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Saturday, May 25, 2024
The Observer

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Notre Dame's subway alumni are invaluable

You can walk into a bar in Boston, New York, Baltimore, Chicago or Philadelphia, and everyone will know the greatest of all university fight songs, the Notre Dame Victory March. You can’t say that of any other university fight song. 

On the beach in North Wildwood, New Jersey, many flags are flown: the Italian tricolor, the Irish tricolor and the flag of No Shoes Nation. But perhaps the most popular of all is the flag of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Very few of the people flying the Notre Dame flag are traditional alumni of Our Lady’s University, but they play another important role: subway alumni. 

Most other colleges have fans that are largely linked to their fanbase by state boundaries: Ohio State, Penn State, Alabama. But one walk around the stadium at the Blue-Gold game or through the parking lots on any given football Saturday of the fall, and one can see that Notre Dame’s fanbase is national in scope. That is a gift. 

Notre Dame alumni always have a home in cities across the country — and in some cases, the world — because of the fanbase. These people actively root for our university, possibly without ever stepping foot on campus. Walking through the O’Hare Airport or the Philadelphia Airport wearing a Notre Dame sweatshirt is a guarantee to get one or two “Go Irish” chants thrown your way or even a friendly conversation. Hundreds of thousands of people have a fondness towards Notre Dame. 

I was connected to Notre Dame long before I went to school here, because of my family’s Irish-Catholic identity and passion for sports. Combining the two gave us one obvious team to root for, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. 

Passionate Notre Dame fans loyal to the Fighting Irish despite having no formal connections to the University are often called subway alumni. The subway alumni get their name from the “throngs of Irish and immigrants who jammed the subway lines from the New York City boroughs to Yankee Stadium” for the Army v. Notre Dame games of the 1900s. These immigrants were symbolically connected to the university by way of their Irish and Catholic identities. Subway alumni remain an incredibly important part of our fanbase as they show Notre Dame’s far reach beyond the university community. 

In the early days of college football, “‘Notre Dame was the only truly national university,’ said the football scholar Michael Oriard, who played [here] in the 1960s. ‘Once they discovered they were connecting with Catholics all over the country and saw it was a tremendous advantage, they embraced it.’”

On game days, the parking lots of campus are filled with Notre Dame students, Notre Dame community-members and opposing team fans, but another important group’s presence adds greatly to the excitement: subway alumni.

Notre Dame’s subway alumni value Notre Dame. Notre Dame needs to continue to recognize their value and their authentic connection to the university. This relationship should not be diminished because it is not an academic one. The emotional connection, which is often multigenerational, of subway alumni has a magnificent value that a dollar number cannot be assigned to. 

Erin Drumm is a senior at Notre Dame studying American Studies, journalism and history. She is from Philadelphia and spends her summers (and every weekend possible) at the shore in Cape May County, New Jersey. Outside of The Observer, Erin can be found cheering on the Fighting Irish and the Phillies, reading and talking about pop culture and history. She can be reached at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.