ORLANDO, Fla. -- Whether it's El Paso, Winston-Salem or Orlando, Notre Dame folks sure know how to party.
A football game's just a good excuse to get together.
Thursday, Irish fans were out en masse, clustered around the perimeter of Citrus Bowl Stadium, basking in the bond of a Champs Sports Bowl meeting with Florida State.
"When you go through the sports side and the academic side of Notre Dame, you don't realize what the 'Notre Dame family' experience really is," said former Irish tight end John Carlson, eager to watch his first Irish game from the stands. "Being out here (in the Notre Dame Alumni Association tailgate area), you get a feel for what it's all about."
The circumstances of Carlson's appearance aren't the most pleasant. If he had his druthers, he'd rather be preparing for the Seattle Seahawks' season finale Sunday. However, a torn labrum before the season started put him on the shelf all year.
Another ex-player getting his first look at a bowl game from the stands is Rick Mirer. The former quarterback, who grew up in Goshen, approaches every game he watches with a discerning eye.
"I've never been to a bowl from the outside," Mirer said. "When I watch a game, even on TV, I'm watching like a quarterback. I look at the defense. I try to figure out what call to make."
The Champs Sports Bowl was a baptism by fire for new alumni association executive director Dolly Duffy. She has taken over for Chuck Lennon.
Besides the pre-game organization, Duffy played a significant role in planning a Mass and a service project. About 40 alumni and the Irish cheerleaders painted and made repairs to the New Image Youth Center in Orlando.
"It was great to see the expressions on the faces of the little kids,"
Duffy said. "The cheerleaders were the big hit. The little girls were
It wasn't all fun and games. The cheerleaders didn't shy away from any
-- well, at least some -- of the manual labor.
Was that part of the deal when they got picked for the cheerleading gig?
"Community service, it's all part of (being a cheerleader)," said
Jordan Nine, a senior from Elkhart. "I was with a group that painted
the flower bed blue. We sanded down the playground equipment, so the
kids wouldn't get hurt.
"But, most of all, I played jump rope -- a lot of jump rope."
Hey, nobody said community service was going to be easy.
More than football to this bowl experience.