The continuous stream of email countdowns began the day after Notre Dame's annual Blue and Gold Game on April 22, which concluded the program's six-week spring practice schedule.

"Next Step: Temple … 133 days til Temple … Go IRISH!!!!" With appropriate updates/photos/commentary attached along the way.

Bob Sumner, a South Jersey resident more commonly known as "Notre Dame Harvey," was in South Bend that Saturday a little more than four months ago. Just as he will be there this Saturday for the opener against — for the second time in five years — those dreaded Owls, who of course nearly beat the Irish here on a memorable Halloween night two years ago. And just as he's been to so many places so many times through the decades to support his passion.

Such as the Boston College game in 1993, when a late field goal by the visitors cost the Irish a chance to play for the national title, one week after they had knocked off supposedly unbeatable Florida State. He was the guy who had to run onto the field to pick up the kicking tee afterward. Seriously.

"I was friends with the BC equipment guy, so we worked their sidelines," Harvey recalled, as if it happened yesterday. "I was at the FSU game. That was like being at somebody's wedding. It was a celebrity event. The next week was like being at your best friend's viewing.

"I'm all BC dressed up, but I had a pair of Notre Dame sneakers on. I'm trying not to hide them. I was holding the wires for their offensive coordinator. I'm hearing every play, stuff like that. Then it was over and BC fans were jumping all over us. It was me, my friend Sean, and another guy. It was a feeling you want to forget. But the game was never one to forget."

And so it goes. He's seen championships. And Charlie Weis. Or was that Tyrone Willingham? Either way, he's become more than a fan. He's Notre Dame Harvey. There's only one.

So exactly how do you become that?

Harvey with grandchildren Declan (left), 2, and Avery, 4, on the stairway leading to his basement mancave.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Harvey with grandchildren Declan (left), 2, and Avery, 4, on the stairway leading to his basement mancave.

Well, he grew up in Grays Ferry. He had an uncle, Johnny Henry, whom Harvey described as a "diehard." He actually gave Harvey his nickname. And eventually, he took him to Indiana to see the Irish play. They drove for 12 hours straight, with people taking turns behind the wheel.

"Being a young kid, and seeing the support for a team that's 600 miles away, I fell in love with it," said Harvey, now 60. "I knew it was going to be a part of me for the rest of my life."

Even though he might not have known exactly how much.

His son Bobby goes by Knute. His brother has a dog named Rudy. You can't make that up.

He spent a recent Sunday afternoon watching tape of a top-rated quarterback who'd given the Irish an oral commitment. When kiddingly told he was nuts, he simply sighed and conceded, "I know. But what am I going to do?"

A longtime high school and college basketball official who's retired from his job with Dupont but now works for the Delaware River Port Authority in addition to bartending on summer weekends at the South Jersey Shore, Harvey began calling WIP when sport talk radio first came into the culture in the late 1980s.

"That probably created more of this monster," he said. "It's about loyalty. People couldn't get over how much I'd go at it [with the hosts]. When you're surrounded by all these Penn State fans, I wasn't going to back down. And [Howard] Eskin was into Miami. Growing up in my neighborhood, you were either a Notre Dame fan or a Penn State fan. Some say you can like them both. You can't like them both."

At some point, he began putting together trips to games, initially on buses to the Meadowlands with hoagies and assorted beverages. It has evolved. He'll have a group of 50 heading out with him for this game. They'll fly out Thursday morning to Chicago. He knows a guy who can get them all 21 rooms at his place downtown. That night, there's going to be a happy hour. "We're big Miller Lite drinkers," he said. "We're just trying to get a price." Some will take in a Cubs game, too. They'll bus to South Bend, have a tailgate "in a great spot," and hopefully see a win before getting back home in one piece.

"It seems like a lot of work, but it gets back to the people," Harvey stressed. "It really runs itself. We've been all over. Some are harder to pull off than others. Last year, we were 4-8, but I saw all four wins.

"Everybody asks what's my favorite. I've been there when we lost to Alabama [in the 2013 title game] and when we beat West Virginia [in 1989, to win a title], but maybe the greatest feeling was Harry Oliver hitting that 51-yard field goal on the final play against Michigan [in 1980]. They said the wind stopped, where I was sitting."

Or the time in 2006 when Brady Quinn threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Samardzija with 27 seconds left to beat visiting UCLA by three.

"I'm in the end zone opposite Touchdown Jesus," Harvey noted. "I had something on my mind the whole time. I was already planning on flying home early. Somehow, I didn't have to."

And sometimes, it happens the other way.

"In 2002, we lost to BC," Harvey explained. "I had about 25 guys out there with me. The next day, we're going to the Eagles game [in Chicago, where they won]. I didn't really feel that good. Five minutes later, I'm in a cab going to [the airport] and going home. There are stories. They know that after a defeat, they've got to keep an eye on me. But they don't get mad …

"And if I tell them we're leaving at 7:30, they'd better be there. We're not waiting. If you're late, the bus ain't going to be there. I'm not trying to be a tough guy. I just want them to have a good time. There's always headaches. But it's worth it."

His wife, Debbie, understands. Yo, it's for better or whatever, right?

"That was part of the agreement," Harvey said. "When we got married, she had to become a fan. Remember [the movie] Diner, where the girl had to take the trivia test [on the Colts] first? That's what she had to do.

"We don't go to weddings from September to November. We're hoping none of our kids have kids around that time."

Sure sounds reasonable enough. Obviously, she must have passed her prenuptial questioning.

"Just barely," he said, laughing. "She did OK. She's been to a lot of big games."

Harvey also does his next-step thing with basketball – once football is over – and even hockey. The Irish made it to the Frozen Four last April. Last season, two of their former players who are now on the Pittsburgh Penguins, winger Bryan Rust and defenseman Ian Cole, even brought the Stanley Cup with them to the Nevada game, which turned into one of the four wins. Harvey says word is they'll be making a return appearance for the Temple game.

On Dec. 9, the Irish basketball team will be playing at Delaware, where coach Mike Brey formerly worked. Harvey is taking a busload to that, as well.

"That ticket is probably tougher, because the arena doesn't hold as many people," he said. "Some games are just that way. Nebraska, many years ago, somebody came through at the last minute. Knock on wood. When it was 59,075 [capacity at ND Stadium], it was kind of tough. Now it's up to 80,875. So … "

He'll figure out a way. And he doesn't round off the numbers. Just don't be late to the parking lot.

"In all honestly, it's not about me," Harvey said. "It's about the other people, and the times we share. Nobody's making money off this. When I see someone out there for the first time, and you see the look on their faces, that makes my day. There's nothing like that first experience. They can't get over it. They've seen it on TV, but being there is so different."

Some of the memorabilia at Harvey’s home.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Some of the memorabilia at Harvey’s home.

He has collected so much memorabilia through the years that he no longer has enough room for all of it. Still…

"It was a good week down the shore, so that means I'll have more money to spend in the bookstore," Harvey said. "There's always something that catches your eye."

No doubt. Whatever happens, by Sunday it will be on to the next step, which is Georgia at home.

"That started from Lou Holtz," he said. "Whoever they played, they celebrated for 24 hours and moved on. They even used to have T-shirts that said 'Next Step.' That always stuck with me. Sometimes it's like, 'Here comes Next Step Harvey.'

"It's funny. People will meet me for the first time and go, 'I thought you were 75 years old.' I guess everyone has the impression I've probably been around that long. Then, somebody will call me Bob. And I'll hear, 'Who's Bob?' "

He acknowledges it used to take him until Wednesday to get over a loss. Now it's more like Tuesday. But …

"If Temple does pull off the upset," Harvey offered, "I will not be coming back from South Bend."

Bold statement indeed. Maybe he could just pick up the kicking tee again on the way out.