Friday, August 24, 2012

You So Ugly

When leather football helmets were the standard, there is no question that Notre Dame sat atop the American sports scene.  By the mid 1950's, sports equipment technology had changed and the Fighting Irish began to switch to plastic helmets.  These helmets have progressed over the years, but with the exception of the addition of facemasks, still resemble the ones from the late 1950's and early 1960's.

When Notre Dame made the switch to plastic helmets, they took the opportunity to do something that no other football team, college or pro could do.  They made their helmets a replica of their most famous landmark on campus: the Golden Dome of the Administation Building.

In the early days of plastic helmets, failed coach Joe Kuharich (at 17-23 arguably the worst coach in the school's history) put a large shamrock on the gold for a couple of years.  Ara Parseghan resurrected the program, took the shamrock off in favor of the simple elegance of a golden helmet.  For the next half-century, the Irish wore those famous helmets.

In 2011, coach Brian Kelly decided to pay homage to Kuharich by unveiling a team with questionable play calling, lots of penalties, and helmets featuring two different shamrock on gold styles for games against Michigan and Maryland.  While traditionalists didn't like the change, at least they respected tradition by representing a throwback version of the uniform.

However, a couple of weeks ago, Notre Dame unveiled a new helmet for the Miami game to be played in Chicago's Soldier Field.  These helmets feature 2/3 gold, with 1/3 navy blue on one side with a white leprechaun inside the blue area. 

They appear to be inspired by Maryland's "pride" helmets, where one side of the helmet bears no resemblence to the other side.

Traditionalists immediately objected and mocked the helmets.  Some of my favorite comments that appeared on the NDNation message board include the idea that the new helmet is 2/3 gold because the Notre Dame that welcomes anti-Catholic President Obama still desires to follow 2/3 of Catholic teaching.  Another comment recalls the fact that the helmets appear to be inspired by Maryland.  One chant that ND has featured at football games through the years is "We are ND."  The commentor suggested it could be reworked to "We are MD."

As a traditionalist, I'd prefer not to change the uniforms.  However, I understand that the jerseys have changed many times over the years, even alternating between blue and green as the primary color.  As a businessman, I understand that new uniform combinations open up new revenue streams to the university, as fans will purchase ever changing uniform combinations.  However, a few things concern me:

- The helmets have a special kind of tradition that has much deeper meaning than a simple jersey change
- Fans typically purchase jerseys, but very seldom purchase helmets
- These helmets are extremely ugly, mostly because the design is not symmetrical
- The administration of the university has had a recent history of bad choices, turning their backs on tradition, and general incompetence. 

I won't rehash all the data points for my last concern here, but I'd argue the athletic department has had more than their fair share of these bad decisions.  Since Lou Holtz left, the team has hired five football coaches, and simply does not appear to be on track after two eight win seasons under Brian Kelly.

My real worry is that in lieu of championship football, Notre Dame is substituting bells and whistles such as "special" uniforms and piped in heavy metal music (cutting into much of the time during games given to  their traditional marching band), and is discussing other changes (jumbotrons and astroturf) that would turn this iconic program into every other program in America.  Letting that happen would be a shame.