Adorned in an authentic navy blue jersey and a hat with green clover embroidery, Dave Hoolihan sits in the "man cave" in the basement of his Champion home.
Banners dangling from the ceiling and photos blanketing the walls, the room is a virtual monument devoted to all things Notre Dame. Hoolihan's obsession with the school's football team is even evident on his skin, which includes six Fighting Irish tattoos on his arms and one on his leg.
Yes, it is safe to say Hoolihan is among many local blue-and-gold clad fanatics anxiously awaiting Monday night's BCS National Championship game between Notre Dame and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide.
"I have to work until 4 o'clock," Hoolihan said of his plans for Monday's 8 p.m. start. "I'm going to come home, put the Notre Dame pants, socks, shirt and beads on and just get ready to watch it. My grandmother also had a lucky little bronzed horseshoe. I will be holding onto that."
Hoolihan, 50, is unsure when he became such a passionate fan, but his family was a definite influence.
"My dad's side of the family, they were all Notre Dame fans, and I just grew up with it all around me," he said. "I really started following it closely when I was 12 years old. I don't know what happened, but something just clicked. I love them to this day."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Dave Hoolihan of Champion shows off some of his game-day Notre Dame programs on Friday in his Champion “man cave.” Hoolihan is one of many local Notre Dame fans looking forward to Monday’s BCS National Championship game.
Hoolihan estimates he has spent about $6,000 on his Notre Dame memorabilia. Among his most prized pieces are a signed picture from former head coach Lou Holtz and a program to the 1966 Notre Dame-Purdue game. Other items have an even deeper meaning.
"I wore this hat during the birth of both my kids," Hoolihan said, pointing to a striped Fighting Irish hat hanging from the wall. "It has a lot of memories for me."
Just don't ask Hoolihan's wife about her husband's collection.
Coming this weekend:
Mike McLain catches up with Warren native Ross Browner, recalling the 1973 game between Alabama and Notre Dame.
Larry Ringler talks with local players that will take part in the National Championship game.
"Yeah, she gets pretty fed up at times," Hoolihan laughed. "Then again, she knows how much I love it, so she has just learned to live with it."
Meanwhile, a Cortland resident is taking his love for Notre Dame to the next level. Brad Schultz will be flying from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., tonight to attend Monday's game at Sun Life Stadium.
Schultz never thought twice when given the opportunity to see the big game in person.
"It was a no-brainer," Schultz said Friday afternoon.
Schultz's father, Dan, is an alumnus of Notre Dame, graduating in 1973. After fulfilling current student body requests for tickets, a lottery for contributing alumni was held for those leftover tickets.
"I was told that we only had a 5-to-10-percent chance of getting the tickets," Brad Schultz said. "It was just a blind stroke of luck that we got one. Once we got the one, we had to buy two extra tickets so me, my brother and father could all go."
Much like Hoolihan, Schultz's love for the program runs deep. This will mark the sixth Notre Dame game the 37-year-old Mathews High School graduate has gone to this season.
"I've got pictures as a baby in Notre Dame stuff," he said. "I can't even remember the first game I went to. We usually try to go to one or two home games a year."
Based on Hoolihan and Schultz, it is no surprise local retailers have seen a spike in activity attributed to Trumbull County's many Fighting Irish supporters.
Shawn Pelo, assistant manager at Finish Line in Eastwood Mall in Niles has seen a significant rise in interest for Notre Dame apparel.
"The night after they won the game to grab their bid into the National Championship, not only did we see more people coming into the store and asking if we had Notre Dame stuff, we tried to order stuff online and everything was gone," Pelo said. "There was nothing left, even online."
A similar story was echoed at Sports Obsession, also in Eastwood Mall.
"I would say that traffic for Notre Dame stuff alone has tripled, easily," assistant manager Andy Agona said on Friday. "Sales have been really significant. We normally don't carry all that much Notre Dame stuff, but we've been carrying more this year and it is almost totally gone."
Part of the reason for the massive interest by Notre Dame enthusiasts is a recent drought by the storied program. This will mark the first season since 2006 that Notre Dame will finish the season ranked in The Associated Press top 25, and the school has not won a national championship since 1988.
Hoolihan and the other local "Golden Domers" are hoping things will change late Monday night.
"Just play Notre Dame football like they've been playing. If they do that, I think they will win," he said.