Honestly, there’s a lot of work that goes into being a fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. First, you have to buy “The Shirt,” the annual piece of attire designed to raise money for the students in South Bend. Secondly, you have to be fit in both body and mind; whether it’s doing pushups after a big score or praying to the heavens above for a victory. Once you knock down those two tenets, though, then you can begin to appreciate the Golden Dome, the plucky mascot, and the double-digit national championships.
Any conversation about the legacy of the Fighting Irish begins with Knute Rockne. After taking over the program in 1918, the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame inductee guided Notre Dame to five undefeated seasons, including undisputed titles in 1924, ‘29 and ‘30. Of all the players to suit up for the demanding Rockne, none made an impact quite like the quartet of halfbacks Don Miller, Elmer Layden, Jim Crowley and quarterback Harry Stuhldreher. Memorably referred to as the “Four Horsemen,” the fearsome backfield dominated the college football landscape in 1924 while leading the university to its first national championship.
In 1943, a new trophy case tradition began when quarterback Angelo Bertelli was awarded the Heisman. The first winner in school history of the coveted honor was soon joined by fellow Fighting Irishmen Johnny Lujack in 1947, Leon Hart in 1949, and John Lattner in 1953. Bertelli, Lujack, and Hart would celebrate not just individual success, but team triumphs too, as South Bend would capture titles in ‘43, ‘46, ‘47, and ‘49. However, for all their exploits, 1956 winner Paul Hornung still holds the most special place in the hearts of Notre Dame fans. As the lone bright spot on a sub-par squad, the “Golden Boy” lined up on both sides of the ball and accumulated 1,337 yards of offense and seven touchdowns.
On Saturdays before they meet their opponent, members of the Fighting Irish must first face two signs: one that shows a tally of all the championship teams that came before them, and another that states “Play Like a Champion Today.” After that, the oldest marching band in the country begins whipping the crowd into a frenzy by playing classic staples such as “Rakes of Mallow” and “1812 Overture.” However, they save their most revered number for the end of the game. The “Victory March” has been the soundtrack for on-field success for more than 100 years, and it’s arguably one of the most immediately recognizable songs in the nation.
Living up to the legend of Notre Dame football is no easy feat, but that hasn’t stopped the other Fighting Irish athletic teams from trying to leave their own mark. The women’s basketball outfit has been most successful in this pursuit, as they won a national championship in 2001 and have appeared in the Final Four in in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Through it all, the university has risen above the pack simply by holding itself up to the lofty standards set by Rockne so many years before.