In every family in every society in every culture, parents set the rules for their young. For one quintet of siblings growing up in Pittsburgh during the 1980's and 90's, the rules of thumb to live by under the roof of Jim and Patty Bulger were no different than those of any of their classmates.
Eat your fruits and vegetables. Do your homework. Don't talk to strangers. Don't get in trouble.
In the Bulger household, however, there was one other big rule. A rule which was non-negotiable, especially on Saturdays in the fall. You would root for Notre Dame. Unabashedly. Wake up the echoes, play like a champion, and so on and so forth.
Unlike the fruits and vegetables and the homework, however, this was one rule that the Bulger kids couldn't wait to follow.
"Growing up, I was all about Notre Dame," explained senior Mountaineer guard/forward Meg Bulger, the youngest of the kids. "We didn't even care about pro sports. It was all Notre Dame. That's it."
What else did they need? For the Bulgers, and countless other families from sea to shining sea, rooting for Notre Dame wasn't just a thing to do, but rather a way of life. The man of the house, father Jim, was a backup quarterback for the Fighting Irish in the early 1970's, and passed along his love for all things Notre Dame to the family. In addition to watching the games on television, the Bulgers would often pile into the car and make the approximately 375-mile drive to northern Indiana.
"Probably two or three times a year we would get a big conversion van and take the whole family up to South Bend for a football game," Meg recalled. "We would visit all of my dad's old roommates and things like that. It was a lot of fun."
Now, fast forward from a chilly autumn afternoon inside Notre Dame Stadium to tomorrow afternoon inside the WVU Coliseum. At that time, Bulger and her family – always in attendance – would love to see nothing more than a Notre Dame loss at the hands of Meg and the Mountaineers. In 16 previous games between the two schools, West Virginia has come away with exactly one victory.
Coincidentally, the lone Mountaineer win came in January of 2004 as Meg's older sister Kate scored 20 points to lead Mike Carey's team to an impressive double-digit victory which ultimately had a big hand in West Virginia's NCAA Tournament appearance at season's end. Meg, then a freshman, didn't have her best statistical game on that Saturday afternoon, but still played an important role in the victory. And with their past loyalties to the Fighting Irish
"Right after the game my freshman year, I remember my sister and I were all excited and stuff," she recalled. "Somebody asked my dad if he was upset, and he just said, ‘Those are my daughters. I'd rather they win."
A win tomorrow afternoon could not come at a better time for West Virginia. The Mountaineers are still licking their wounds just days after an 84-48 pasting on the road against top-rated UConn. While the loss was certainly disappointing, the most disappointing thing for Carey and the players was the complete lack of competitiveness put forth by the Mountaineers.
By facing another team ranked in the top 15, West Virginia can simply not afford to dwell on the latest loss at the hands of the Huskies.
"We need to get re-focused, and forget about that loss," Bulger said. "We need to forget about the way we played, forget about our statistics. I think there was maybe a little bit of a lack of chemistry in that game."
An added bonus for Bulger would be marking her senior season with a second win over Notre Dame.
"This year, my fifth year, to get a win against them would be important," she said. "My dad obviously has a connection with them, so he'd love that too. He's all West Virginia now."