- Although Notre Dame’s official colors for athletics long have been listed as gold and blue, the color of the Irish home football jersey has switched back and forth between blue and green for more than 50 years.
The origin of school colors can be traced back to the founding of the University. At the time of its founding in 1842, Notre Dame’s original school colors were yellow and blue; yellow symbolized the light and blue the truth. However, sometime after the Dome and Statue of Mary atop the Main Building was gilded, gold and blue became the official colors of the University.
The 1984 season marked the last change in game uniform as the Irish returned to the standard navy blue worn throughout the Ara Parseghian years and early portion of the Dan Devine era. The gold Irish helmets and pants remained unchanged.
When Gerry Faust took over in 1981, Notre Dame went to royal blue jerseys with three one-inch stripes on the sleeves, two gold surrounding one white. But the stripes were eliminated on the ’84 tops, which didn’t feature any trim or feathering other than the white numbers on the navy blue shirts. Lou Holtz’s only change beginning in ’86 involved adding the interlocked Notre Dame logo to the shoulder of the jerseys and to the left front side of the pants.
That logo on the pants switched from blue to green beginning in ’95. The change from green to royal blue in ’81 marked the first switch since Notre Dame made the move to green beginning with the 49-19 victory over USC October 22, 1977. The Irish had worn navy blue all during Parseghian’s 11 seasons and through the first two-and-a-half years of the Devine era – but they had stayed with the green ever since the victory over the Trojans. However, even Faust made use of the green jerseys on two occasions. He outfitted his Irish in green in a 27-6 win over USC in ’83 – six years to the day after Devine first went to the green in a win over those same Trojans. The Irish also wore green during the second half of the 37-3 win over USC in ’85.
For the first time during Holtz’s tenure as head coach, the Irish used green as part of their uniform in the 1992 Sugar Bowl as they donned white jerseys with green numbers and green socks. The last time the Irish had worn their road white jerseys with green numbers was in the Superdome in Notre Dame’s loss to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl 17-10 exactly 11 years earlier.
Notre Dame again wore green jersey in a 41-24 loss to Colorado in the ’95 Fiesta Bowl and donned the green against Georgia Tech in the ’99 Gator Bowl – a 35-28 loss.
Back in the 1920s during the Knute Rockne days, the Notre Dame varsity generally wore blue while the freshman squad wore green. But, on several occasions the varsity team did wear green – simply for purposes of distinction when the Irish opponent also came out in blue. Games against Navy, for example, in the late 1920s featured green-clad Notre Dame teams, to avoid confusion with the Navy’s blue uniforms.
Rockne didn’t mind using the color change as a psychological ploy. When Notre Dame faced Navy in Baltimore in 1927, the Irish head coach started his second-string reserves. Navy retaliated by scoring a touchdown in the first five minutes of the game. But, just as the Midshipmen scored, reported George Trevor in the New York Sun, Rockne made his move:
“Instantaneously the Notre Dame regulars yanked off their blue outer sweaters and like a horde of green Gila monsters darted onto the field. From that moment on Notre Dame held the initiative, imposed its collective will upon the Navy.”
The Irish came from behind to win that one 19-6 – then did the same thing the following year in Chicago’s Soldier Field, this time beating Navy 7-0. The 1928 edition of the Scholastic Football Review included this description:
“Mr. K. K. Rockne may, or may not, be a psychologist. But, he did array his Fighting Irish in bright green jerseys for their battle with the United States Naval Academy. Mr. Rockne evidently surmised that garbing a band of native and adopted Irish in their native color is somewhat akin to showing a bull the Russian flag.”
The green jerseys remained prominent throughout the Frank Leahy years – particularly so in September of 1947 when Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lujack graced the cover of Life magazine clad in green. Several of Joe Kuharich’s squads wore green with UCLA-style shoulder stripes and shamrocks on the helmets. Even Hugh Devore’s 1963 team – after wearing navy blue all season – switched to green in the finale against Syracuse.
Faust’s return to blue came after the new Irish coach suggested some research into the University archives to determine the history of Notre Dame’s gold and blue colors.
Those findings indicated the blue color was actually Madonna blue,a light blue shade, as opposed to the navy blue shade that has been most common in recent Notre Dame uniforms.