Unpacking Notre Dame traditions

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) 11 National Championships, seven Heisman Trophy winners and 101 All-Americans.

Those are just some of the many accomplishments of Notre Dame football. The team and the university are built on tradition and takes pride in their roots.

We all know, if you want to know who this team is, you have to start with understanding its history.

One of the most recognized sayings for the Irish comes from the "Play Like A Champion" sign. Lou Holtz took over as head football coach for the Irish in 1986.

"He had seen a picture in a book someplace where that sign had existed," said John Heisler, senior associate athletic director.

The sign was only seen by players and coaches until 1991, when NBC began televising Irish home games.

"They put a lipstick camera up at the top of the stairwell and all of a sudden, millions of people knew what 'Play Like A Champion' was all about," Heisler said.

You can't think about Notre Dame without thinking of gold.

"Every Friday night before each home game, the helmets would be spray-painted by the student managers," Heisler said. "People would even bring things that they wanted painted, because the gold paint included gold leaf from the Golden Dome."

That tradition is now just a fond memory, no longer needed with modern golden helmets but another piece of Irish heritage that still glows bright.

"Bob O'Brien, who is our former band director, decided Notre Dame should have something unique," Heisler said.

O'Brien met with designers, picking out colors and a pattern that would be unlike anything anyone had ever seen. He even flew to Scotland to have the plaid registered to become Notre Dame Plaid.

The Hesburgh Library was built in the early 1960s and along with it, one of the most photographed places on campus.

"A lot of it had to do with the proximity to the stadium, because it looked directly towards the football stadium," Heisler said. "You would hear people refer to it as Touchdown Jesus based on the way his arms were raised."

You can't talk about traditions without talking about the father of Notre Dame football.

"This is the 100th anniversary of Knute Rockne's first season as head coach at Notre Dame," Heisler said.

Rockne led the Fighting Irish to three national championships, 105 victories and posted the highest all-time winning percentage for a major college football coach.

"His presence is everywhere," Heisler said. "You've got Rockne Drive, you've got a street named after him, a rest stop, a building on campus. He was such a ground-breaker in so many ways."