By MICHAEL WANBAUGH
THE GOSHEN NEWS
The Voll family from South Bend had no problem meeting up with their friends down here in the expansive parking lot of Sun Life Stadium. They just did what they always do and put their faith in a familiar face — Frankenstein.
It’s a tradition that dates back to 2005 when Patrick Voll was a freshman at Notre Dame and the family hosted tailgate parties before Irish football games in South Bend.
“When I walked into Walmart and saw this behemoth,” Patrick said today pointing to a 10-foot blow-up Frankenstein parked on top of their Ford SUV, “I knew I had to have to have it.”
Now Frankenstein is a navigation beacon on crowded game days. Anybody who’s been to a game at Notre Dame Stadium in recent years has likely seen Frankenstein in the lot near Legend’s restaurant.
“That’s how people find us said,” said Ann Vowell a 1976 graduate of St. Mary’s College and Patrick’s mother. “But this year, my son Michael told me that Frankenstein wants to travel.”
So, Frankenstein made road trips to Chicago for Notre Dame’s win against Miami, (Fla.) and to Norman, Okla., for an upset Irish win over the Sooners.
When the top-ranked Irish qualified for tonight’s BCS National Championship game against No. 2 Alabama, the Volls knew they were hitting the road again.
“I told people I was going on a pilgrimage,” said Ann, who took four days to drive herself and Frankenstein down to South Florida from South Bend. “They asked if I was going to Jerusalem or the Holy Land. I said ‘no, I’m going to Miami. ... with Frankensten.’”
The Volls and Frankenstein weren’t the only ones having fun before tonight’s 8:30 kickoff. Tailgate parties were in full force as fans threw footballs, sipped beers and grilled meat.
Throughout the parking lot were demonstrative displays of allegiance and fashion police nightmares. Particularly popular were bright red trousers with embroidered elephants, the mascot of the Crimson Tide. Equally, if not more, popular were bright green pants with embroidered leprechauns, the Fighting Irish mascot.
Tide fan Robin Albano of Decatur, Ala., took the excess to another level with a crimson suit covered in elephant patterns. He accessorized with diamond “Bama” bling around his neck and a grill of gold teeth in his mouth.
“Isn’t that nice,” Albano said as he gestured to his get-up and did a little turn. “My mother-and-law made it for me. I have five of them. My wife wanted me to wear this one, so I did what I was told.”
Capping off Albano’s outfit was a large button with an image from the film “Rudy.” Stenciled over the image was, “Rudy confesses. Roll Tide.”
Notre Dame fan and South Bend native Dennis Gowalski let his boots do the walking and the talking.
“Check this out,” Gowalski said as he lifted the cuffs of his jeans to show the front of his blue and gold cowboy boots that read “Notre Dame #1.” “I had these specially made. I’ve been waiting 10 years to wear them.”
Gowalski, who is a 1982 St. Joseph’s High School graduate, and his wife, Shannon, live in Atlanta and paid $5,000 online for four tickets behind the Notre Dame bench. This is a family that also had a blue and gold Christmas tree in their home over the holidays.
“That’s how big of fans we are,” Shannon said. “There was no way we were going to miss this.”
Also making the trip from Northern Indiana as special guests of Notre Dame was the Grewe family from Middlebury. Sam Grewe, an eighth-grader at Northridge Middle School, suffers from Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. He was “adopted” by the team before the season and has had special access to the Irish throughout Notre Dame’s special 12-0 regular season.
“(Notre Dame Athletic Director) Jack Swarbrick arranged for our car to the game and got us two passes for their suite,” said Randy Grewe, Sam’s father. “We also just found out that Sam will be in the locker room before and after the game.”
Five hours prior to kickoff the Grewes were on their way to meet up with the ESPN Game Day crew before going to their seats. Sam’s story is to be featured during ESPN’s pre-game telecast.
Closer to the stadium, Jimmy and Caroyln Gay of Tuscaloosa, Ala., strolled toward Gate H of Sun Life Stadium. Jimmy donned a black and white Houndstooth hat like legendary ‘Bama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant used to the wear. The Gay’s attend most of Alabama’s home games at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
For them, tonight’s game is business as usual following a team that is playing for its third national title in three years.
“To be honest with you, it’s pretty much like any other Alabama game,” Jimmy said with a smooth southern drawl. “We play to win, that’s all. It will be just as hard as any SEC game we play throughout the year.”
Jimmy said it was his family’s first trip a national championship game.
“But it will be No. 15 for Alabama,” alluding to the number of national titles the Tide would claim if they beat Notre Dame. “Roll Tide.”