All Aboard: The Subway Alumni


Image Credit: U.S. National Archives, Erik Calonius, Times Square Subway Station and Subway Graffiti (05/1975), Local Identifier: 412-DA-5766.

Leo and Michael never attended the University of Notre Dame, but they are among the Notre Dame Alumni Club of New Orleans’ most dedicated game watch attendees. Fresh on the heels of the Blue Gold Game weekend and The Shirt’s unveiling, I wanted to explore with them why they cheer for Notre Dame.

I know you’ve heard it before, but New Orleans is not like the rest of America, for better and for worse. What you may not believe, is that it’s not even like the rest of Louisiana. New Orleansis a very Catholic city, but it’s Catholicism is incorporated into its fabric, like the air or the humidity. Catholicism is not something you necessarily wear on your sleeve here, but you know the date of Ash Wednesday 2019. If you don’t, you’re a tourist. The rest of Louisiana doesn’t necessarily get on with New Orleans, and that animosity starts once you cross the 17th Street Canal. As you get further away, say, to the airport, in Kenner, you’re squarely and certainly beyond the pale. And you only see LSU hats. LSU is Louisiana: Huey Long, the former Governor, massively increased the Tiger Band, wrote music for it AND EVEN DESIGNED A PLAY FOR THE TEAM TO RUN. Take that, Robert Bentley.

"Yes, I think you've seen me before." Image credit: the author.

So, while the rest of Louisiana does the “Tiger Rag” on Saturdays, in New Orleans, you’ll hear things like “The Hullabaloo Cheer” or “Stand Up and Get Krunk” or “Wobble Baby.” We’re gumbo and we know it.

So Leo, a Pittsburgh native living here now, is the only person I know who has every Shirt. After I told him about my Katrina experience and how I lost the few Shirts I kept with me since graduating in 1994, he told me he would start storing his collection in a Tupperware tub. “I wouldn’t know what to do if I lost my Notre Dame stuff.” It’s part of his identity. He’s very proud that a Notre Dame student once stopped at his home and asked to pose for a picture for his mother and father in front of Leo’s ND flag. The student was on his way to Notre Dame to start his freshman year.

Some of Leo's Shirts. Image Credit: Leo. Note the singular awfulness of the flesh-colored Shirt.

Leo and Michael are “Subway Alumni”, a term that was first used to describe the fans living in and around New York City who travelled by subway to see Notre Dame play Army, once the huge crowds forced those games from the confines of West Point first to the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, and, ultimately, Yankee Stadium. On December 2, 1933, for example, the Lincoln, Nebraska, Star noted to its readers that “[. . .] up today from the sidewalks of New York will come the famous ‘Subway Alumni’ to rally around its favorite team and try to make it win.” The Subway Alumni were mostly immigrants or Catholics and usually both and as they moved throughout the country, so did their love for Notre Dame.

The Subway Alumni created an ND Nation long before the internet was a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye. Their tweets were the pop-and-crackle of the radio and later, the snow of early television. It’s no small thing that when Michael Corleone visits Hyman Roth, Roth is watching the 1958 Notre Dame-USC game, which, for those interested in historical detail, was a 20-13 Irish victory. To a movie-goer watching The Godfather II in 1974, Notre Dame’s presence in the scene would have been as natural as the Florida sun.

Michael, the Subway Alum not the Mob boss, ascribes his allegiance to Notre Dame to his genes. “I’m Polish and Catholic and from Chicago. My birth-certificate came out Blue and Gold.” He watches football games as another would the priestly sacrifice and explains that “I’m not the best Catholic. ND football is my church.” Perhaps “take this, all of you, and drink from it” is just another way of saying “this round’s on me.”

Leo ultimately puts his loyalty to Notre Dame down to the place and its people. One of his best ND memories, for example, came as a young man when the hospitality of ND fans carried him through a football weekend. “I drove toSouth Bendwith forty dollars in my pocket and drove home with the same forty dollars still there!” As the mills in Pittsburgh closed and Leo moved away, he never lost his affection for ND, despite the distance.

That, likely, is a very familiar experience for all alumni.

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  • irishfanatic

    Great article Bayou Irish. My father was one of those original subway alumni, one which took the subway to games, and absolutely bled gold and blue. Fact is, the first time I saw Rudy it brought back memories for me as a kid with my father telling me that we only watch one team in our house, and he meant it. To this day, I will not watch an entire game that the Irish are not playing in. I know, it’s kinda homer’ish, but that’s the rules in my house. My son, now 11 has gained a greater understanding as to why it’s that way. I’ve taught him to respect excellence, discipline, a set of standards, and a tradition that envelops all of those things.

    Interestingly enough, I’ve yet to see a game at ND stadium in my adult years. I’ve only been there twice. Once at age 6 and another at age 8. Even at the age of 8 it still had an affect on me, and believe it or not, my most vivid memory was when we visited the Grotto. I remember a man praying there, and when he turned around he looked as though he’d been crying. I looked at my father, and he simply said, “It’s this place”. He didn’t really go into it any deeper than that, but over the years I’ve learned and understood what he meant. Granted, I’ve seen plenty of “away” games, but I really need to get back to ND, and hopefully will sooner than later.

    There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish that I had been blessed with the opportunity to attend the University of Notre Dame. Damn, it just sounds so good when you say it, and the pride of having that degree is second to none. However, there’s also not a day that goes by that I don’t know how blessed I am to have the ability to pass all that is inside me about Our Lady on to my son. I guess I’ll be the one praying at the Grotto with tears in my eyes, if and when the day comes that my son attends the University of Notre Dame.

    I’m proud to be a subway alumni, and equally as proud of you “Domer’s” that have done the work, and achieved excellence by earning a degree from Notre Dame.

    • Tim Scallon

      Thanks for your thoughts about your love for the Grotto and bringing your son along. I also had a great memory when 18 years ago I brought my son (then 6 years old- he is now 24 and about 6/1 and has been as high as 255lbs) to our first (mine and his) ND home football game at Notre Dame Stadium.

      We had seats at the very top Southwest corner (this was before the renovation, so in retrospect they were pretty good seats). At half time I brought my son down to the lower box area by the brick wall to get a photo of the two of us with the Band in the background. Fans were beginning to return to their seats as half time was ending and I asked a guy who was maybe in his 30s if he could take a picture of us as I told him it was my son and my first ND game. He said “sure” and I could tell he really wanted to do a good job for us.

      Right then a high society woman (mid 50s) impatiently wanted to pass by the three of us to get back to her seat. This guy with the force of an army surgeant put his hand in front of her to block her movement and said with a load voice “STOP”, then he slowly turned back around to us and with precision took my son and my photo with the field in the background. He knew what this meant to me and I will always be greatful to him for it!

      As to the high society woman, I’m sure she was clueless as to what this means to a father.

      Fellow Subway Alumni, Tim

      • tim

        “If they have to ask why,they just dont get it!”
        stadium usher captain

  • kyndfan

    My wife’s grandfather, may he rest in peace, started going to games in the early 50’s. ND football is a family afair that goes way back for us. My wife and her cousin are Bellarmine University alums and we are all Subway alumni. Since the first time I stepped foot on campus, stood at the Grotto, walked through the Bascillica, and followed the band to the stadium, my goal every year is to get back up there for a game. This past year we went to the MSU game. I later described that trip as a perfect day. The weather, the people we were with, and the butt kickin we put on Sparty was awesome. After the game I looked at my wife and told her how great of a time I had, but at the same time I was sad because I knew we wouldn’t be back until next season. Weeks later my thirst for ND was quenched when I got ahold of 4 BC Tix. As I get older and continue to try and improve my personal financial situation, I realize that if I could ever afford it I would attend every home game. I cannot describe the feeling of being inside ND stadium, but here is a feeble attempt.
    It’s that sky, that BIG Indiana sky! You look up at that sky and know that God put it there for the purpose of having football played beneath it.

  • Kevin Zoldowski

    Fine job everybody and like each and everyone of you I too am a Subway Alumni. I’m of Polish Irish decent and I’ve loved Our lady and Notre Dame since I was a Little Gipper.
    My wife and I get back once a year to attend a game and EVERY time we enter the gates the hair on my ams and neck stands up and a tingle goes through my body that I can’t describe. I also wish I could have been able to attend what was growing up the ONLY college I ever wanted to attend.
    God Bless each and every one of you students attending ND as you showed you have the smarts, talent & desire to work hard to earn a degree from what is the most special piece of ground housing a University.
    Peace & GO IRISH!!
    Subway Alum

  • http://[email protected] Bill Read

    Lads: I recall my father listening to ND-Iowa in 1939. He was crushed that The Irih lost 7-6. All seven kids in our family followed Notre Dame as if a requirement. My mother knew two marches in her life, the Notre Dame Victory March and something else. Bless her! That’s the only football she knew. My firs ND game was Oklahoma in 1952! Wow. Dan Shannon was there too! My wifw and I have nine kids, all raising their own now. In the 90’s we hardly missed a game, driving from Syracuse, NY very week. We’ve had our kids there. grandkids,neices, nephews etc., one quite friendly with the family of Emil Sitkohe phoned the family from the ACC last fall from beneath a rememberance of 6Yard. Beautiful. Mmories and experiencess to numeorus to list but, on our 50th wedding anniv. Quinn to Samarzijan the 20 seconds thrilled us. It’s haarder to go to the games now due to health reassons and the knees don’t work like they did. But, we follow everything Iris every day. So many great players from the era of Ara. Had the pleasure of meeting Nick Rassas at a game a few years ago. Quite exciting Remember all the National Champs of ’64, (yes we were!),Huarte to Snow,Wolski,Eddy,Farrell.Carrol,Duranko,Snowden. To0o good to miss. God Bless the Fightin’ Irtish!

  • Tom Ortwein

    I enjoyed the article very well. I have been an Irish fan since 1935. I originaly lived in Bethlehem,PA. Retiring to Venice ,FL permanently in 2004. I missed the opportunity to see the 1946 Army-ND game in Yankee Stadium, however my Mother used the ticket. My first ND game was 1951 vs Pitt. My first home game was 1961 vs Iowa.
    I have been an usher at ND football since 1999 I have never missed a game (including Blue-Gold games) however I also the last 4 games of 1996 startin with the Washington game. On Sept.8,2012 I will be seeing my 100th consecutive home game! I have seen the Irish play in 17 different states plus DC and have seen them play in 5 Bowl games.
    Not too shabby for an 81 year old who lives 1230 miles away. I also follow the total athletic program and attend events when possible. I also play slo-pitch softball in Venice, 4 days a week during the season.
    Thank you and GO IRISH !!!

    • kyndfan

      Tom, I’m 31 years old. When I grow up I wanna be you. Retired, with a place in Florida and attending every Irish home game and then some. God bless.

    • http://here The Biscuit

      Tom, please email me at our email address in the Contact page. I’d like to do an interview for the site!