For Notre Dame fans, the sight of watching the Irish take the field at Notre Dame Stadium with their shining gold helmets and navy blue jerseys is an inspiring tradition.
Always rated among the best in college football, the Notre Dame uniform is classic and timeless in its simplicity and beauty.
However, as much as I love the current uniform, I believe there could be some changes that would be tasteful and sharp-looking.
Before I do that, I’d like to provide a brief history of the Notre Dame football uniform:
Although photographs are rare and in black and white, the surviving evidence and contemporary accounts demonstrate that Notre Dame’s first uniform was a simple navy blue sweater with a dark yellow interlocking ND logo.
Already by the time of Knute Rockne’s tenure as coach, the official school colors were blue and gold.
Sometime in the early 1920’s, Rockne began using green uniforms during games primarily to distinguish the Irish from teams such as Navy, who also wore dark blue uniforms.
Rockne also believed the bright green uniforms helped in his passing game, which was quickly becoming a new offensive option with much success.
When Frank Leahy took over as head coach in 1941, the Notre Dame uniform remained virtually unchanged.
However, during these years, the Irish began wearing leather helmets (which were becoming commonplace) with a black stripe.
By the time the '50s rolled around, the helmets of the Irish players were painted gold, although it is unclear when exactly this began.
During these years, the Irish continued to don green uniforms for special occasions much the same way Rockne had in the past. Also during these years, Notre Dame began wearing simple white uniforms with blue numbers for away games.
By the late 1950s, during the playing days of Paul Hornung, the Irish wore green as their primary uniform and kept the traditional blue off the field.
The most drastic changes to date occurred with the Kuharich regime in the early '60s, when he added UCLA shoulder stripes and changed the primary color back to blue.
Another major change was the addition of a green shamrock on the sides of the gold helmets. Kuharich also wore green uniforms on occasion keeping the tradition alive.
The era of Ara brought back a more simple uniform and one which today is looked upon as the traditional look for Irish players.
Parseghian’s teams wore navy blue uniforms with white numbers at home and white uniforms with blue numbers on the road (with both uniform sets having numbers on the sleeves).
By this time, the Irish wore gold pants (really a dark yellow) for all of their games. Parseghian did not utilize the green uniform but did hand out blue star helmet decals for a brief time for big plays made during games, much like Ohio State.
This 10-year stretch saw Notre Dame move away from the “traditional” look that had been the norm for the previous 10 years.
Coach Dan Devine added names to the back of the uniforms (which Parseghian had done during two bowl games), and after halftime of the famous “Trojan Horse” game against USC in ’77 he brought back green uniforms.
The Irish would wear them (including white uniforms with green numbers with gold outline) for the rest of the season.
Two small stripes on the end of the sleeves, and striped socks were also used.
Gerry Faust made an even bigger move away from the traditional look. He changed the shade of blue to a much more brighter one and also added three large stripes on the each sleeve although these were removed at the start of the 1984 season.
Faust utilized the green uniforms only twice during his tenure in South Bend.
The Lou Holtz regime returned the Irish to their traditional uniforms, very similar to the Parseghian era by removing the nameplate and switching back to the dark blue color.
Another change was taking numbers off of the sleeves and replacing them with the interlocking ND logo.
Also of note, Notre Dame finally began wearing metallic gold pants instead of the dark yellow that had been the norm for decades.
Other small changes include adding a small interlocking ND logo to the left side of the pants (blue in color then made green), adding gold to the end of the sleeves and collar (blue on the white uniform), and placing a golden dome at the “v” of the collar.
This is the template from which all successive coaches have worked. Holtz broke out the green uniforms twice during his career as well.
Bob Davie kept the uniforms relatively the same but did add colored stripes to the collar and sleeve endings.
He also replaced the golden dome at the collar with a shamrock and the word “Irish” underneath (the ND pants logo was also switched to a shamrock).
Davie also introduced the gold piping on the side of the away white uniforms and brought out the green uniforms only once.
Coach Ty Willingham also kept the uniforms very simple and changed very little.
He did remove the ND logo on the sleeve and replaced them with numbers, as well as bringing back the ND logo to the “v” of the collar and pants. Willingham also removed the gold piping from the white uniforms.
Willingham did dress the Irish in green for one game against Boston College, and it is noteworthy in that the green was of a very bright color, much different than previous variations throughout the year.
Today under Charlie Weis, we see the same uniform that has been unchanged except for minor variations for over 20 years.
The standard has become gold helmets and pants (with interlocking ND logo) while the home uniform is dark navy blue with white numbers in gold outline. The road uniform is simply white with blue numbers and gold outline.
Charlie Weis has done something unusual in his four-year tenure: wearing two variations of green uniforms.
The first one introduced was a dark green (worn on two occasions) with gold numbering and white outline.
The second set was a throwback version of the 1977 National Championship team, decked out in a bright Kelly green with yellow numbering (and pants) with white outline. The team also wore white socks with green and yellow stripes.
My Thoughts & Proposed Changes
I don’t wish to see any drastic changes to the Notre Dame uniform, but a few additions could spice things up. Also note that I wouldn’t wish to see any of my ideas implemented for very long.
Shamrock: Although this would end college football’s longest unchanged helmet, I think putting a large shamrock would be an excellent move for a one-game-only situation, perhaps against Boston College in the Battle of Ireland.
Fighting Leprechaun: This logo seems to be used very little today in official university apparel, but I think it would look good at the “v” of the collar for a season or perhaps in a more eye-popping way on the sleeves.
ND Logo: I have always liked the interlocking ND logo on the sleeves in comparison to just plain numbers. I think it adds a little more flavor to the uniform without compromising the classic look.
Away Uniform: Not much change is needed, but I think removing the gold trim from the numbers would look much better. It is difficult to see anyway, and simple blue numbers would make it more classic and allow the gold helmets stand out in contrast even more.
Green Uniform: I’d like to see the green uniforms every 3-5 years, as I think it keeps the tradition alive without killing the meaning of it all.
Much like the away uniforms, I would prefer a classic green jersey, darker than the 70’s green but lighter than the Brady Quinn era uniform, with simple white numbers without outline.
The gold simply doesn’t look good and the plain white numbers give the Irish that classic “Hornung” look.
Socks: The Notre Dame socks are difficult to research, but it seems apparent that current Irish teams outfit themselves in blue socks at home and white on the road whenever the weather turns cold.
My suggestion would be to add a green shamrock to these, as it would be a nice touch without being too overbearing. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to add some stripes once in a while to liven things up.
The Field: While I enjoy the old-school look of the current field, let’s not forget that Notre Dame’s field has sported colored paint in the past. I’d like to see them paint the end zones for a season or possibly paint the giant fighting leprechaun at midfield.
The combination of the ND logo, shamrock, and fighting leprechaun are too cool to not paint on the field at least once!
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