26 Shirts, 25 years, 1 cool tradition

Author: John Nagy ’00M.A.

It first raised $17,000 in 1990 to bankroll the rites of spring better known as AnTostal, then $100,000 more when a car accident on Notre Dame Avenue left a Chinese graduate student in need of long-term medical care. Its artwork has featured some of the most questionable likenesses of Notre Dame football coaches ever to have received University approval.

It brings us together to cheer — or to cringe at a color — but love it or not, we wear it anyway, and so it paints at least the northwest quarter of Notre Dame Stadium that one hue of green, blue or gold every autumn. Its target market is the 8,400-plus undergraduate students who attend the University of Notre Dame each year and are cordially expected to attend the six Fighting Irish home football games played in said stadium. Yet its all-student production team holds realistic hopes of breaking the sales record set in 2011 and retailing nearly 20 times that number this year.

It established scholarships honoring varsity swimmers Meghan Beeler and Colleen Hipp, who died from their injuries after their team bus slid off an icy highway in 1992, and has provided care and comfort for dozens of ill or injured students and their families. It subsidizes student clubs. It has kept the undergraduate activities fee constant at $95 per semester for seven years. It has otherwise democratized the often pricey Notre Dame experience, ensuring that all students can go to said football games, or to dances, or participate in service trips, or attend campus ministry retreats, or play Bookstore Basketball, or run the Holy Half Marathon — and pay those fees, whatever their means.

It is now available in short sleeves and long, in sizes from Toddler to Grizzly Bear, and is currently manufactured by a company whose business model supports a living wage for factory workers and their families in the Dominican Republic. Over its first 24 years it became a cottony collector’s item. Today you might say it’s about as remarkable a blend of machine-stitched cotton and polyester as one could imagine.

It is The Shirt; it is unique in college athletics; and for 25 years (and 26 T-shirts) it has captured the spirit of Notre Dame football in good times and bad.

John Nagy is an associate editor of this magazine.