Saturating South Beach

It was an amazing scene Saturday as tens of thousands of Fighting Irish fans descended on South Beach to celebrate undefeated Notre Dame’s spot in the BCS title game. Ocean Drive was closed to traffic for several blocks, and taken over by swarms of fans (and restaurants that extended their outdoor seating) eager to enjoy a stunning day in the sun.

South Beach LogoWherever you looked, you could see an endless variety of ND apparel. “The Shirt” from football years better forgotten.   Blues, golds, greens in every hue.  Some BCS-title specific numbers like “Steam Roll Tide” and “Catholics vs. Cousins.”  A veritable football fandom fashion show.

The evening Pep Rally was one-of-a-kind.  After the Band marched down Ocean Drive, it was onto the sand. And onto the stage on the sand came emcee Mike Golic Sr., who reminded the assembled masses that he was there not as an ESPN personality, but as a proud alumnus of ND, a former member of its football team, and father of two student-athletes on the current No. 1-ranked Irish.

The parade of speakers was impressive. Actor and comedian Martin Short, who fell in love with the University while sending his two sons there, added some Hollywood. Pat Terrell and Tony Rice recalled the tremendous bond felt by members of the 1988 national champs, and how it mirrors the 2012 team.

Joe Theismann gave an impassioned talk in which he noted that, despite some less than stellar football seasons, the spirit of Notre Dame – all that makes it special – has never wavered, never “gone anywhere.”  It’s always been the bedrock of what makes ND special, and what’s happened is that this team has fully tapped into what that spirit means. And on Monday night, Theismann roared, Alabama is going to find out what it means, too.

Lou Holtz was his usual entertaining self, and didn’t miss a chance to mess with his ESPN nemesis Mark May, who earlier in the day predicted – shocking, I know – an Alabama victory.  “I think of Mark when I see the bumper sticker that says, ‘God may love you, but everyone else thinks you’re an a—hole.”

For all the firepower on stage, the crowd might have been the story.  Every inch of beach for as far as the eye could see was packed with ND humanity.  Estimates ranged from 15,000 to possibly 30,000 or more.  All this after the Alabama gathering – it really couldn’t be called a pep rally – drew literally a few hundred folks.

Those in crimson were outnumbered by an enormous factor all day in South Beach.  A university, a student body, a fan base unlike any other in sports showed up and put up.

Just like it expects its football team to do Monday evening.