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StarBulletin.com

Notre Dame fans feel the love from Hawaii faithful


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POSTED: Thursday, December 25, 2008

For three Hawaii military servicemen - and unabashed Notre Dame fans - Aloha Stadium was an excellent place to be on Christmas Eve.

Throngs of Fighting Irish fans celebrated their team's resounding 49-21 victory over Hawaii yesterday in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. The Irish broke a string of nine postseason losses dating back to 1993, making the evening extra-festive for the visiting team's supporters.

Best friends Matthew Cheplic, 22, and Michael Bishop, 26, were decked head to toe with homemade “;Rudy 45”; uniforms (an homage to the Irish's famous player-mascot) and savored every second of their team's romp. Both have been stationed at Hickam Air Force Base for three years.

“;It's a dream come true,”; said Cheplic, of Pittsburgh, who has been an Irish die-hard since his childhood. “;I mean, my expectations for tonight were minimal. Being one of only a few Notre Dame fans, true Notre Dame fans here in Hawaii, it's a privilege and an honor to myself and my friend. (To break the streak) here is beyond anything.”;

The over-the-top costumes - including golden helmets - were Cheplic's idea.

“;He initiated it. I came through, though (crafting them),”; said Bishop, a 10-year converted fan from Kansas. “;I came up with the costumes and everything.”;

Michael Johnson, 23, a Notre Dame alumnus and Army first lieutenant stationed at Schofield Barracks for seven months, sat back and relished the game's final moments as Irish coach Charlie Weis received a Gatorade bath from his players.

“;It's great. I really hoped for a good game in my mind, and this was a great game,”; said Johnson, whose parents, Tom and Ellen, flew in from Ohio to watch the game with him. “;It's great to break that losing streak that everyone talks about on ESPN. I just hope it keeps up next year.”;

There were some complaints of mistreatment (including a letter to the editor received by the Star-Bulletin) from Cincinnati fans at the hands of UH fans following the Bearcats' come-from-behind win earlier this month. But all three servicemen had nothing but pleasant things to say about nearby home fans throughout yesterday's game.

A Hawaii fan who gave his name as “;Mr. Perry”; had a good time ribbing the two costumed Irish die-hards and stoically absorbed the beating his Warriors took.

“;We tried to throw down to the Irish, but, you know, we're trying to beat an institution,”; said Perry, of the North Shore. “;They bring all they have and we bring all we have. I love them, I love these guys sitting down next to me.”;

A desperate Hawaii fan yelled, “;Put in Rudy, please!”;

“;It's been a pleasant rivalry going back and forth,”; said a grinning Cheplic. “;Everybody's been hating on us because we wore all the (uniform) whatever, but everybody's been real friendly, real calm, real courteous, all of the above.”;

Johnson agreed.

“;I walked around the entire stadium and never got mistreated,”; Johnson said. “;Your fans are terrific, and I really enjoyed my time down here at Aloha Stadium.”;

T-shirts emblazoned with “;Notre Lame”; were, for the most part, as offensive as it got. For much of the game, the Irish fans were the more vocal group as local fans were quieted and disheartened by the lopsided nature of the game; a mass exodus began during the third quarter.

UH fans booed lustily the first time the Irish flag appeared on the field to celebrate a touchdown. But by the time Notre Dame went up 35-7 in the second half, few could muster the energy.

Before the game, though, there seemed to be plenty of Christmas and aloha spirit to go around.

“;We had good-luck wishes,”; said Ellen Johnson. “;A lady who walked in with us from Hawaii hoped it would be a good game, wished us good luck. Very nice fans.”;

The end result: a rewarding trip for the Johnsons.

“;We're tried, true Notre Dame fans,”; Tom Johnson said. “;The Irish may have been a little bit down on their luck this year, but they certainly know how to end the year the right way.”;