Notre Dame fans and alumni will converge on Miami Monday for college football’s national championship game.
Others will cheer from the Notre Dame campus, elated with the program’s return to national prominence.
But the biggest Fighting Irish die-hard of them all may well be serving drinks and telling tales in Niagara Falls.
Eddie Gadawski’s devotion is the stuff of legend here and among fans at Notre Dame.
He did not attend the renowned school in South Bend, Ind.
In fact, he didn’t go to college at all.
And he’s not Irish either.
So why is Gadawski such a huge Notre Dame fan?
When he was a young boy, he listened to the team play on the radio each week, and during one particular match-up, Gadawski’s father told him the family would henceforth root for Notre Dame.
“That’s a good Catholic school,” he told his young son. “You listen to them.”
For the next eight or more decades, it’s been all Notre Dame, and his tiny Niagara Falls tavern is now a shrine to the football team that borders on the obsessive.
Gadawski also has been to more than 200 Irish games dating back to the first championship of the 1940s.
And he was featured in a recent book chronicling Notre Dame’s most devoted fans.
“It’s his life,” said Mike Rhoney, a Lewiston undertaker. “After the last game, he was raring to go, high-fiving, jumping around.”
Not what you might expect from a guy approaching his 93rd birthday.
But that type of fanaticism is the norm for Gadawski, whose passion for the team has taken him on trips to the Notre Dame campus for five decades.
Many alumni try to visit the serene campus in South Bend, Ind., at least once a year.
He’s used to making the trip once a week.
For years, the barkeep served his last Friday fish fry, packed his family into a car and made the seven-hour trip – driving straight through the night.
“I don’t care how long you’ve been going there,” Gadawski explained. “You cry at every game.”
Like the last Notre Dame national title, a 1988 Fiesta Bowl victory in Arizona that Gadawski watched with a Notre Dame administrator in a private suite.
Or the contest last year, when Irish legend Joe Montana refused to give the Niagara Falls fan an autograph.
Gadawski proceeded to tell Montana – considered by many the greatest quarterback in football history – to shove it. Montana later tried to apologize.
It’s that kind of reputation – forged over a lifetime of Fighting Irish fandom – that got Gadawski’s initials carved into one of the university’s bronze statues.
Look closely at the statue of Fighting Irish coach Moose Krause, and you can see the letters E and G inscribed into the end of Krause’s cigar.
The same inscriptions appear on a model of the Frank Leahy statue at Notre Dame, also carved by a friend of Gadawski.
“He’s the greatest non-Irish supporter of the Irish I’ve ever met in my life,” said Mike Neumeister, president of Notre Dame’s Buffalo alumni chapter.
Which is to say Gadawski – with his South Bend Burger and leprechaun statue – is the biggest Polish fan of the Irish in this Italian city.
Neumeister is a veteran of the yearly bus trips Gadawski leads to Notre Dame Stadium, or as Gadawski sees it, the Promised Land.
The caravans were chronicled in the 2005 book “Touchdown Jesus,” billed as a chronicle of “faith and fandom at Notre Dame.”
“It is possible that, outside one or two local establishments in South Bend, Gadawski’s is, on a national scale, the ne plus ultra of Notre Dame bars,” author Scott Eden wrote.
For proof, look no further than Gadawski’s namesake tavern, which sits on Falls Street near the Seneca Niagara Casino in downtown Niagara Falls. From the outside, it appears to be the last outpost in a vast expanse of boarded up buildings owned by a Manhattan billionaire, a green island in a gray stretch of blighted downtown land.
But inside hangs a cornucopia of Notre Dame banners, license plates, bumper stickers, trading cards and ticket stubs, all pulled together by an uninterrupted stream of Fighting Irish wallpaper.
“To catalog every cameo in the bar would tax the abilities of the librarian of Congress,” Eden said.
There’s the autographed photograph of the late Angelo Bertelli, the Irish’s first Heisman trophy winner as the nation’s top player. He was Gadawski’s friend.
Take note of the two footballs behind the bar, one signed by all seven Heisman winners and another by current Irish leader Brian Kelly, the nation’s coach of the year.
Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, the inspirational walk-on player who was the subject of the 1993 film “Rudy” – he’s been here, too.
“Everybody that drives through stops here, from every state,” said friend Tom Witkowski.
If some consider Gadawski’s a museum of sorts, it may bear more likeness to Notre Dame Stadium Monday night.
The Irish take on Alabama at 8:30 p.m. in a classic matchup that has stoked the passions of fans from both storied programs.
And Gadawski expects hundreds of fans to stream into his place to watch the game on his new super-sized projector screen.
“It’s going to be like heck,” he said last week. “I’m going to be right here with a beer and a shot in my hand.”
Joining Gadawski will be his regular “crew,” a ragtag group of friends who meet each Thursday to talk football and Notre Dame.
One person who won’t be there is Gadawski’s son, Fred, who shelled out $1,200 to make the trip to Miami. He still gets teary-eyed when talking of the day his daughter got accepted to Notre Dame.
After nearly a quarter-century without a title, Fred Gadawski said fans like him are thirsting for a championship.
But for good reason, he worries about leaving his father – and the rowdy Notre Dame crew – to their own devices.
“[I’ll] go crazy,” Eddie Gadawski said. “I don’t think we’ll close the day before or the day after.”