October 25, 2013 Updated: October 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm
Even within a fan base known for its devotion, Tom Graner is the outlier teetering just beyond the line of obsession.
Graner's Notre Dame collection includes yearbooks from 1908 to 1931, ticket stubs from nearly every Fighting Irish game ever played at Notre Dame Stadium and a pile of programs that he eventually cut off because it had grown so out of control.
Wanting his group to sit together Saturday at Air Force, Graner bought five family packs worth of season tickets and has been giving away the non-Notre Dame tickets to coworkers. The tab was more than $2,000, forcing him to go on a six-month payment plan. Even then, the tickets weren't enough, so he's been on Craigslist buying up dozens more.
While his friends vacation in "Cabo Wabo," the Ellicott resident and retired E-7 USAF Master Sergeant travels each year to South Bend, Ind., to watch the Irish play. Three years ago he drove his daughter to Kansas to see a monument at the site of Knute Rockne's fatal plane crash.
"I'm kind of known as the Notre Dame Looney Tune," Graner admitted.
Graner didn't attend Notre Dame, with his passion instead stemming from a great uncle who was a graduate during Rockne's time.
In looking at the basis for loyalty for college football teams, a few common threads seem to reoccur - family history (allegiances passed down), geography (following the team that's close to home) and success (nothing attracts fans like winning and winning consistently).
Among those, Notre Dame lacks only the geographic connection, but it makes up for that in a shared Catholic religion. And that's where the whole obsession started, according to Bill Barker. Barker, the alumni coordinator in the Notre Dame Club of Colorado Springs, holds a pair of history degrees from Notre Dame and is well-versed in the school's past.
Catholic immigrants from Ireland and other parts of Europe would arrive in the 1920s and 30s and be told about this Catholic college in the middle of nowhere, Barker said.
"Following them became a way they could feel more American," he said.
That attachment has been passed down through the generations, and all the while others continue to jump on the bandwagon.
"It's very hard not to get swept up in it," said Roxanne Aguilera of Thornton, a self-described "Domer" and the wife of an Air Force Academy graduate.
Aguilera wasn't a Notre Dame fan until she landed at the school following an injury that ended her time at West Point. Now, all she owns are Notre Dame T-shirts, and her husband, Jason, has learned to stay away when their teams are playing. He'll watch the Falcons from their home this weekend while she and a group of college roommates head to the stadium.
The fire of obsession is fanned by accessibility. The team is always on television and no one is ever far from fellow fans.
"We lived in Japan for five years and I would wake up at 3 in the morning to watch Notre Dame football," Aguilera said. "And you could always find somebody who was willing to come over and watch it with you."
Former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie, now at New Mexico, said when he was there book shops on campus would schedule blocks of time on game day to close so they could restock. That was the only way they could keep up with the demand.
The Notre Dame Club of Colorado Springs expects to have more than 1,100 people for its tailgate party Saturday, complete with cheerleaders, Irish dancers, a bagpiper and a leprechaun. The marching band won't be there only because Notre Dame is on fall break.
Club president Bruno Mediate summed up his affection for the school by explaining why he'll be cheering for the Irish over the Falcons despite having served 20 years in the Air Force.
"I may serve my country," he said, "but I love Notre Dame."