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The Shirt provokes controversy

Maddie Hanna | Friday, September 16, 2005

A big question that has provoked anticipation, suspense and speculation will be answered Saturday – and it’s not about the football team’s performance.

It’s about what students will be wearing in the stands at the Irish home opener.

Although this year’s Shirt sales are stronger than the past two years – Bookstore director of retail operations Sally Wiatrowski said more than 54,000 Shirts have been sold so far – the new gold color and design has some fans up in arms.

Following three years of kelly green Shirts, this year’s model is gold and bears the words “The Spirit of Notre Dame.” The color and design immediately sparked debate after The Shirt’s unveiling last spring, and sizeable groups of students have rebelled by pledging to continue wearing green or by creating their own original gold designs.

“I was absolutely appalled and dismayed. [The Shirt] was just bad. We expected something that would reflect the students much better,” said one of the two sophomores who has been selling the “Charlie’s Army” T-shirts dotting the campus. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared repercussions of selling alternative shirts.

His shirts, which are gold and read “Irish Football 2005: We’re Putting the Nasty Back in Dynasty,” are just one example of the many student-produced alternatives to The Shirt circulating around campus.

The sophomore, who has sold about 150 shirts so far by word of mouth, said alumni associations have been contacting him and requesting batches of 25 shirts at a time ever since he was spotted wearing it on ESPN’s College Gameday at the Notre Dame-Pittsburgh game.

Sophomore Taryn Lewis will also be sporting an alternative shirt to Saturday’s game – “the one that has [head Irish coach Charlie] Weis’ yearbook picture on the back.”

Although Lewis has bought The Shirt – “I don’t mind it,” she said – she has fallen head over heels for her new purchase.

“I might wear [The Shirt] to a couple of games,” Lewis said. “But the ‘Bring on the Nasty’ shirt is just too tempting.”

When asked what she would wear Saturday, senior Katherine Graziano laughed and said emphatically, “Not The Shirt!”

“I’m just going to stick to wearing something green,” she said. “I don’t really like the color, and I’ve never really been a proponent of oversized shirts.”

Sophomore John Lentz saw The Shirt for the first time at the Bookstore on Wednesday. His initial reaction?

“It’s not very emasculating,” he said slowly. “Football’s a masculine sport. This … this text is too flowery.”

Although he will don a “Charlie’s Army” shirt Saturday, Lentz said he would buy a Shirt “out of respect for the school.”

For his part, Weis said the power of the student section comes from enthusiasm, not apparel.

“I just want it to be loud,” he said. “I don’t care what they wear, just be loud. Loud is what I’m going to encourage here in the next 24 hours.”

Despite the negative reactions, The Shirt – along with the “Attitude” shirt, a black tee featuring the eyes of a football player on front and the words “SMART, DISCIPLINED, TOUGH, NASTY” on back – has been selling very well, Wiatrowski said.

“With the last two wins, our Web site has seen a lot of activity for those two items,” Wiatrowski said. The Shirt sales are most comparable to the 2002 season, she said, “but we’re hoping to exceed even those numbers, quite honestly.”

Wiatrowski said she thought this year’s increased sales could be a result of the change from green to gold, the 75th anniversary of Notre Dame Stadium or “the rejuvenation of the football program.”

The Shirt display at the Bookstore Wednesday supported the booming sales claim. The picked-over assortment offered only extra large sizes. It’s hard to guess what will happen in the stands on Saturday. Maybe The Shirt will be more popular than many people think, freshman Tessa Romano said.

“I don’t really like the writing on the front that much,” Romano said. “But I think it might catch on if you give it a chance.”

Senior David DiLorenzo is a potential indicator of what could be a last-minute Shirt boom.

“I’m probably going to buy it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s that bad. It’s for a good cause.”

The good cause is a big selling point for some people. President of The Shirt Katie Fox said all the profits go to Student Activities and Organiza- tions as well as The Shirt Charity Fund and The Rector’s Fund.

“The Shirt Project, as always, has gotten both negative and positive feedback,” Fox said. “With such a large student, alumni and fan base, it’s hard for any one product to please everyone.”

Fox said the quote on the back of The Shirt – “If you could bottle the Notre Dame spirit, it would light up the universe” – was said by former quarterback Joe Theisman.

The two players depicted wearing No. 75 and No. 16 on their jerseys “commemorate the 75th anniversary of Notre Dame Stadium and the 16th year of The Shirt, respectively,” Fox said.

This year’s gold color is a change from “the sea of green,” a phrase Fox said was coined by former head Irish coach Tyrone Willingham.

Whatever happens on Saturday, the real matter of importance is not what students wear, alumni said. It’s their spirit.

Taryn Lewis’ mother, a 1980 Notre Dame graduate and football fan Maureen Lewis, said while she liked “the sea of green effect,” she doesn’t see a big correlation between student spirit and The Shirt.

“There was no uniform per se [when I was in school] but we all pretty much wore some shirt that said ND. Back in the day they were mostly blue or white,” Lewis said. “I think we were just as spirited as this generation.”

Rachel English, a 1984 Notre Dame graduate, said while everyone dressed “really preppy” to football games when she was a student, she liked the concept of The Shirt.

“I think it looks neat. I think it’s fun,” she said. “But it’s not a big deal. It’s still the students cheering.”