Irish Legends

It is fairly common for most major football programs to attract a fan base of non-alumni. In large, this is because there are only 119 schools that field Division I-A football programs. There are a variety of reasons why an individual will decide to associate with a college football team.

The most common allegiance is geographical, in which many people end up pulling for "State U." Whether that be Penn State, Oklahoma, Texas, or any other state school, it provides an opportunity to bring the community together on Fall Saturdays and celebrate football.

The University of Notre Dame is unique when it comes to its non-alumni fan base. Notre Dame has one of the largest followings in the country, and yet it is a relatively small school. There are only ten universities in Division I-A football that have smaller undergraduate enrollments than Notre Dame, and not one of them can hold a candle to the success that Notre Dame has had on the football field.

With such a large fan base and small alumni base, it is not too difficult to realize that the majority of Notre Dame fans are what are known as "subway alumni." The term subway alumni is one that has been used for a number of decades to describe Notre Dame's non-alumni fan base. According to the Notre Dame Club of New York City, the term originated in the 1940's. Beginning in 1925, the Notre Dame-Army series moved to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The two teams continued to play there annually until 1946. The game became one of the most popular social events of the year, attracting celebrities from all facets of life and fans from all over the region. As it turns out, the most popular way for the working class to get to the stadium was to ride the Interborough Rapid Transit, which today is known as the No. 4 train. Thus the masses that traveled to the stadium to cheer on Notre Dame became known as the subway alumni.

The subway alumni were comprised largely of Irish Catholics that settled in New York City. At that time in American history, it was difficult to be Irish and Catholic. Irish-Americans took pride in Notre Dame as the small Catholic school beat up on the larger Protestant colleges. Being a member of Notre Dame's subway alumni was not merely being a football fan, but it was a matter of taking pride in a school that represented Catholicism in a country ruled by Protestants.

As Notre Dame's influence extended across the country, so did the subway alumni network. Within a few decades, Notre Dame had subway alumni all across the country. It seems as though every subway alumnus has a story to tell, which is why Irish Legends has decided to run a two-part feature, focusing on six very different subway alumni, and the stories that they have to share.


LongTimeDomer, or LTD for short, is one of Irish Eyes' most recognizable members. With over 4200 posts, LTD is an active participant in Notre Dame Football fandom. Now retired from teaching and coaching, LTD can remember Notre Dame being a part of his life for as long as he can remember. As a third-generation subway alumnus, LTD learned to love the Irish from his father and grandfather. Growing up Irish Catholic, Notre Dame Football became a family affair. LTD has a fond recollection of the triumph over Oklahoma, in which Notre Dame ended Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak on an 80-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes. He experienced the family joy when Notre Dame won and the family sorrow when Notre Dame lost. In one of his earliest memories, he recalls walking into his grandfather's house during the 1958 Notre Dame-Army game. "The whole clan [was] in the midst of watching Notre Dame versus Army," LTD said. "My two great aunts were on their knees, clicking off the beads as Notre Dame was on Army's one-yard line. They failed to score…sigh." As a young boy, Notre Dame was more than just a football team to LTD.

"I feel a deep sense of gratitude that my grandfather and father exposed me to ND football, and later, through my own initiative, the university," he said. "It's been the passion of my life outside of my loved ones. In my youth it was a morality play, a sense of good triumphing over evil. ND was the good guy, and it was more than a football game. It was the right way over the wrong. I remember my father telling me that Hesburgh told Ara, ‘We want you to win, we expect you to win, but if you cheat you're out of here.' That made a big impression on me, and even if that's part of the ND mythology, or somewhat paraphrased I'm so glad that still holds true today."

As the years have gone by, LTD's love for Notre Dame has only been surmounted by his love for his family. The Notre Dame spirit and way of life have greatly influenced LTD and how he has lived his life. While he considers himself a third-generation Domer, LTD has also passed the Notre Dame love on to his daughters and granddaughter. Notre Dame has truly become a family legacy.

LTD has seen many great Notre Dame players, but one guy in particular sticks out to him: Nick Eddy. "As a kid, watching him run just thrilled me," he said. "I have a screensaver of him going for six against USC." While Eddy was LTD's favorite on the field, Ara was his favorite man on the sidelines.

"My favorite coach is Ara," LTD stated. "Remarkable resemblance to my dad notwithstanding, he was the coach who brought Notre Dame back from the Brennan and Kuharich years. He was the first Notre Dame "Legend" that I was able to follow in something besides books and newsreels."

For LTD, the Notre Dame family is something unique. It is not exclusive to Notre Dame Alumni. It is a something that is shared by a number of people far exceeding those with the Notre Dame sheepskin.

"To me it means that as a subway alum, I belong to a group that wants success, but not at the cost of compromising high ethical standards," he said. "It fosters a unique collective across the country that no other college can rival. It has also allowed me to meet some great people, alums and subway alumni alike."

Like so many other subway alumni, LTD had the opportunity to go to Notre Dame. Academics were not a problem, yet responsibilities were. Just out of the military, LTD had a wife and a young daughter. Attending Notre Dame would have been too difficult on his immediate family, as he would have had to relocate away from his family support. When it came down to it, as much as he would have liked to attend Notre Dame, it would have placed too much strain on his family, and it would have been unfair to his wife and daughter.

Notre Dame is so much more than just a football team, or just a school, to LTD. It is a presence. It is in the childhood memories of the family gathering for the Notre Dame games. It is there when he strolls the quiet campus at dusk. He has seen it in his family, as he watched his wife and daughter act silly, as they tried to retrace the steps of Brady Quinn after spotting him on campus. It is a feeling that allowed his daughter to run around the stadium on a cold, wet, April day, acting plain giddy as she collected player autographs. That Notre Dame aura, the spirit of Notre Dame, or whatever it is, creates a feeling of general happiness within LTD and within his family.

In a world that is so often filled with stories of crime and hatred, Notre Dame offers a quiet haven where LTD and his family can share a common bond. Notre Dame does not just exist on Saturdays in the fall. It lives within us all—alumni and subway alumni. It is not partial to GPA or test scores. It does not favor the wealthy. It is a spirit that is open to all those who accept it, and want to be a part of Notre Dame. For LTD, that spirit has been passed through generations, and he hopes that it will continue to be passed for years to come.

Jim Mullen-aka ndmystiquejim

Jim Mullen is a 63-year-old native of the greater Chicago area. As a son of Irish Catholics, his parents stressed religion, values, and education. It was expected of Jim and his two siblings that they would exceed the education level of their parents, and rise out of the lower middle-class. From this traditional upbringing, Jim was raised to be nothing short of a hard-worker. However, this did not mean that there was no time for fun. Jim shares one of his earliest memories with Irish Legends, a Saturday afternoon with his father.

"The Philco AM radio crackled to life in the kitchen," he said.

"I was drawn to it from somewhere else in the house, doing my 4-year-old things; drawn to it because my dad never turned on the radio in the middle of the day. He was always far too busy, especially on Saturdays, working around our house—our new house of four months at 808 Peoria Street in Chicago Heights, Illinois. Even at 4 years and 6 months, I knew not to bother my busy dad in the middle of the day. At midday he had little time or interest in kids; he'd get totally absorbed in yard work or house maintenance. So his turning on the radio was an event for me to explore.

"Coming into the kitchen I was further stunned by my Dad's conduct. He was positively electrified. My normally placid Dad was fairly dancing around the room, fists clenched, shouting something barely intelligible TO THE RADIO like "This is it. This year is different. We get payback now.

"My 4-year-old reasoning abilities thought something was seriously wrong with Dad. The year was 1947, the month was November when my passion for all things Notre Dame and Fighting Irish took hold—grabbed me like a vise and never let go.

"My Dad, seeing me gawk, knew he had to explain—even to a kid with rudimentary logic skills.

"'Notre Dame is playing now. They are the greatest football team ever. Eve!,' dad said. The Army has had the best of Notre Dame for the last three years because they had all the good players, and all of Notre Dame's players went to fight the War. We (he clearly identified himself with Notre Dame) managed a lousy tie last year, but things get back to normal this year!'"

"And with that explanation, which must not have made perfect sense to me, began the afternoon of staying with my Dad and listening to the Philco. As the game start neared, the radio fairly shook with the noise of the 59,171 fans and the intermittent static-- let alone that Dad had the volume turned to max.

"The opening kick-off went to someone the announcer said was Terry Brennan. He ran it back for a score. The radio damn near blew up. My dad was clearly dancing now, waving his arms, screaming totally unintelligible phrases of joy. I certainly didn't understand the history of Notre Dame football, or the rules of the game, or for that matter even the whole point of a football game. But my dad's totally-out-of- character euphoria made a kid know that this was something really important in life.

"Notre Dame, of course, won that first game of my youthful interest, 27-7…and the next, and the next. And they didn't stop winning that year or the next or the next. I really thought they would never lose. The litany of Fighting Irish greats in that era was staggering in its length—All-Americans Lujack, Connor, Fischer, Czarobski, Hart, Sitko, Wendell, Williams and Martin….with the perfect coach—‘a Notre Dame Man'-- Frank Leahy, to lead them. The legend, already large, became almost mystical.

"I went to Catholic School for most of my K-12 years (except when we moved-- which we did often-- to a town with no Catholic School). Some of the nuns DID have us sing the Victory March in the fall, but I didn't learn to love Notre Dame from the nuns.

"I learned to love the Fighting Irish from my dad. And although we were never terribly close-- or as close as some kids get with their fathers—we always had one bond that never broke and could not break.

"Formed by the side of a Philco AM radio."

Jim never planned on being a subway alumnus. In fact, Jim had every intention of going to Notre Dame out of high school. He graduated third in his class of 350 students at Bishop Noll high school. Everything seemed to line up for Jim, so when his acceptance letter from Notre Dame came, it was one of the happiest days of his life. Unfortunately, unlike the other schools that Jim applied to, Notre Dame was not offering him a scholarship. With a brother and sister already enrolled in college, Jim was dependent upon scholarship aid to be able to afford his education.

In hopes of coming to some agreement, Jim's assistant principal arranged for a meeting with Father Moran at Notre Dame.

"My Dad and I drove to the interview—which lasted, perhaps, three minutes. Father Moran did the talking and it was evident the interview was a courtesy," he recalled. "He said that ND had 33 academic scholarships that year (1961), and that all had been awarded. He asked if I could do anything "special" in athletics, because there were still a couple athletic scholarships to be awarded. I was 5-foot-9, weighed 150 pounds and possessed very average athletic skills. No athletic scholarship. It was, to that point, one of the worst days of my life."

With Notre Dame seemingly out of reach, Jim still did not waver in his allegiance to the school.

"I knew, or began to know what a subway alumnus was," he said. "And you know, it's become a very special thing for me. I am quite sure I'm prouder of being a subway alumnus of Notre Dame than a few (a very few) ND grads I've met who don't seem to understand or appreciate the magnitude of what they were able to access and gain."

Jim feels that his passion for Notre Dame is often misinterpreted as solely a love for football. However, Jim says that is not the case. He marvels at the beauty of the physical campus but also cherishes the values and spirit that Notre Dame symbolizes. In fact, Jim does not limit his Notre Dame trips to football weekends.

"From the day I graduated the University of Rochester—with a very happy and fulfilling college experience—to this day, I have been back on the U. of R. campus twice," he said. "I have been to the Notre Dame campus 100 plus times—football season, yes, but every other season also. Being there rejuvenates me; makes me feel energized…truthfully, makes me feel that all is right in my world."

Make no mistake about it. While Jim may enjoy the other aspects of Notre Dame, he is still a self-proclaimed football addict. Since the time Jim first listened to the Irish on the radio, he figures he could count the number of games that he has missed on his fingers.

"My family fully knows, understands, and largely is as passionate about it as I am. So don't make plans in the fall that include me and which aren't accessible to a TV or radio. I won't participate. Sorry if you're offended. I'll make up for it by coming to your funeral—if it isn't on a Saturday afternoon in the Fall."

Altogether, Jim estimates that he has attended about 100 Notre Dame games in his life. Most of them were at home, but about 25 away games: Ireland, Hawaii, State College-PA, Austin, Dallas, East Lansing, Ann Arbor, West Lafayette, Pittsburgh, Shea Stadium, The Meadowlands, old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, the 1980 Sugar Bowl, the 1987 Cotton Bowl, the 1989 Fiesta Bowl, the Los Angeles Coliseum, and Chestnut Hill off the top of his head.

Jim will never forget his first game at Notre Dame. It was a 1960 and a Pittsburgh team led by Mike Ditka and Freddie Cox beat up on a talented but poorly coached Notre Dame squad. "Rest in peace, Joe Kuharich, you were a very bad coach," he said.

Perhaps the 1988 season was one of the most memorable for Jim. He traveled to every home game that season, despite living in Dallas. Most of the games he was accompanied by his good friend, and equally passionate, "subway-Charlie."

So what does Jim make of his life as a subway alumnus?

"You broke my heart, Father Moran, but only for a day. There is a great joy in being a subway alumnus," he said.

"After Father Hesburgh stepped down as President, I attended a private cocktail reception and book signing of his "God, Country, Notre Dame" in Chicago. A woman business associate, knowing my passion for ND, told me about the event and invited me as her guest. She knew Father Hesburgh from the past.

"As I waited in line to meet Father Hesburgh, my business associate friend whispered something to him. When I got to Father, he handed me a book and said, ‘I've already signed it for you, Jim.' I was taken aback because we had not met and he knew my name, Jim.

I went back to my seat and opened the book to the inscribed foreword.

Father Hesburgh had written:

"To Jim Mullen, A Notre Dame Wannabe."

It is the most valued Notre Dame memorabilia I own. Subway alumnus and Notre Dame wannabee. Life is very, very good."

David Harrison

David Harrison is a 71-year-old retired teacher of American history. He currently resides in Charlottesville, Virginia, and has been a lifelong Notre Dame fan. As a kid, David grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C., which can be accessed today on the Orange Line. David had a strong Catholic upbringing, attending Saint James catholic school and serving as an alter boy. He has been a subway alumnus for almost 60 years. To David, being a subway alum has given him great joy.

"It has given me a sense of continuity and comfort in an increasingly transient, here today, gone tomorrow kind of world," Harrison said.

David has not yet stepped foot on the campus of Notre Dame, but plans to make a train trip to his Mecca, this coming November for the game against Army.

"My images of the campus were formed in earlier times, and I would expect to see changes and signs of growth," he said. "I have a feeling that the grounds are still beautiful and I hope that the lake in their midst is still there. I will be privileged to walk among the students, knowing that they have been instilled by the university a duty to serve mankind, especially the less fortunate."

David says that his memories come only from what he has read and seen in the news. However, he has felt a great deal of pride in the way that Notre Dame has carried itself through the years.

"I was very proud of the way the students, faculty, and administration of the university supported the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's and 70's," he said. "I was especially impressed with the eloquence and passion of Father Theodore Hesburgh, when he spoke on behalf of granting equal rights to all Americans."

David's greatest football memory takes him back to the days of sitting by the radio, listening to the Fighting Irish. He recalls listening to Cotton Bowl on December 3, 1949. The match up featured a Leahy Notre Dame squad that had not been beaten in four years, and a Southern Methodist team that was without its star player, Doak Walker. When it was learned that Walker would sit out, odds makers placed SMU as a 28-point underdog. In a game that proved to be much closer than anticipated, Notre Dame and Heisman Trophy winner, Leon Hart, pulled out a 27-20 victory and went on to claim the National Championship.

So what attracted David to the Fighting Irish? Was it a family legacy? It was his favorite player, John Lujack.

"I have been a fan since I saw a September 29, 1947 Life Magazine with John Lujack on the cover," he said. "Green jersey, gold pants, and an article inside about the Frank Leahy era Irish. Lujack had all of the elements that go into making an athlete. He was a gentleman and a scholar, handsome, articulate and a natural leader of men. He was one of Notre Dame's all-time great quarterbacks, an All-American and a Heisman Trophy winner. As with many of his teammates, he lost two years in the prime of his college career, serving in the U.S. Navy during WWII. As all offensive players of his day, he also played defense, and played it well. In the 1946, 0-0 tie with Army, he made an open-field, solo tackle of the Army's Doc Blanchard—one of the most feared and powerful fullbacks of his day. That tackle saved the game and the National Championship for Notre Dam."

On the sidelines, David's favorite coach was either Frank Leahy, or Ara Parseghian. He could not decide between the two. Both were great legends, and extraordinary leaders. They exhibited what Notre Dame was all about, and did so successfully on the football field.

Like the other subway alumni featured, Notre Dame meant much more to David than just a football team. Growing up in a struggling Catholic family, in a southern Protestant town, David's upbringing was far more humble than his affluent neighbors.

"When Notre Dame would kick hell out of teams such as SMU, which was almost always, it gave me a sense of pride and the feeling that, while my playmates had more money, I had Notre Dame," he said.

Unfortunately for David, his family was not able to send him to Notre Dame. He was accepted, but his family simply could not afford it. David was a strong student and was offered a scholarship at the University of Virginia. He accepted his scholarship, and enrolled at Virginia.

For David, it has not always been easy following Notre Dame. However, that certainly has not stopped him.

"My wife of 43 years is not a sports fan and has never fully understood fully why I follow this university in northern Indiana," he said. "She has put up with a lot, like the many times I have been late for dinner due to Notre Dame being in the last quarter of a close game. Even during our honeymoon, I sneaked off to catch part of a Notre Dame game. But, I left after critical times and got back before critical times."

David Harrison is just another example of the passion and pride that subway alumni have towards the University of Notre Dame. He has never seen the campus, and has only been able to follow the school through the media. However, he realizes what Notre Dame stands for, and wants to be a part of that tradition.

As mentioned before, David will be making his first trip to Notre Dame in November, for the Army game. Traveling by train, David will get the full experience of heading into the Midwest. Irish Legends hopes to follow up with David after his visit to Notre Dame to see how things went. Hopefully for David, Notre Dame is everything he has imagined, and so much more.

Keep an eye out for the second part of this feature on subway alumni in the coming days. Top Stories