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Fighting Irish win battle of the fans

The parking lots opened at 1:30 p.m. for a concert by country musician Luke Bryan and were nearly full at 4 p.m., 41/2 before kickoff. Porta-John lines stretched hundreds of people long.

When the gates opened at 6 p.m., the going rate for tickets outside the stadium was in the neighborhood of $800-1,000. Online, the average price was $1,899, down from a Dec. 1 average of $2,975, according to ticket-price aggregator TiqIq.com.

Among the swirling masses outside Gate F sat Irish fan Bruce Callahan of Coloma, Mich. He wore a stovepipe hat, white beard and a sandwich-board sign that said “I need one or two tickets.”

But his sign was a bit misleading: Callahan, who said he has missed two Irish home games since 1970, actually had an alumni-section ticket in the Notre Dame end zone. He said instead of tailgating, he was conducting a “social experiment” and, in some cases, helping others find tickets.

“I’ve met a lot of interesting people,” he said.

* * *

Notre Dame fans Vince Vaughn, Jon Bon Jovi and Regis Philbin were spotted on the sidelines before the game, chatting with fans and media members. All three wore head-to-toe Fighting Irish gear.

Vaughn chatted with ESPN sideline reporter Tom Rinaldi and SportsCenter anchor and radio host Scott Van Pelt before stopping for photos, signing autographs and then leaving down the west tunnel underneath the stadium.

Earlier in the afternoon, former Florida and current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer strolled out to one of ESPN’s on-field sets with Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.

The duo provided on-site color commentary for ESPN’s broadcast, along with former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, ex-Pittsburgh star Mark May and anchors Rece Davis and Chris Fowler.

GameDay analyst Lee Corso, dressed like a leprechaun, picked Notre Dame at the conclusion of the show.

XM Radio show host and polarizing football commentator Paul Finebaum, a celebrity to SEC football fans, signed autographs. But the excitement surrounding any of the celebrities’ presence lost its mojo when Alabama coach Nick Saban came onto the field for a pre-game interview with ESPN.

After five Wings of Blue paratroopers dropped in on the field, Atlanta-based country and folk group Zac Brown Band sang a soulful national anthem.

* * *

South Florida wasn’t SEC Country on Monday night.

It’s 1,326 miles from South Bend to Sun Life Stadium and 770 from Tuscaloosa, but Notre Dame fans showed up in droves.

They dominated the decibel battle, drowning out pro-Alabama cheers with boos. They appeared to outnumber Tide fans by about a 60-40 split. A navy No. 5 jersey, worn for Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and quarterback Everett Golson, was the most-spotted jersey in the stands and parking lot.

***

Bryce Burton began Monday evening hoping that by the end of the night he was virtually the sorest person in Sun Life Stadium.

Burton is Notre Dame’s leprechaun mascot, a time-honored role requiring a three-week tryout process for the right to celebrate Irish scores with a pushup for each point Notre Dame has scored up to that point. Burton went into the game figuring he’d be doing 38 pushups the last time the Irish scored.

That’s nowhere near the 50 he had to do for the opener in Ireland against Navy and nowhere near what he’s capable of.

“In one sitting? Probably a hundred,” Burton said. “That’s a lot of pushups.”

Burton, a senior majoring in science business with med school aspirations, said the physical part of the job is secondary.

“The main part is public speaking,” he said, pointing to the pre-BCS pep rally in which he had to fire up roughly 35,000 fans. “You have to make sure you can do more things like that than be able to do pushups. They use you as an ambassador to the university, so they have to make sure you have good communication skills.”

Burton seemed a natural.

“I’ve been a lifelong fan of the university,” he said. “I’ve always been kind of short with a stocky build, with red hair, red facial hair, so people kind of teased me that I should do it. And once I got to school, I said, ‘Might as well.’ “

Filling the role the year the Irish go from 8-5 to bidding for a perfect season?

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