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2000-11-21 - 12:32:13

Cheer, Cheer ...

It was a fine, fine weekend.

Saturday made for a perfect day -- a brisk, chill November wind blew on an overcast and typecast day for college football. I went up to Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey as they like to call themselves, to see my alma mater, Notre Dame, in its only New York-area appearance this season. Since 1995, in fact, and the Fighting Irish aren't expected back anytime soon. (In football; in basketball, the ranked men's team will be in the area in January to play Seton Hall and February against Rutgers, so those dates are already circled on my calendar.)

It was a theraputic day for me. This is the first season since 1993 -- my senior year in high school -- that I have not attended a football game on the hallowed campus of Notre Dame. Going to this game at Rutgers is my only chance to cheer on the Irish in what has become a resurrection season for the once-dominant program. It was a perfect day because my sister came home (from ND) early for the Thanksgiving holiday, and with my parents we went up early to tailgate before the game. Chris, Steve and their daughter Liz -- who'll graduate from ND in December -- met up with us, and my friend Lori (a graduate of Saint Mary's College) brought her boyfriend Alex to the party as well. We ate, drank and talked like it was 1998 again, enjoying the atmosphere of a college football Saturday.

Inside the stadium, we split up to go to our seats, and I took my spot near one end zone, waiting for Mia to make her way from the train station in New Brunswick, having come in from New York. Three-fifths, to my estimate, of the Rutgers student section was empty; the rest of the place was packed. In the end, it turned out to be the second-largest crowd in the renovated (five years ago?) stadium's history -- surpassed only by Texas last fall, and that was likely because many turned out to boo Chris Simms, a top New Jersey product who went out of state. Those state school students like to harrangue local talent who have the courage to see the country. Face it: Some people just do not want to stay in New Jersey -- as great a state as it is -- their entire lives.

After an adventure with the campus shuttle buses, Mia made it to her seat in time for the second half. In the meantime, I watched Rutgers take a 3-0 lead, then smiled as Notre Dame worked its way to a 24-10 advantage by halftime. The corner of the stadium we sat in was filled with a lot of Irish fans and alumni who managed to get a raucus "Let's go Irish!" cheer up early in the second half. From that point on, Notre Dame pulled away after Rutgers had cut it to 24-17; it ended 45-17.

Later that night, windburned and weary, Mia came back home with us and the five of us went to dinner at Val's, our local Italian tavern and once-a-week dining choice. Mia and I hung around in the bar after dinner, watching the Florida/Florida State game and learning the words to another Notre Dame rally song, "Hike, Notre Dame," to which I had the words on a piece of paper -- because it contained the Victory March and Alma Mater -- in my wallet.

It felt good again to Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre Dame.

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