clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Notre Dame: A History of the Fighting Irish Football Pants

New, 38 comments

A thorough pictorial history of Notre Dame's pants and the debate over their gold color.

Mike Miller in the metallic Vegas gold pants from 1994.
Mike Miller in the metallic Vegas gold pants from 1994.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

No one talks about football pants. The helmet and jersey usually grab most of the attention while in the NFL knee-high socks (they're mandatory for every team) are a common reason for dishing out fines when players do something like this HERE.

Yet, over the last several years the pants worn by Notre Dame have been one of the most debated aspects to the Irish uniform. You don't have to search long to find someone saying "our pants aren't even gold" or "are we going to change the pants so they don't look like Michigan?" For many teams the pants have been largely unchanged over the years but the Irish have gone through some subtle changes through the years, especially in modern times.

Irish AD Jack Swarbrick was even asked about this issue by Notre Dame Sports Blogger Aaron Horvath in January of last year when the formal partnership and 10-year apparel deal with Under Armour was announced:

Q: Will Under Armour figure out the correct gold and continuity with the uniform and have they talked to you about it?

Swarbrick: "There is not a lot you can do in this first year but they left here with a helmet and football pants to get a better match. In fairness to Adidas we changed the helmet independently and next year for anybody would be the year to catch up on the helmet."

A few keywords there are 'correct gold', 'continuity', and 'better match.' Keep those in mind as you read on.

Before we tackle the history behind what Notre Dame has worn over the years I'll need to give some definitions to the colors we'll be talking about in this article.

ND Pants Color Template

Pants Swatch

The Color Yellow

yellow2

Trying to find a consensus on the naming of colors is a frustrating, and often annoying, task. Ask three people about Notre Dame's pants from this past season and you're just as likely to get three different answers. For purposes of keeping things as straight as possible I am calling the colors as follows:

  • Vegas gold (top left)
  • goldenrod (top right)
  • sandstorm (bottom right)
  • old gold (bottom left)

With some notable exceptions (i.e. the Shamrock Series), the Fighting Irish have worn these four colors--or some very slight variation of these four colors--in their traditional uniform since color photography has existed.

Note the difference between the golden template colors with that of yellow. So when I talk about gold I don't mean yellow. Think gold bars versus a lemon. The color 'mustard' is often used to describe Notre Dame's pants and that will be used liberally, as well. It's a good way to differentiate between gold and yellow as mustard contains more orange hues similar to Notre Dame gold.

I know many people view gold and yellow as the same, but appreciate the difference for this pictorial.

~~~

1940's

There are precious few color photos from the World War II era Notre Dame teams but the Heisman paintings that were made and the famous magazine covers that were published show pants that were goldenrod and very bright.

This Johnny Lujack uniform that went up for auction from 1947 has some very bright and vibrant goldenrod pants. Those are definitely as close to yellow as you'll find Irish pants.

1950's

This picture of the Scholastic from 1950 shows the color staying fairly consistent into the new decade, as does this pre-season magazine with Bobby Williams on the cover from the same year. A few years later in this photo of Johnny Lattner you can see the gold pants peaking through the bottom of the picture.

When Paul Hornung was doing it all for the program the photography began to improve dramatically. In this photo you can see the pants shining with more gold in the sun and also how the fronts were shinier than the back. Pants for decades were made out of a shiner material on the front and a duller material on the back.

Monty Stickles had his late 50's uniform go up for auction, and while the pants are clearly dirty, they still appear similar to Lujack's above but perhaps with more mustard tones.

1960's

Here's 1964 Heisman winner John Huarte dropping back to pass on the road.

Metallic 2010

Vegas gold metallic pants from 2010 (Photo by Jason O. Watson, USA Today Sports)

This picture of Jim Lynch from 1966 is another good example of the shinier fronts giving off a golden shine in the sun. From the same season during the '66 Game of the Century versus Michigan State this bad ass picture of the team waiting to take the field you see the brightness but from the same game a shot from the back there's more mustard than shiny gold.

This picture of Terry Hanratty from 1968 might be one of the best from the era in showing the pants, their two-toned nature, and their difference from Notre Dame's golden dome helmets.

1970's

Nothing changed drastically in the later stages of the Parseghian regime. Here's Joe Theismann in 1970 with pants that are pale goldenrod in the overcast skies.

We can tell a lot about the consistency and color of Notre Dame's pants over the years by comparing them to USC and Michigan. This image from 1973 provides a good example of how the Irish pants were gold and USC yellow--and back then the Trojans pants were not as bright yellow as today too.

The program would regularly switch back to green jerseys in 1977 after the famous Trojan Horse game against USC but first you can see a picture of Joe Montana before that switch.

The late 70's era has been known to history as a time when the Irish wore bright yellow pants with green jerseys but even if there was a lightening of the leg wear you can see during the '77 USC game that they still weren't approaching Trojan yellow. Keep this in mind when seeing the 1977 throwbacks worn in 2007 below.

The use of a bright yellow on the green jerseys likely gave an illusion that the pants were drastically different when they probably were not. Here's a pre-season shot from 1978 with Montana & Co. in the road green uniforms--without bright yellow dominant on the jersey the pants again look rather much like old gold again. We have pictures like this with extremely bright yellow pants but they're likely heavily filtered and the exception. Less treated pictures show something closer to that old gold and goldenrod mixture and the videos from the era back that up, too.

At the end of the Dan Devine era during the Sugar Bowl game against Georgia it wasn't any sort of bright yellow pants being worn by the Irish.

1980's

With Gerry Faust the pants initially remained the same even if the jerseys did not. Again, look at the difference between the Irish and Michigan pants during that first night game in Notre Dame Stadium history back in 1982.

sandstorm 2011

Matte sandstorm pants from 2011 (Photo by Jeremy Brevard, USA Today Sports)

The 1983 season brought about a change as the Irish changed from the mustard colored pants to Vegas metallic gold after they dropped the Northwestern stripes on the jerseys. These pants would be metallic in the front and matte in the back, similar to the construction of pants from decades past but was clearly an attempt to match the metallic dome helmets. This would last until the 1987 season when the entirety of the pants would be Vegas metallic gold.

Also, notice in 1986 the team switched to blue belts and the blue ND monogram was added to the front left hip.

1990's

Looking back at the 1993 game against Florida State you can see how both teams basically wore the same colored pants.

By the late 90's everything stayed the same. Now in comparison to Michigan the Irish pants were drastically different. Ditto for comparisons with USC. By the mid-90's a blue Champion logo was added to the front right hip.

2000's

The Adidas contract didn't change much except in 2001 the company logo was added to the right hip and a green shamrock with gold ND were put on the left hip. In 2004, the blue ND was added back on the hip.

Against USC in 2005 the contrast of metallic yellow and metallic gold is evident.

When the Irish brought out the 2007 throwbacks they were hilariously bright yellow pants, drawing a chorus of internet boos for weeks afterwards. Despite not being the same color as USC's in 1977 they definitely were in 2007 which wasn't 100% historically accurate.

2010's

The current decade has seen the most change to Notre Dame's pants, bringing us back to the beginning of the article and the discussion about the differences.

During Brian Kelly's first year in 2010 the Irish remained in their standard Vegas metallic gold that had been in use since the 80's. However, 2011 saw the introduction of several changes.

First, they opened the season with new matte gold sandstorm pants that lacked any metallic shine and were closer to cream than gold. A week later the Irish unveiled throwback uniforms with a little bit more mustard shade that was a throwback to these uniforms.

When Notre Dame brought out new much shinier helmets against USC later in the season the sandstorm pants officially looked way out of connection with the helmets. During the bowl game for this season you can see how Notre Dame no longer had the same pants as Florida State. For the Shamrock Series uniform against Maryland the Irish went back to the metallic pants for one game.

old gold 2012

Matte old gold pants from 2012 (Photo by Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today Sports)

For 2012 there was yet another change. The Irish channeled those '11 throwbacks and went with a more mustard old gold hue that looked direct out of the 1960's. The Shamrock Series uniform pants for this year famously had a stripe on them for the first time in program history and returned to a sandstorm/old gold color.

Of course how can we forget the white pants from the 2013 Shamrock Series game?

This past season in 2014 the new Under Armour uniforms continued the the same mustard old gold that was introduced a couple years before except now the Under Armour logo was on the right hip and the monogram on the left hip was outlined in white. The Shamrock Series saw all blue pants with a metallic gold stripe across the front.

FOR REFERENCE HERE'S A GOOD EXAMPLE OF THE VEGAS, SANDSTORM, & OLD GOLD PANTS.

~~~

There's the history behind Notre Dame's pants. So why did Notre Dame get rid of the Vegas pants and should Notre Dame try to match the pants and helmets again?

There's a thought that Notre Dame switched pants beginning in 2011 to better match the new helmets (that were delivered 6 weeks late, remember) but when the new helmets made it to the field those pants made the matching worse than ever. Plus, Swarbrick's comments above appear to contradict this (helmet was changed independently) so not much blame can fall on Adidas.

Another possible reason is that just as Vegas gold pants came into vogue in the 80's so have they now fallen out of fashion in favor of the flat, dull matte finish football pants.

BAYLOR

BOSTON COLLEGE

GEORGIA TECH

NAVY

PITTSBURGH

PURDUE

TULSA

UCF

UCLA

USF

WASHINGTON

That's a list of some of the college teams who have all switched from metallic to matte gold pants to one degree or another in recent years--and they include Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour apparel providers. It's even made it to the NFL where the Saints and 49ers have both dropped the metallic pants. For better visualization here's Joe Montana in matte gold, Steve Young in metallic gold, and Colin Kaepernick back in matte gold.

I've seen it postulated that the pant manufacturers are moving away from the shiny polyester because other fabrics can make the pants lighter. This could be true. I've also noticed that Notre Dame provides both matte and metallic finishes for the players as you can see the difference on Chris Watt and Braxston Cave in this picture.  The stretch of the polyester probably feels more comfortable for the large players, often wearing knee braces, which would include Louis Nix in this shot from 2012 and both Kapron Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt on the latter's fumble return against Navy in Dublin. The big guys probably aren't worried about wearing fabric that is 10% heavier.

The second query is largely personal preference but in order to answer it fully we have to ask a couple more questions.

  • Can we match the current helmets and pants without it looking ridiculous?
  • If you don't want them to match then which gold looks the best?

I suspect it will be very difficult to create a color that will match the helmets because the helmets are not a flat consistent color easily replicated on fabric. In different games, and sometimes within different quarters of a single game, the Notre Dame helmets can change quite a bit depending on the amount of sun and artificial light.

For example, in bright but overcast skies the Irish helmets are very, very shiny. At night under the lights the you get more of a rich and darker gold and pockets of black spots from shadowing. In the blazing sun you get kind of an in between color--not too light but still some shadowing.

I mean, these pants right here would probably match the new helmets better than anything but is that really the path we want to walk down even if Under Armour could create a set that functioned for football? It's one thing to replicate the dome on the helmets and another to wear disco pants from Studio 54. Getting a perfect match can't be that important, right?

I often hear people say "the school colors are blue and gold, the pants should be gold!"

But what does that statement say when 'gold' can have a variety of meanings and application on a football uniform? As referenced above, what is the 'correct gold?'

Let's take a look at the official school colors direct from the official University website.

Primary Colors

Official Colors

Electronic Versions

Electronics

Notre Dame blue (Pantone 289), gold (Pantone 117), and metallic gold (Pantone 10127) are Notre Dame's primary colors.

Neither color will ever reproduce as brightly and richly in four-color process as it does as a spot ink.

Spot colors are more accurate than screen-built colors. Colors displayed below will vary from printed tones.

Electronic displays (LCD screens, CRT monitors, etc.) may display colors slightly different than in print. Gold is a particularly challenging color. As such, an alternate gold has been provided for electronic applications.

The funny thing is there are many who think Vegas gold is the correct gold when in fact it's the furthest away from the official school colors, and it doesn't match the helmets anymore.

So what should Under Armour do?

From the words of Swarbrick over a year ago it sounds like Under Armour is working on making a change but If I'm them I'm not taking this too far. I think the pants the Irish have worn since 2012 have been great, providing a touch of tradition while balancing nicely with the modern helmets.

I don't want them to match (personal preference, I love the "original" pre-80's look where the shine of the helmet dominates the uniform) but as I said above I think the new helmets are going to be very difficult to match.

At the very least, I hope we never bring back the washed out Vegas gold. This game against UCLA in 2007 (hey, we won that game!) is a great example of the differences between the very light, basically metallic cream, pants worn by the Irish and the darker, more mustard gold but still metallic pants, worn by the Bruins. The latter would be much more preferable, and really aren't all that different to the current pants worn by Notre Dame anyway.

If it helps the visualization process look at Gerry Faust being a complete baller in the early 80's with a gold pair of slacks. Compare that to Charlie Weis' khaki slacks closely resembling the middle aughts Vegas gold.

For their part, Under Armour in year one of their deal with Notre Dame has appeared to embrace the mustard hue. This was never more evident than with the men's basketball alternate uniform which went from Adidas' sandstorm in 2013-14 to an Under Armour mustard gold in 2014-15 with dare I say it, more character. You can also see the difference in the hoops road uniform gold trim from last year to this year.

Back in March 2011 I published a uniform survey for Irish football and 64.6% of the respondents were against a return to the old gold mustard pants, with most citing a fear of looking like Michigan or USC. Now that we've seen the old gold make a return since 2012 and there are some positive memories of winning I'm curious if there's been a change in some of those opinions.

As of 2015 spring practice the pants have not changed, although many players continue wearing the metallic shorts when not in full pads.