NOTRE DAME, Ind. - It’s the game that’s not just a game – it’s the “Shamrock Series” game between Notre Dame and Miami Saturday night at Soldier Field in Chicago. The game doesn’t just have a fancy name and a location other than Notre Dame Stadium either. The game also comes with uniforms that go against the tradition that is the basic Notre Dame uniform.
Gone for a night will be the shiny golden helmets and standard blue jerseys with white numerals that traditionalists love. In their place the Fighting Irish will be wearing helmets that are roughly two-thirds gold with the other third navy blue with a white Fighting Irish leprechaun across the side. The new look jerseys are blue with gold numbers.
“October is dress-up night,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said of his team’s new attire when asked if he would have a new outfit on as well. “Our guys are gonna dress-up one time, they’re gonna run out there, they’re gonna play a football game, and they’re gonna put those away for another year. It’s just Halloween to me.”
It might be “Halloween” to Kelly, but to many it’s nothing more than an Adidas marketing ploy, while to Notre Dame traditionalists the new look is just downright sacrilege. The majority of the over-30 crowd cringes when they see the uniforms, but the all-important 18-34 demographic has a greater love for them.
“I think they’re cool…they’re tight,” Irish safety Zeke Motta said of the uniforms this week (and “tight” had nothing to do with how they fit). “We got to wear the helmets today out in practice. It’s definitely exciting any time you get to wear a different uniform for a game and play in Chicago’s stadium or a venue like that it’s obviously gonna get the blood flowing a little more.”
Sophomore wide receiver DaVaris Daniels concurs with his senior teammate’s assessment of this week’s attire.
“I love ‘em,” Daniels proclaimed of the Shamrock Series uniforms. “To be honest I kind of like to switch it up. I’m a young guy. I like just flavor I guess. I know a lot of people don’t like the switch-up.”
“I think they’re cool,” senior tight end Tyler Eifert, who along with Manti Te’o modeled the uniforms for the media when they were unveiled in August. “I’m excited to wear them as are most of the guys. Notre Dame’s never worn any uniform like this I don’t think, so it’s pretty cool.”
The bottom line on the uniforms is high school and college age kids love them. They especially love to turn on the TV each week to see what the latest combination Oregon is going to have. At least most of the college demographic seems to feel that way.
“Honestly I’m not a big uniform guy,” admitted defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore. “I’ve seen a lot of different uniforms, so I’m just ready to play. That’s about it.”
Lewis-Moore did say he was happy about wearing the new helmets during practice this week so that he could break his in before the game. He also finally admitted to having affection for the new jersey as well.
“I think they’re nice,” he said. “They’re real nice jerseys.”
The original installment of the Shamrock uniforms when Notre Dame played Maryland last year were a bit more basic, with green shamrocks on both sides of the helmets and green jerseys. Either way, count junior cornerback Bennett Jackson as indifferent to the whole uniform subject.
“The uniforms…really I don’t care what I put on,” Jackson said. “It’s just something I guess that attracts whoever, but it doesn’t really bother me too much.”
“You get to try something different. Whatever they want to call it – swag or whatever. I like mixing up stuff (and) throwing in some new stuff here and there.”
When it’s all said and done what uniforms the Irish wear won’t affect their play one way or the other. The setting for the first regular season meeting between Notre Dame and Miami will be unique though when the game kicks-off at Soldier Field. Kelly expects the backdrop to help provide a festive atmosphere.
“I know our guys are excited about playing in Chicago and at Soldier Field,” Kelly said of his Irish as they prepared for the Hurricanes. “It should be a fun and exciting atmosphere.”
Soldier Field is the latest in a recent series of unique venues where Notre Dame has been able to play. Yankee Stadium, MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (home of the New York Giants and Jets), FedEx Field (Washington Redskins), and Aviva Stadium in Dublin are among those in which Notre Dame has played in Manti Te’o’s tenure alone. With that in mind, he is keeping his excitement in check for this week’s game location.
“We’ve played in some nice venues and so this is gonna be another nice venue we get to play in that none of us have been in,” Te’o explained. “I don’t think it’s anything different. The field is still 120 yards long, the football is still the same shape (and) a touchdown is still worth six points. At the end of the game whoever has the most points wins.”
The Story Of The Hurricanes
The temperature at kickoff Saturday night is expected to be in the upper 40s. It will be the coolest game time temperature the Irish have seen this season, let alone the warm weather based Hurricanes. Second-year head coach Al Golden did not seem concerned about climate though when the subject came up this week.
"I think we'll be alright,” Golden said of how Chicago’s temperature might affect his team. “I hope we're not to the point where we got to huddle around a heater. I hope we're just tough enough to go out and play. I don't mean that facetiously. I mean that. We're there for three-and-a-half, four hours against a top-10 team. If we have a team that's thinking about heaters at that time or looking to get sweatshirts or stuff that's on me.”
Golden was not on the sideline when Notre Dame beat Miami 33-17 two years ago in the Sun Bowl in a game that saw temperatures in the 30s, but he was watching from the press box shortly after being hired to his position. Miami players wore turtlenecks and hoods that day and appeared to be completely affected by the weather.
The weather will be out of the control of both coaches and who lines-up at quarterback for Notre Dame will be out of Golden’s control. His defense has had to prepare for both of them this week though.
“From our standpoint, we don't see a ton of difference when [Everett] Golson's in there as opposed to when [Tommy] Rees is in there,” Golden said of ND’s quarterback situation. “We see a lot of the same throws and a lot of the same reads and things of that nature. From our standpoint, as far as how they're formationing things and what they're calling, we don't see a whole lot of difference between those two."
The X and O match-up of the Notre Dame – Miami game pits strength against strength and weakness against weakness for the two teams. The Hurricane offense is averaging 35.6 points in five games, while the Irish defense is allowing just 9.0 points. Meanwhile, Miami is allowing 33.4 points, but the ND offense is averaging 17.6 over its last three games.
Golden knows his offense has a tough test coming this weekend.
“I can't tell you how impressed I am with them,” Golden said of ND’s third-ranked scoring defense. (They are) really strong and rugged up front, 3-4 alignment, [Louis] Nix at the nose is a load to handle. Linebackers are all big. [Manti] Te'o in the middle is as good as advertised, holds it all together, and does a great job running the operation for them. (They) play a lot of cover-two (and) make it hard for you to run the ball.”
Miami connected on seven plays of 40-plus yards in last week’s 44-37 win over North Carolina State, and Golden expects similar big plays to be a key for his offense against the Fighting Irish.
“We need explosive plays against this Irish team because they're very patient on defense,” he said. “They're hard to run by because they play so much cover-two. I think they're really well-schooled. The front can usually get there before you can get past their secondary. So it's going to be quite a challenge for us."
The two teams met two years ago in the Sun Bowl, but it has been 22 years since the once heated rivals butted heads in a regular season game. The rivalry has simmered down over the years since it was shut down, but don’t tell that to the old guard.
"It's relevant because the feelings are real. In that sense it's relevant.” Golden said of the current state of the rivalry. “If it's important to our former players and people that have been a part of the program it's important to us. But in terms of getting into all that this week, I don't know how that's going to help our team grow and accomplish the things we need to accomplish.”