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Maybe it's nostalgia for bygone gridiron glory. Maybe it's the Rudy factor. Maybe it's the television exposure. Maybe it's relishing Rick Reilly's wrongheadedness. Maybe it's just plain old SEC fatigue.
Whatever the reasons, a healthy majority of ESPN's SportsNation is hoping for a Notre Dame victory in the National Championship game. A look at the map reveals what would be an electoral landslide of nearly Johnson-Goldwater proportions. The Irish are favored in every state except those in old SEC territory, as both Texas and Missouri have decided to side with Notre Dame.
Not surprisingly, the Irish draw the highest level of support (88 percent) from home state Indiana. But a lot of other states also prefer ND by wide margins. Neighboring Illinois (77 percent) is home to the greatest number of Golden Domers in the country and, with 17,000 members, the Notre Dame Club of Chicago bills itself as "the largest alumni club in the nation."
Northeasterners, and particularly those in New England, also heavily favor the Irish. It may be that in a region devoid of a nationally competitive program (sorry, Boston College and Connecticut), folks have latched on to a team that's on network TV just about every week.
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The Northeast is also home to a lot of Catholics (including a lot of folks of Irish ancestry) who may be more inclined to cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame. Rhode Island (78 percent rooting for ND), Masschusetts (71 percent), Connecticut (72 percent) and New Jersey (72 percent) are the states with the highest proportion of Catholics in the nation.
Massachusetts and New Hampshire (82 percent supporting the Irish) are home to the highest proportion of those with Irish ancestry. The local NBA team isn't called the Celtics for nothing. Legend has it that team founder Walter Brown exclaimed, "Boston is full of Irishmen. We'll put them in green uniforms and call them the Boston Celtics!"
Stats guru Nate Silver of presidential prediction fame penned a column last year that estimated the fan support of various college football teams. Notre Dame ranked fourth (behind Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State), and his number-crunching revealed the top TV market for Irish fans was New York.
There's little doubt that Notre Dame's ethnic appeal, historical prowess and national television contract have made the Irish a national (and even international) brand. They play a national schedule -- annual games against USC and Navy complement regional matchups against Big Ten schools. Over the past several years, they've taken their show on the road by hosting a "home" game in Chicago, San Antonio, New York and Washington as part of the "Shamrock Series." The Irish opened this season with a win over Navy in Dublin.
That's not to say that there aren't a lot of ND haters out there -- largely a result of past Irish success. But two-and-a-half decades of relative futility have made Notre Dame the (somewhat) lovable underdog -- a team of Rudys, perhaps -- especially against the big, bad SEC.