island — said he’d often put the Notre Dame game on the radio during his police shift. “In between calls, in between any situations, you always had the Notre Dame game on,” he said.
Once, he and his partner, while off duty, went to a Giants-Jets game and heard the Notre Dame fight song among the tailgaters in the parking lot. The two ended up joining the tailgate and were introduced to Joe Nagy, the sheriff of St. Joseph County, Ind., home to Notre Dame.
“He was introduced to us as the sheriff of Notre Dame,” Mr. Mulroy said. “I said, ‘Sure, you’re the sheriff of Notre Dame like I’m the sheriff of Nottingham Forest.’” They became fast friends.
New York has produced more than subway alums for Notre Dame, of course. “The first-ever Notre Dame Heisman Trophy candidate was from Staten Island,” Mr. Delaney said. “William Shakespeare. I kid you not. Notre Dame’s quarterback in 1935. He finished third in the Heisman Trophy. And you know what? He was a Protestant.”
Mr. Mulroy has attended home games in Indiana, making friends with tailgaters from South Bend and reciprocating, with help from a caterer, when Notre Dame played in the New York area and Fighting Irish fans came east. Mr. Mulroy’s daughter Cara, who went to Catholic University in Washington and now lives in Austin, Tex., also cheers on Notre Dame.
“Her fiancé’s not too crazy about it,” Mr. Mulroy said. “He’s a U.T. fan” — the University of Texas — “and she follows the Irish. They’re all over the place, subway alumni.”