According to University archives, the Notre Dame teams of the 1920s would dress their freshman squad in green. The only time the varsity would wear green would be for practical reasons. To avoid confusion, Notre Dame would wear green against opponents with similar uniforms. That all changed on October 15, 1927. For the first time, Rockne used the green jerseys as a motivational tool instead of just for practical reasons.
Playing the first game in the storied rivalry, Notre Dame met Navy in Baltimore. Rockne spotted the cadets a touchdown, as he started his second-stringers. However, the moment that Navy scored, the Notre Dame first stringers ripped off their blue jerseys, revealing green jerseys underneath, and sprinted onto the field. It was a moment of genius, and one that sparked the Irish momentum. Notre Dame stormed back to beat Navy 19-6, thanks in large to the running of young Christy Flanagan. It was the first time Irish brought out the green jerseys but it would not be the last.
From 1927 until 1981, Notre Dame alternated between wearing blue and green as their regular uniforms. Leahy, Devore, Kuharich, and Devine all coached teams that regularly wore some variation of green uniforms. However, it was Devine's green jersey magic that will always be remembered.
The University of Southern California came into its 1977 match up with Notre Dame, having won the past three contests between the two schools. Despite their one point loss to Alabama, the fifth ranked Trojans were still very much in the national title hunt. Likewise, the eleventh ranked Fighting Irish were also in the national title hunt, despite their earlier loss to Mississippi. The buzz surrounding the game was in full force very early in the week. Banners hung from dormitories urging the Irish on. Fans poured in from all over the country. It was Friday night, however, that the first hint of green occurred.
As students crammed into Stepan Center for the traditional pep rally, Digger Phelps stepped to the microphone to speak to the students. It wasn't long before Digger's speech turned into an intense shouting session. Digger led the students in a cheer, "We are…the green machine. We are…the green machine." The obvious correlation was that green had to do with the Irish. Nobody realized that it was actually a prelude to Saturday's surprise.
The Irish came out in their normal blue uniforms for warm-ups. However, when they returned to the locker room, Coach Devine had a surprise for them. In each locker was a brand new green jersey. Notre Dame linebacker, Bob Golic, recalled that the team was so fired up that the coaches had to calm them down. They were afraid that they would lose focus. As Notre Dame lined up in the tunnel, Golic looked at the expressions on the faces of the USC players and remembered thinking, "they don't have a chance." As it turned out, he was right. The Irish, led by captain Ross Browner and quarterback Joe Montana, steamrolled the Trojans 49-19. Montana scored four touchdowns in the game, including two on the ground. Fifty years after the Notre Dame vs. Navy game, the team once again rallied around the green jerseys. Rock would have been proud.
Devine was so impressed with how the team played that he kept the green jerseys around for the remainder of the season. The Irish went on to beat No. 1 ranked Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl, and claim their 10th National Championship.
In 1981, when Gerry Faust replaced the green jerseys with Madonna blue, it marked last time Notre Dame dressed in green jerseys as their regular uniform. Since then, Notre Dame has worn green jerseys only on spot occasions. In each instance, the green jerseys have been used to try and emulate the spark that ignited the 1977 team. Unfortunately, the green jerseys have not had much recent success.
Gerry Faust used the green jerseys twice during his career, both times coming against USC. The first time was exactly six years after the green jersey game. The Irish came out in green and beat USC 27-6. The second time that Faust dressed the team in green was really only half of a game. In the 1985 match up with USC, Faust dressed the team in green for the second half of the 37-3 drubbing of the Trojans.
Under Lou Holtz, the Irish wore the green jerseys only once (a 41-24 loss to Colorado in the 1995 Fiesta Bowl), but did wear green accented jerseys during the 1992 Sugar Bowl against Florida. The team came out in their traditional white and blue until Holtz recalled them to the locker room and presented the team with white jerseys that had green numbers and green socks. The 18th ranked Irish, the heavy underdog, came out inspired and defeated the 3rd ranked Gators 39-28.
Since then, the Irish have not won a game dressed in green. Bob Davie tried it in 1999 against Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets outscored the Irish by a touchdown, winning the Gator Bowl 35-28.
In 2002, Notre Dame coach Ty Willingham brought out the green jerseys for the Boston College game. The jerseys certainly fired up the players, but unfortunately for the wrong team. In post-game quotes, several Boston College players admitted that they considered the jerseys a huge sign of respect, and became fired up that Notre Dame was treating it as a big game. Later, Willingham claimed that the green jerseys were not meant as a motivating factor, but rather he wanted to reach out to students and fans, who had successfully created a sea of green in support of the team. Unfortunately for Willingham, the team and the fans became united in the wrong way, as together they mourned the loss of a perfect season.
After losing to Boston College, many Notre Dame fans called for the end of the green jerseys. Feeling that they were bad luck, many fans hoped that they would never see the green again.
In 2005, Charlie Weis had no concerns over bringing bad luck. With the defending national champion USC Trojans in town, Weis dressed his team in green jerseys with gold numbers. The Irish came out fired up and played their best game of the season. Despite their best efforts, the Irish fell on a last second push by USC from the one yard line.
With the 2006 Irish considered one of the favorites for the National Championship, do not be surprised if you see them in green again this year. In fact, do not rule out the possibility that Weis may play the whole season in green. Having experienced the Devine years firsthand as a student, Weis is certainly accustomed to his Irish wearing green.
Whether worn by Flanagan, Lattner, Montana, Quinn, or the next Notre Dame superstar, the green jersey brings with it a special feeling. It is the feeling of Irish pride. Seeing the team dressed in green inspires a feeling that Irish luck is on our side. With a possible title run coming up, the Irish can use all the luck they can get.