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Notre Dame Fighting Irish v Michigan State Spartans
The “Atomic Irish” uniforms from 1959
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Know your history: Notre Dame’s football uniforms are not a tradition — they’re traditional

There’s a difference

All week long here at OFD we’ve been discussing Notre Dame Fighting Irish football uniforms. Not only here, of course, but on our social media accounts and with spouses that want to punch us right in the face if we mention anything more about shades of green. It has always fascinated me that a lot of Irish fans go full BERSERKER when uniforms are brought up — like holy crap this gets emotional.

So try to check your emotions at the door for this one. My biggest and best reference for all of this is a fantastic webpage Notre Dame Uniform History. You can use it as a reference throughout as I did.

One of the bigger points that gets brought up during these discussions is what or what isn’t Notre Dame tradition. After that, the conversation gets extremely detailed for all parts of the uniform. Let’s discuss.

TRADITION VS TRADITIONAL

There’s a big difference between “tradition” and “traditional” when it comes to the Notre Dame football uniform. I’ve spoken about it a number of times on the OFD Podcast, because it’s this blurred distinction that causes fun discussions to turn into “MEET ME OUT BACK PUNK” type of events.

Very simply: Notre Dame’s uniforms are a traditional style — but they are not a tradition. Even if you take out the first 50 years of Notre Dame football history, the uniform has undergone many different changes. In fact, since 1940, the uniform has made major changes (not just teeny ones) about 14 times. This number doesn’t even include the so-called “green jersey games” or the Shamrock Series either.

Notre Dame Uniform History

I guess you can say that Notre Dame’s uniform tradition is to make major changes with each coach, but each change has been conservative enough in style to be labeled as, “traditional.”

Other programs such as the Alabama Crimson Tide, Penn State Nittany Lions, USC Trojans, and Auburn Tigers have made less than half of the number of changes over the same period of time. Those uniforms are tradition.

BLUE, GOLD, AND GREEN

Those that dislike the Irish ever wearing green jerseys like to point out that the school colors are blue and gold. Fair enough, because they are indeed blue and gold. The thing is though... that wasn’t always the case. The school colors were yellow and blue. Yellow for the Papal yellow and blue for Mary — hence the “Madonna blue.” It changed to blue and gold a short time after the Dome on the Main Building was finished in 1886 — so still — blue and gold have been the colors for a very long time.

The lore of the green jerseys is long, and it lacks a definitive beginning. As Jude pointed out in the OFD Podcast, the general story is that Knute Rockne had ND wear them for the first time against the Iowa Hawkeyes in 1921 because of the similar dark uniforms. Notre Dame lost to Iowa that day in case you were wondering, but Rock still had the team wear green against the Navy Midshipmen. In retrospect, the “Rockne Heritage” uniforms the Irish wore against the Middies in 2017 should have been green jerseys.

Notre Dame Uniform History

In Frank Leahy’s third year as a head coach in 1943, he switched to wearing the green jerseys full-time, and the Irish won a national championship. Notre Dame would then go on to exclusively wear green until 1959 — but still broke them out during some games from 1960-1963.

Notre Dame Uniform History

It wasn’t until Ara Parseghian came along in 1964 that Notre Dame went strictly Blue and Gold — and coincidentally a helmet with nothing on it after a short stint with stars applied via stencils and a marker. The Irish finally brought the green back against Southern Cal in the famous “Green Jersey Game” in 1977, and then wore the green primarily until the 1981 season and Gerry Faust.

So... what’s the color tradition here? How is green not a part of the tradition when it was what the Irish wore for four national championships (5 if you’re counting correctly)?

HOT PANTS

People have really strong opinions about Notre Dame’s pant color, and it’s one of the least changed things in terms of color about the Irish uniform. There is a large segment of fans that want the pants to return to the metallic gold that Lou Holtz changed them to in 1986. Currently, the pants color is more reminiscent of the Era of Ara and before — so much more traditional.

Still, there are those that clamor for the pants to match the helmets. But why?

If the helmet is the representation of the Golden Dome, why would we want the pant color to match exactly? Is the brick on the Main Building painted in gold to match the dome? No — of course not. Matching the pants up with the helmets doesn’t make any sense when you consider why the helmet is gold to begin with.

That is, of course, unless your favorite party spot is The Babylon Club.

“I LOVE shiny gold pants Tony.” - A bad drug dealer

WRAPPING THIS UP

Lou and Ara coached at Notre Dame for a combined 22 seasons. Basing ALL tradition off of what they did isn’t just wrong, it’s short-sighted. Sadly, that’s what uniform discussions can end up boiling down to after a few points.

Again, it’s important to remember that Notre Dame’s uniforms are traditional in style — not traditional. It’s perfectly fine to have different opinions on what is or isn’t your preference. Just remember that the only tradition Notre Dame really has in this case is that they have changed the regular uniforms quite a bit over the years, and will probably do so in the future after Brian Kelly is gone and Tommy Rees is leading Notre Dame to multiple national championships.

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