Notre Dame is one of the few universities in the nation that can claim fans throughout the country. Bangor to Bakersfield, and a thousand tiny towns in between.

Many of those loyal fans are people who never have set foot in the state of Indiana, much less attended the school in South Bend, and some of those people are members of the National Fighting Irish Subway Alumni Association Inc. But they might not be for long.

Notre Dame is suing the organization, and its founder and executive director Herbert Juliano. It's not entirely unlike a movie star suing his fan club.

The university, in its suit filed April 4 in federal court for the northern district of Indiana, seeks to prevent the group from using the phrases "Fighting Irish" and "Subway Alumni" in its title because the school claims those as trademarks.

Juliano obviously is disturbed by this turn of events. He has devoted most of his 62 years to the university. He is a bachelor who has lived in nine university buildings.

"I didn't own a car for nearly 30 years until I bought a used one from Gerry Faust (the football coach)," Juliano says.

He got his first job with the university in 1950, when he was the color commentator on the school's football radio network. He then worked as a sports announcer for WNDU-TV, a university owned station. From 1974 until 1982, he was curator of the International Sports and Games Research Collection at Notre Dame's Memorial Library. In 1982, Juliano began working in the sports information office. The university asked him to leave that $15,000-a-year position in June 1984, when he refused to give up on his plan to form the Subway Alumni organization.

"To say this suit is childish is an incredible understatement," Juliano said. "It's a gross injustice to act this way toward an organization that is 100 percent behind the university. I don't understand the negative attitude on the part of the university."

"Fightin' Irish" is a registered trademark, but "Subway Alumni" is not, according to James Hall, Juliano's South Bend attorney who specializes in patent and trademark law.

The university, which will begin its 97th season of football on Sept. 14 at Michigan, does not want any organization using what it perceives as its symbols without the school having control over that organization. Frankly, it doesn't want control.

"Because the university has a trademark on 'Fightin' Irish' and has a long history of using 'Subway Alumni,' we asked him not to use them," says Phillip Faccenda, general counsel for the university. "We believe we have the exclusive right to use them.

"He's welcome to do whatever he wants to do if he disassociates himself from the university. The people he's cultivating believe he is associated with the university, and if he uses those trademarks, the likelihood is that they'll continue to be confused."

The group will be a year old today, when 75 percent of its memberships come up for renewal.

The organization has 450 members, who pay $30 in annual dues and receive a monthly newsletter called the "Fighting Irish Sports Report." Juliano, who says he draws no salary, is most proud of the $2,000 academic scholarship the group awarded to a Fort Wayne, Ind., student who will be a freshman at Notre Dame this fall. He would like his organization to be able to award 10 or 12 scholarships a year.

"From a personal standpoint, I'm very proud of what the Subway Alumni stand for, and we have nothing to be ashamed of," Juliano says.

The university has yet to serve Juliano the suit, which would then require him to answer, Hall says. Juliano says he thinks the university is hoping he and his organization simply will go away.

"Of course, we would like to continue to utilize at least a portion of the name so Mr. Juliano can retain the identity of the Subway Alumni," Hall says. "University representatives and I have met to see if a suitable compromise can be reached. If things can be worked out, it may not be necessary to formally serve the suit."

"I think they're waiting to see if I'll fail on my own," Juliano says. "I'm sure the lawsuit has cost me membership, as has their (the university's) refusal to give us their blessing. I wonder how much of a losing fight I'm waging."

Notre Dame spokesmen say they are concerned that any sanctioned fan group could lead to problems -- such as the fans involving themselves in recruiting and attendant NCAA rules violations. Rules violations by boosters have been a big problems at other universities on NCAA probation, such as Southern Methodist University and Florida.

"It wasn't as if he (Juliano) went into Gene (Corrigan, the athletic director) and asked for cooperation," John Heisler, associate sports information director, says. "He said he was going to do it anyway. The whole thing was supposedly set up with the idea of being a benefit to the university with scholarships. But for years, the university has discouraged anyone outside of the Office of Development from raising money. We have no organized booster clubs. We have nothing like that and the university has never wanted anything like that. You can get into problems with those."

Juliano says he started the organization with $8,000 of his own money, and that he will go on as long as he can. But office rental costs, printing and postage run about $900 a month, and he says he can barely pay bills now. He started receiving partial Social Security payments in February; his only other financial resource is the money in his credit union.

That's the Notre Dame credit union, of course.