Notre Dame had to pause football activities on Tuesday due to a rash of COVID-19 positives, which left 13 players in self-isolation.

We wrote about that story, then shared a snippet from a column I wrote a few weeks ago, ripping the ACC for allowing the Fighting Irish to join their “conference-only” 2020 schedule despite playing an independent football slate each year.

That resulted in some Twitter discussion on Notre Dame supporters in the Philadelphia region, and whether or not we’d describe their fandom as legitimate. It’s an interesting and on-brand topic, even if college football isn’t very big here.

The curious thing is this:

We constantly rip Cowboys fans who live in this region but have nothing to do with Dallas. They aren’t from Texas. They’re from Marlton, Maple Shade, and Montco. Anthony Gargano, “The Cuz,” would say that you’re a “four for four” Philly sports fan, or you’re a cockroach, with no gray area between, and when it comes to the NFL, he’d be right.

So does that apply to college football fandom in Philadelphia? We are, admittedly, not much of a college football town. Temple has been better in recent years, but they don’t capture the hearts and minds of Philly residents. Certainly we have a slew of Penn State alumni in the region, and some people follow the Nittany Lions because they also happen to live in Pennsylvania. After that, there are pockets of Notre Dame fans interspersed throughout.

First, we have to remember how sports fandom is defined in Philadelphia. We’re a parochial and provincial town. You’re expected to support local, because you grew up here, you still live here, and your formative years were spent with family, watching the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, Sixers, and now the Union, perhaps. You were shaped as a young fan by taking the pilgrimage to West Chester or Lehigh, where Chris Gocong would sign his sweaty jock strap, hand it to you, and then pose for a picture. You grow up with a team and you’re immersed in an environment that provides tangible and impressionable experiences that you just don’t get from watching the Cowboys from afar, on television.

Most college football fans, on the other hand, either went to the school in question or grew up near the school, in the same state. If you live in Boyertown but call yourself a Notre Dame fan, obviously you aren’t checking either one of those boxes. You didn’t go to ND and you aren’t from Indiana. You probably cannot point to South Bend on a map. That might sound harsh, but if you knew a Yankees fan from Boyertown, and they couldn’t find The Bronx on a map, you’d be giving them a ton of shit, wouldn’t you? Let’s keep it honest here.

Notre Dame fandom is predicated on three things:

  1. they were always on TV
  2. they were really damn good
  3. you yourself were an Irish Catholic


My late grandfather was a Notre Dame fan, but he grew up in Toledo, Ohio and never went to college. He joined the Marine Corps. Toledo, admittedly, is not far from South Bend, but it’s much closer to Ann Arbor and the home state team is the Buckeyes.

Why not pull for Michigan or Ohio State?

He became a Notre Dame fan because he himself was Irish Catholic, ND was always on TV back then, and they were really damn good. I can’t fault my grandfather for developing that fandom, because the circumstances were so much different for the generations that preceded ours.

Today, however, a lot of teams are on TV, a lot of teams are good, and most of us would just watch Notre Dame vs. Stanford and try to enjoy it as neutrals. We don’t HAVE to be a fan of a team just because they’re on TV a lot. This is what drives me crazy with the Premier League, because we’re not fucking from England. We don’t HAVE to pick Tottenham just for the sake of having “a team.” Why can’t we watch and enjoy without a rooting interest?

The Irish Catholic angle really is intriguing, and could be a separate column entirely. Obviously we have a TON of Irish Catholics in this region, from Fishtown up into Bridesburg and Northeast Philadelphia, Delco and along the Montco/Berks border. Some people feel connected to Notre Dame for cultural reasons, which I get, but not once in my 36 years have I ever met a Methodist who supported SMU because he or she was Methodist. I’ve never met a Mormon who supported BYU just because they were a Mormon. This religious affiliation only seems to play with Notre Dame, because.. well golly gee, they happen to be good and SMU and BYU stink. Same with Boston College and TCU. Why aren’t more Protestants Horned Frog fans? Makes you wonder.

At the end of the day, does any of this really matter? No, I guess not. Understandably, telling people who they’re allowed to cheer for comes across as grumpy and stodgy, like we’re the no-fun police trying to gatekeep what’s appropriate and what’s not in 2020. College football is about chilling out on a Saturday, drinking some beers, watching the games, and enjoying other people’s company, either in your living room at the stadium. We rib each other and tell our friends how much their team sucks, but it’s all good-natured.

Still, it’s odd that a lot of the things Philadelphians value in terms of professional sports fandom don’t seem to apply to Notre Dame. If we met a Dallas fan from Mayfair who liked the Cowboys because they were good and they were always on TV, we’d call them a phony and a fraud. Wouldn’t we likewise shade Notre Dame supporters who built their fandom on the same concepts?