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Irish Take New York by Storm

Robert Burchett stood by himself late Friday afternoon at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, taking it all in.
He wore a navy blue jacket with a gold Notre Dame monogram on it, the lone giveaway that he might be an Irish fan.
And he is, having been to South Bend maybe 10 times for University of Notre Dame home football games despite having no particular affiliation with the University (he’s not a graduate).
The retiree left his wife back in Tampa, Florida, and flew to New York early Friday, just to take in all the festivities surrounding Notre Dame’s football game with Syracuse.
He doesn’t have a ticket to the game and he’s never been to Yankee Stadium. He has attended every Notre Dame-connected event so far this weekend, and he’ll take the subway to the Bronx Saturday.
“I’m more interested in the Notre Dame atmosphere stuff, all the hoopla,” he says. “Maybe I can get into Yankee Stadium just to see it, after the football game. I don’t know.”
Burchett and hundreds of other fans packed Bryant Park Friday to listen to the Band of the Fighting Irish and vocalist Stephen Lancaster, a member of the Notre Dame music faculty.
Burchett loved every minute of it.
It’s not easy for an athletic event to take over New York City—not with the Yankees and the Giants and all the other professional teams competing for attention.
And it’s an even greater challenge in college football, with no perennial local powerhouse program to merit ongoing attention.
But No. 2 Notre Dame may well pull it off this weekend, thanks to a Saturday matchup with 12th-rated Syracuse that probably rates as the most attractive Yankee Stadium football game since No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 1 Army played to a 0-0 tie in 1946.
It began Thursday afternoon when local University of Notre Dame alumni held a prayer service at St. Peter’s Church and placed flowers at the 9/11 Memorial in memory of members of the University family lost in that tragic event.
It continued Friday with a series of academic presentations at the Sheraton on 7th Avenue, plus a service project in which Notre Dame Alumni Association members packed Thanksgiving boxes and wrapped holiday gifts for families in the Bronx.
It peaked later Friday afternoon at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan where the Notre Dame band, cheerleaders and leprechaun rallied in advance of Saturday’s football game—with former Irish receiver Corey Robinson serving as master of ceremonies and former Irish and New York Giant Justin Tuck speaking.
Tuck remembered playing at Met-Life Stadium as a Notre Dame freshman—and then playing for nine years as a New York Giant.
Tuck kidded about whether playing in New York as a collegian meant something special: “We played in an iconic stadium every Saturday in South Bend.”
The band played a preview of its Saturday halftime—including a New York-themed list of hits: “On Broadway,” “New York, New York,” “God Bless America,” Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” and even an Aretha Franklin tribute.
Dozens of skaters (including the Notre Dame leprechaun) circled the ice at Bryant Park, some of them oblivious to the Irish band members lined up at the west edge of the rink on the overcast, 45-degree afternoon.
Kids wore winter coats and stocking caps and hoisted backpacks, craning their necks to see the band. Dads lifted their children onto their shoulders and hundreds of cameras and cell phones recorded all the action.
Later Friday night the Empire State Building lit up in blue and gold—and the Drummer’s Circle performance happened at 10 p.m. at the ice rink at Rockefeller Center.
As the Notre Dame game day guide listed, “The Empire State Building will be illuminated in blue and gold to celebrate Notre Dame and its founding and flourishing by immigrants, so many of whom first landed in New York City.”
Saturday morning’s schedule includes a Today Show appearance by University president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., followed by Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and then a pregame band concert at Macombs Dam Bridge Park in the Bronx.
That’s all par for the course for a Shamrock Series football weekend—where Notre Dame pairs a football game with a long list of other events, most of which happen routinely in South Bend on Irish home football weekends on campus.
Husband and wife Joe Ahearn (a Cornell graduate whose father played football at Boston College) and Sue Manzi (she is a 1981 Notre Dame graduate) came to Bryant Park, too. They have a daughter Olivia who graduated from Notre Dame (in 2015) who is flying back Friday night from Ethiopia just to come to Yankee Stadium for the football game. Manzi’s sister (Janice Sabatini) also is an alumnus. Another daughter Jenna attends Columbia medical school. A third daughter lives in Hoboken, so Ahearn and Manzi are in the middle of a family reunion of sorts this weekend.
Ahearn is originally from Bronxville and Yonkers–he and his wife now live in Pittsburgh. They are Notre Dame football season-ticket holders yet have never been to a Shamrock Series weekend until 2018.
Says Ahearn, “I went to the first Shea Stadium baseball game ever, the first (New York) Jets game ever and I grew up watching Mickey Mantle.
“We got six tickets for the game tomorrow and we let our kids fight over them. They went to the highest bidders emotionally.”
Burchett, Ahearn and Manzi represent the reasons Notre Dame takes its Shamrock Series games on the road all around the country.
This weekend, Irish fans come one and come all to New York.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is the author, co-author or editor of 12 books (one a New York Times bestseller) and editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.