The Legacy of Notre Dame’s Green Jersey

The University of Notre Dame, known for its storied football program and iconic navy and gold uniforms, also boasts a unique and deeply symbolic tradition: the wearing of the green jersey. This tradition, rooted in history and shrouded in mystique, extends beyond a mere color change, embodying the spirit, heritage, and fighting ethos of the Fighting Irish.

The Rockne Beginnings

The story of Notre Dame’s green jerseys begins with Knute Rockne, the legendary coach whose tenure from 1918 to 1931 laid the foundation for modern Notre Dame football. Rockne first introduced the green jerseys in the 1920s, a strategic choice initially aimed at distinguishing his players on the field. The most notable early use of the green jersey was against Iowa in 1921, although the game ended in a loss. Despite this, Rockne continued to employ green jerseys for their visibility and psychological impact, most famously in a 1927 game against Navy, turning a 6-0 deficit into a 19-6 victory.

An Irishman through and through, Frank Leahy oversaw a 39-game unbeaten streak with his team wearing green. Getty Images

The Leahy Era and Further Development

Under Coach Frank Leahy, the green jerseys were periodically worn, contributing significantly to the mystique surrounding Notre Dame football. Leahy’s tenure, beginning in 1941, saw the green jerseys become more than just alternate uniforms; they were a symbol of Irish pride and fighting spirit. Leahy’s teams often donned green in key matches, achieving remarkable success and cementing the color’s place in Notre Dame lore.

An unexpected wearing o' the green sparked Joe Montana and the Irish to a 1977 rout over No. 5 USC. AP Photo/Tony Tomsic

The 1977 ‘Green Jersey’ Game

The green jersey tradition took on a new level of significance in 1977 under Coach Dan Devine. In a strategic and now-legendary move against USC, Devine’s team warmed up in the traditional blue jersey, but returned for introductions wearing the green one. This game, often cited as the most famous “Green Jersey” game, reinvigorated the tradition and highlighted the jerseys’ psychological impact on both players and fans. The Irish stunned the Trojans that day winning 49-19.

The Jerome Bettis-led team was thrilled to trade in its navy-and-gold unis for a Sugar Bowl win over Florida in 1992. Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

The Shamrock Series and Modern Usage

In recent years, the Shamrock Series has become a hallmark of Notre Dame football, where the team dons alternate uniforms for games at neutral sites. This series has frequently featured the green jerseys, embracing modern design while paying homage to the program’s rich history. The Shamrock Series has helped keep the tradition alive, offering a contemporary twist to the historic green jerseys.

Read More: Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series: Celebrating Tradition with Unique Uniforms

Notable Games in the Green Jersey

The green jerseys have seen many fields and faced numerous opponents. Their presence has not always guaranteed victory, but each game has added to the fabric of Notre Dame’s football narrative. Here are some notable games where the Irish donned their green uniforms:

  • 1921 vs. Iowa: The first known use of the green jersey, although it ended in a 10-7 loss.
  • 1927 vs. Navy: A pivotal game where Rockne’s strategic use of green jerseys led to a comeback victory.
  • 1977 vs. USC: The legendary game where Notre Dame, under Devine, emerged in green jerseys and secured an emphatic win.
  • 1992 Sugar Bowl vs. Florida: A victory in green numbers on white jerseys, led by Coach Lou Holtz.
  • 2005 vs. USC: The “Bush Push” game, a heartbreaking loss, but a memorable moment in the green jersey saga.
  • 2007 vs. USC: A challenging game where Charlie Weis’s team wore green but faced a significant defeat.
  • Shamrock Series Games: Various games where Notre Dame showcased modern iterations of the green jersey.
Former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn (10) handing off to halfback Travis Thomas (26) during a 2005 game against USC. credit: Corbis/Icon Sportswire Via Getty

The “Green Out”

A newer tradition, the “Green Out” has become a symbolic event at Notre Dame Stadium, where fans are encouraged to wear green to create a sea of support for the team. This phenomenon not only enhances the game-day atmosphere but also strengthens the sense of community and unity among Notre Dame supporters. The “Green Out” represents a modern extension of the green jersey tradition, engaging the wider Notre Dame family.

Notable “Green Out” Games
  • 2018 vs. Michigan: #12 Notre Dame, wearing their traditional blue jerseys, hosted #14 Michigan. The Irish secured a 24-17 victory in this intense season opener.
  • 2019 vs. USC: #9 Notre Dame, wearing their classic blue uniforms again, hosted USC. The Fighting Irish triumphed with a close 30-27 win in this storied rivalry.
  • 2021 vs. Cincinnati: #9 Notre Dame, donning their traditional colors, hosted #7 Cincinnati. Unfortunately the Bearcats defeated the Irish 24-13.
  • 2023 vs. OSU: #9 Notre Dame, wearing green jerseys with white and gold lettering, hosted #6 Ohio State. The Buckeyes won this game, 17-14, on a last-second 1 yd touchdown run.
 Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

Each “Green Out” game adds a chapter to Notre Dame’s storied football history, reinforcing the connection between the team and its supporters. It’s a tradition that not only celebrates the heritage of the green jersey but also unites the Notre Dame family in a unique and visually striking way.

The green jersey of Notre Dame is more than just a piece of athletic apparel; it’s a symbol steeped in tradition, pride, and a distinct fighting spirit. From Rockne’s practical beginnings to the Shamrock Series’ modern interpretations, these jerseys represent a storied past and an evolving present. As long as there is Notre Dame football, the legend of the green jersey, with its victories and challenges, will continue to inspire and captivate.