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Notre Dame’s Pop Culture Presence

Brandy Cerne | Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Notre Dame students have always bonded over pop culture, whether it’s watching TV shows together in dorm rooms, belting out Lady Gaga at parties or quoting comedies over dinner at the dining hall. That’s what makes it all the more exciting when we hear our very own school mentioned on a show or know that a celebrity is a fan just like us. This guide provides the most well known Notre Dame references in pop culture.

Beyond the classic football movies “Rudy” and “Knute Rockne, All American” (starring future President Ronald Reagan), Notre Dame has become a mini-star in Hollywood.

One way to impress visitors is to point out all the parts of “Shrek” that relate to Notre Dame. It’s been said that the connection is a myth, but there are just too many coincidences: the outline of the Dome is clearly visible on the back of Shrek’s vest throughout the film; the names of Duloc and Lord Farquaad seem awfully similar to everyone’s favorite rule book and far-off men’s dorm; Duloc’s castle resembles Hesburgh Library; and chemistry professor Graham Lappin’s Scottish accent is a spot-on Shrek.

In both the book and movie versions of “Something Borrowed,” Notre Dame provides a pivotal plot line. Rachel’s dream was to be accepted to the law school. After she’s rejected, her friend Darcy lies about getting in, even though she received lower test scores. This is just the start of Darcy one-upping Rachel, leading to their tense friendship throughout life. There’s also a not entirely positive conversation about the arrogance of Notre Dame students.

Arts & Letters majors often get a bad rap, but they can always defend their choice of study by turning to Brad Pitt’s character in “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” who majored in art history at Notre Dame. With that degree, he becomes a secret agent married to Angelina Jolie. Your move, Mendoza.

Notre Dame is also a fixture on the small screen. In the pilot episode of “Friday Night Lights,” star quarterback Jason Street is heavily recruited to Notre Dame before getting a career-ruining injury. On “That 70’s Show,” Red wants Eric to attend Notre Dame.

It also has a presence on reality television. On the 17th season of “The Amazing Race,” Thomas Wolfard, class of 2002, and his girlfriend made it all the way to third place, sporting Notre Dame apparel along the way.

In addition to perking up when seeing Notre Dame mentioned on screen, students get a rush to see celebrity fans on the sidelines of football games. In recent years, Jon Bon Jovi has appeared several times. He originally visited because Charlie Weis is a big Bon Jovi fan, but he even came last year after Weis had left.

Vince Vaughn grew up in Chicago and has supported the school his whole life. In the credits of “The Break-Up,” Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston’s characters are shown attending a football game here. He also has a brief role as a football player in “Rudy.”

Taylor Swift has visited campus, both on a tour and at a football game with Selena Gomez in tow. But Swift probably isn’t too much of a fan after her brother Austin transferred last year.

Snoop Dogg is a professed USC fan, but after performing at Club Fever for two years in a row sporting Notre Dame gear, he just may have converted.

Catholic actor Jim Caviezel (“The Passion of the Christ,” “Person of Interest”) turned to Notre Dame for its education, taking courses in Spanish here for a summer in 2006.

It almost seems superfluous to mention super-fans Martin Sheen and Regis Philbin, but they have contributed to the most visibility of Notre Dame in pop culture yet. Sheen is a devout Catholic and received the Laetare Medal at the 2008 commencement ceremony. His character President Josiah Bartlett on “The West Wing” was an alumnus of Notre Dame.

With Philbin retired and off the air, there will be a lack of Notre Dame’s presence in on-air morning discussions. His daughters and fellow alumnae J.J. Philpin, TV producer and writer of shows such as “The OC” and “Heroes,” and Joanna Philbin, writer of young adult novels, will have to carry the torch.

Speaking of Philbin, when he interviewed George Clooney on the Oscars red carpet in 2008, the first thing Clooney mentioned was the Notre Dame basketball team, which continued to dominate the conversation. That may not be enough to convince anyone Clooney is a fan, but it’s enough to spark hope.

Fan ambiguity abounds, especially concerning Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio has been spotted numerous times in a Notre Dame baseball cap, but further research shows that DiCaprio is really just a fan of sporting all college hats, representing North Carolina, Louisville, Long Beach State and more. However, none of these schools’ hats had the distinction of being worn on DiCaprio’s romantic rendezvous with Blake Lively in Venice.

But what does this all mean for our Catholic school in the middle of the Midwest? It shows how pervasive Notre Dame is in not only the world of entertainment, but also in our world. Pop culture reflects the views of society at any point in time, and with Notre Dame’s presence throughout the decades across various media, it just goes to show how relevant and recognized it really is.

There’s a Notre Dame mystique, and a reference to the school carries an inherent meaning that stands for something more than just football. Above all, besides reaffirming how much Notre Dame has permeated society, it’s just plain fun to notice these pop culture references.