A better fight song?

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

Every Notre Dame fan knows and loves the “Notre Dame Victory March,” but if the brothers who wrote it had gotten their way, Irish supporters would literally be singing a different tune today. Different lyrics too.

Inspiration for the fight song came to Michael J. Shea, class of 1904 and 1905M.A., and John F. Shea, class of 1906 and 1908M.A., of Holyoke, Massachusetts, near Springfield, when the young alumni returned to campus to see a football game in 1908. A week later John wrote the lyrics while Michael worked out the tune.

According to a history being prepared by the marching band, the “Victory March” was first performed publicly on campus on Easter Sunday 1909 as part of the band’s traditional Easter morning concert in the rotunda of the Main Building. For reasons unknown, it would be another 10 years before the band played the song at an athletic event.

The rest, as they say, is history.

But history almost took another course. Despite the popularity of the “Victory March,” in later years the Sheas came to regard the song as an “amateurish” effort and set out to write a better one. In the fall of 1922, Michael, who studied music in Rome after being ordained a priest and taught ecclesiastical chants at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in New York, wrote to then-President Matthew Walsh, CSC, discussing band and orchestra arrangements for their new composition, called “The Fighting Team.” The chorus went:

Here’s to you, Fighting Team, who wear the Gold and Blue.
In victory or defeat, our hearts are all for you.
Onward to victory then, and show the world how ND men
Can Fight! Fight! Till we cross that goal line,
Touchdown for Notre Dame

Walsh wrote back promising that “The Fighting Team” would be played the weekend before homecoming. Michael Shea later wrote that he was shipping about a thousand copies of the sheet music and lyrics to campus for sale to students and fans. The lyrics were printed in the homecoming issue of the Scholastic. But that’s the last that was heard of “The Fighting Team.” Apparently no one adopted it.

According to the marching band’s website, the Sheas gave much of the credit for the success of the Victory March to Joseph Casasanta, band director from 1923 to 1942, who arranged the piece to sound the way we hear it today. Casasanta went on to compose the alma mater, “Notre Dame, Our Mother,” and several famous ND football songs including “Hike, Notre Dame.”

As for the Shea brothers’ “better” fight song, it may be forgotten, but it hasn’t been lost. Copies of the lyrics and sheet music remain in the University Archives.

Listen to the tune of the chorus of The Fighting Team