Tailgating lots become the setting for an unlikely family reunion

NOTRE DAME, Ind. (WNDU) – With tailgaters as far as they eye can see on Notre Dame football Saturdays in the shadow of the Golden Dome, you can bet there have been quite a few reunions in those parking lots.

In those lots on Saturdays, a shared fandom can make you feel connected, like family.

For two Irish fans, that familial bond turned out to be true.

Before the touchdowns, before the pageantry of the band taking the field, tailgaters fills the parking lots around Notre Dame Stadium.

For the McFadden family, tailgating is tradition.

"Our family, my brother Dennis, did a tailgate every year for decades," former 16 News Now anchor Maureen McFadden said.

It was the luck of the Irish that brought a chance meeting for one family member to connect.

"He goes, 'Do you know Maureen McFadden?' And I go, 'I'm Maureen McFadden.' He says, 'I'm Jamie, I've been looking for you for the last three years,'" Maureen recalled.

"I really wanted to track the paternal side back to Ireland and the name," Jamie McFadden said, explaining how that meeting came to be.

Jamie, an Ontario native, joined ancestry.com in 2010. After a year of digging, he stumbled upon a post that caught his eye.

"I see this post and the date is 2004," he said.

The user was searching for someone related to Jamie's second great-grandparents.

"The person that posted was just a username, no gender, no location," Jamie said.

He sent several emails but never got a response back.

Life moved on for Jamie, who completed an online degree through the University of Notre Dame. Then, he attended his first Irish game in 2010. Two years later, he was back again to cheer on the Fighting Irish and stopped at a local pub.

"I pull out my passport and there are some ladies at the bar. They're like, 'Oh, McFadden, they're on the news here.' And I asked, 'The good side of the news or the bad?' Jamie remembered.

The next day, he was strolling through the tailgating lots.

"My buddy and I see this tent that said McFadden on it … and we started talking," he said. "About five minutes had passed and I said, 'If you don't mind, give me your email address and we'll carry this on.' She started to give me the address and I just stopped typing. I was like, 'Oh, my.'"

"He says, 'I've been trying to find you, but you weren't answering.' I tried to explain to him I had lost interest after my dad died," Maureen said. "… Then, we started trading names and we realized we were, in fact, cousins."

"The hairs on my arms stand up and worlds start colliding, and it's all happening on this beautiful campus of the University of Notre Dame," Jamie remembered.

"It was bizarre ,and I kept thinking my dad would have just loved it," Maureen said.

"Maybe it was fate that brought us together," Jamie said.

Fate. Or even a bit of luck.

"People can't believe it," Maureen said. "I guess it's the luck of the Irish."