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MCGRATH: Hard to shake sense of pride Notre Dame still evokes

SOUTH BEND IN - SEPTEMBER 19: A general view 'Golden Dome' campus Notre Dame University before game between Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: A general view of the "Golden Dome" on the campus of Notre Dame University before a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Michigan State Spartans on September 19, 2009 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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In my sports-editing days, I frequently was accused of attending the University of Notre Dame.

Seems every sports section I was responsible for, including those in California, always found room for ample coverage of the Irish, sometimes at the expense of more deserving or more local teams.

Purdue fans were especially testy. They claimed they had both.

There had to be a reason for such bias.

I didn’t go to Notre Dame, but I was afflicted with Stockholm syndrome at a young age. Growing up Irish and Catholic on the South Side, I was surrounded by people who revered the place, even if they never had set foot on campus.

My father was one such person. An annual Holy Name Society outing to a football game was as close as he ever got to Notre Dame, but he was a passionately loyal Subway Alum.

He’d bring home a program, which I would study with the zeal of a biblical scholar. An uncle who had season tickets would get me to an occasional game once I was old enough to appreciate what I was seeing. A cousin — the first from our extended family to enter the Magic Kingdom — made sure I had a Notre Dame sweat shirt.

I’m not the man I’d hoped to be if a program and a sweat shirt can buy my loyalty, but there is more to it.

There was a special feeling on the Notre Dame campus that I picked up on even as a kid. My father never spoke about it, but the school represented achievement and acceptance to first-generation Irish Americans like himself. Football success was a source of buttons-bursting pride for them, an antidote to the inferiority complex that was an undeniable part of the immigrant experience.

Notre Dame might be distinctly French in its origins, but the marketing genius who came up with ‘‘Fighting Irish’’ as a nickname certainly grasped what mattered in our part of the world, even as the Czarboskis and the Washingtons came to outnumber the O’Malleys on Irish rosters.

There’s more to Notre Dame than football, of course, and certain Irish zealots display a strain of Ivy League arrogance in making that point. Worse, perhaps, is that success has made Notre Dame prohibitively exclusive: A good many ambitious blue-collar kids who were once its core clientele now have a hard time meeting the entrance requirements and the financial demands.

Yet most people I know with Notre Dame in their backgrounds are entirely decent folks, grateful for a good education, good friends and good times (in roughly that order). My feisty daughter sometimes derided it as ‘‘overwhelmingly male’’ while she was there, but she is quite proud of her Notre Dame degree, as are her parents.

On the day it was conferred, university administrators sought to acknowledge those graduates who were going into ‘‘service.’’ More than a third of the 1,700-member class rose to its feet, too many to recognize individually.

That’s what I’ve always liked best about Notre Dame: It stands for something. Accordingly, I’ll be putting journalistic objectivity aside and revisiting my roots Monday.

Go, Irish.



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