Aug. 18, 2017
By Jane Horvat `18
You think of the 1913 All-American end who worked with Charlie "Gus" Dorais to popularize the use of the forward pass in collegiate football. You think of the coach with the all-time highest win percentage (.881) in both collegiate and professional football. You think of the man who led the Four Horsemen into battle, the man who convinced his beaten-down team to "win one for the Gipper" and overtake Army, the man who is credited with three national championships and put together five unbeaten and untied seasons.
His is the name that every Irish player, coach and fan carries in their heart as they cheer along with the Notre Dame Victory March and sway arm and arm during Notre Dame, Our Mother.
The man behind those accomplishments is also the man behind the conception and creation of Notre Dame Stadium. It is only fitting that as Notre Dame celebrates a new era at Notre Dame Stadium, it celebrates Rockne and his contributions to the program by wearing uniforms designed and created to honor his spirit and memory.
Over eight decades ago on October 11, the Fighting Irish faced off against Navy for the second game of the 1930 season. This contest was the second game played in the newly constructed Notre Dame Stadium, and Rockne led the Irish to a 26-2 win over the Midshipmen. It was during this game the official dedication of the stadium took place, and it is in respect of that tradition that Notre Dame will celebrate Rockne's legacy as they once again face off against Navy.
Although Notre Dame Stadium has a new face, at its core it maintains the same heart: Rockne. As the Fighting Irish move forward in a new age of technological advancement, Notre Dame stands by the importance of respecting their traditions by donning jerseys that pay homage to the forefather of Notre Dame football.
Under Armour Design Director Nick Billiris shared his take on what makes this game and these new uniforms so significant as Notre Dame starts a new era.
"I think it is a unique opportunity with this uniform to celebrate the past while creating the future," Billiris says. "That's why we incorporated some of these elements that harken back to the 1920s and 1930s when Knute Rockne was there, but we did it with cutting edge fabrics and technology. The whole idea is that this uniform is a time capsule of Notre Dame football from when Rockne first grew the football program into the national power it has become today."
The Under Armour uniforms do not just celebrate Rockne. They carry his legacy and his dedication to Our Lady's university onto the field in the newly upgraded Notre Dame Stadium, connecting the tradition of the past with the advancement and modernism of present day.
When explaining the significance of the uniform designs, Billiris emphasized the desire to incorporate Rockne as a whole man into the uniform. His impact as an innovator of the game, a player, a coach and a Notre Dame graduate all make their way into the uniform.
This nod to the past is first and foremost seen in the period-specific ND monogram on the front of the jersey and in the Rockne patch on the upper-right front side.
"The older style ND logo was taken from one of Rockne's varsity sweaters that he wore in 1912," explained Billiris "The detail with the football patch above the ND logo on the jersey mimics the time period in which he not only played but also coached."
The patch includes the Rockne name written out in script and three stars representing the three national championships Rockne won while head coach at Notre Dame in addition to the throwback ND monogram.
The brown, leather-like cleats and the gold helmets with graphics inspired by the stitching of 1930s leather helmets are a nod back to that time when Rockne and his team of Fighting Irish were just beginning to take the college football world by storm.
"The cleats and helmets almost mark or symbolize the beginning of Notre Dame football and allow the school, alumni and fans of Notre Dame to go back and find a comfort level with that era, even if they weren't alive during that time. They all know what Notre Dame is because of the things that Knute Rockne had done with his team and on the field as a player himself. The equipment is trying to mimic the sort of blue-collar, hard-nosed style of football back in Rockne's day," said Billiris.
All elements of the uniform work together to tell a story that relates back to Rockne, from the jerseys, to the helmets, to the cleats, to the gloves that spell out Rockne when the players put their hands together. It is a whole statement, a whole representation of a man who inspired greatness.
In his original conception of Notre Dame Stadium, Knute Rockne had visions of grandeur. He wanted to build an arena where the echoes cheering her name never had to sleep, where fans felt as if they were close enough to touch the magic happening on the field and most importantly where the football team's success always pointed back to the the pillars of the University.
Fans will find the 18 slashes inside the numbers on the back and front of the new Navy game jerseys, designed to echo the end zone markings which have been found for generations beyond the goal line at Notre Dame Stadium.
"Before they had fancy end zones and different colored paint on the grass, they just had these very simple slashes in the end zone. I saw that parallel from the original stadium that Rockne helped build to the modern day stadium that the players play in today," Billiris noted.
Each sleeve is inscribed with lines from the pep speech Rockne recreated for a newsreel in the 1920s and later made famous when recited by Pat O'Brien, playing the coach, in the movie Knute Rockne, All-American.
"We wanted it to be like Rockne was in the locker room with these guys giving them the pregame speech before they run onto the field. Because he was known as a master motivator, we thought that that was a good angle and element to incorporate within the jersey," said Billiris.
Each player will carry the name Rockne embroidered across the back of his jersey and onto the field. This team has the opportunity to continue the legacy and the expectation of honor, respect and determination that made Rockne a national icon.
"Notre Dame is one of the few universities that doesn't do player names on the back of their jerseys because there is a certain kind of pride and respect that is demanded when you put on a Notre Dame uniform. The fact that everyone will be wearing Rockne across the back is special in itself, but in celebrating Knute Rockne they are also celebrating the history and tradition of Notre Dame at the same time. They are realizing that, not only Rockne, but all the other great coaches and players who came before them walked through that same tunnel. They are realizing that they have a big responsibility to live up to."
The name Knute Rockne is synonymous with the University of Notre Dame not just because of his win-loss record or his national titles, but because he was the embodiment of the standard of excellence that Notre Dame sets for its students, athletes, faculty and fans.
The dedication and passion Rockne exemplified during his tenure as Notre Dame football's head coach was apparent on more than the gridiron. It became a standard for Notre Dame students to follow for generations.
Rockne reflected the values and expectations of the University he called his alma mater and home. Notre Dame Stadium isn't closing the book in 2017, it is merely turning the page to continue the story of "The House That Rockne Built."
Jane Horvat is a student intern for Fighting Irish Media. In addition to working with Ice Hockey, Volleyball and Football, she contributes to the writing team and is an English and Romance Languages major. A member of the Glynn Family Honors Program, Horvat writes for the online art database See Art Differently and hails from Rockford, Illinois.