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Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Observer

Peters: Why Notre Dame needs to sign an apparel deal with Champion

Notre Dame has a chance to elevate its brand after its Under Armour apparel deal ends this year. Message board rumors swirl that Notre Dame might continue with Under Armour. Or maybe, just maybe, Notre Dame might sign with Jordan Brand and become “cool.”

There’s only one apparel partner that can boost Notre Dame: Champion. 

Champion supplied uniforms for the football team for over 50 years until the Adidas deal began in 2001. Basically, Champion made the jerseys when Notre Dame was not only cool but actually good. Back when recruits saw a trophy case filled with hardware from their future classmates’ teams instead of their grandfathers’ teams.

Notre Dame loves to tout its “tradition.” But instead of romanticizing the past, how about we actually return to it? What's stopping us? 

We went from Lou Holtz asking his team before the “Catholics vs. Convicts” game to “save [Miami coach] Jimmy Johnson’s a** for me” to playing a Vengaboys song after third down stops.

The Irish don’t have this edge anymore. It’s smothered by the imposter syndrome surrounding their College Football Playoff history. Notre Dame may not have an instant solution to its title woes. But it has an opportunity to make the program cool again. Go back to mesh Champion jerseys.

Notre Dame Miami
Photo from 1988 Notre Dame vs. Miami game.

There’s no reason for the end of an apparel deal to be a “thing.” Sure there are financial ramifications, but the school’s brand should be the brand that matters. Going back to Champion would signal that Notre Dame is done fussing over pant color shades, undershirts, patterns and cleats. Just wear mesh jerseys.

Former Notre Dame QB throws a pass against Michigan in 2013.

Notre Dame’s current pants are closer to a Dijon mustard than a gold. The pants are as gross as they are because they match the newer gold helmets better than the actual gold pants of the Jimmy Clausen era. With Champion, let’s return to the shiny gold pants.

Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne (10) waits for the play call during the game between Notre Dame and Boston College at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. Credit: Max Petrosky/The Observer

Notre Dame tried out a “return” to the days of mesh jerseys and gold pants with a “1988” throwback uniform against Boston College in 2019. Under Armour putting a mesh pattern on the numbers instead of making mesh jerseys was a bizarre move. But the uniform looked good. Black shoes, white socks and gold pants matched well with the gold helmets.

Irish graduate student quarterback Ian Book lets loose a pass during Notre Dame's 40-7 senior day win over Boston College on Nov. 23. Notre Dame wore "1988" throwback uniforms with a mesh pattern.
Irish graduate student quarterback Ian Book lets loose a pass during Notre Dame’s 40-7 senior day win over Boston College on Nov. 23. Notre Dame wore “1988” throwback uniforms with a mesh pattern.

Notre Dame looked like Notre Dame; not some old program going through an identity crisis as they struggle to keep up with the modern powerhouses of the sport. 

If the program wants to distinguish itself, it should embrace its tradition. There’s no need to pay homage and lip service to it when you can actually live it out. Wear mesh jerseys, gold pants and black shoes regularly, not just as a “throwback.” Wear the actually good green jerseys with gold numbers from the Brady Quinn and Golden Tate days. Don’t wear the current rendition of green jerseys whose color resembles a rickety, old mini golf course (and have names on the back… disgusting).

Notre Dame football is about to enter a new era: New coach, new athletic director, new apparel deal and a new TV deal. It’s simple how Notre Dame can distinguish itself and innovate: just be Notre Dame.

There’s a cost to independence. The program misses out on the huge money of conference TV deals. It’s a price we’re willing to pay to be Notre Dame (at least for the foreseeable future). The same should be said for apparel.

In 2010’s Shamrock Series game, Notre Dame broke out the green jerseys against Army at Yankee Stadium.

So maybe Champion doesn’t have the deep pockets of a Nike or Under Armour (though Champion has had a resurgence). Maybe Champion does not want to or cannot supply Notre Dame with uniforms. 

But what is important for Notre Dame to remember, regardless of apparel partner, is this: Nobody thinks a powerhouse of yesterday selling out as it tries to keep up is cool. Just be Notre Dame.

Whether you like it or not, Notre Dame is changing. Just in recent years, we’ve lost Zahm Hall and interhall tackle football. Going back to mesh jerseys and actually gold pants would be a rare sign of Notre Dame embracing its roots for once.

Notre Dame is a small school in the cold midwest. The legendary football program’s roots lie in simple navy and white uniforms, gold helmets with no decal, a bowl stadium that lacked a logo and jumbotron until the 21st century and good coaches. It’s easy to get lost in gold shoes, weird alternate uniforms and stadium enhancements. Instead, just be who you are, and the players might just find you. That’s what worked when the Irish were true perennial contenders.

Mesh jerseys are not all it takes for Notre Dame to become a hard-nosed program. But they’re a start. Play like a Champion.