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Notre Dame fans anticipate ‘Catholics vs. Convicts’

| Monday, November 21, 2016

catholics_convicts_WEBLAUREN WELDON | The Observer

Going down as one of the most iconic T-shirt designs in college football history, the “Catholics vs. Convicts” slogan captures the bitter rivalry between Notre Dame and Miami.

Audience members at Notre Dame’s Oct. 28 screening of ESPN’s documentary, “30 for 30: Catholics vs. Convicts,” remember this shirt; many even wore or brought theirs. The story has been passed down through generations — my family talks about the 1988 football season as if it’s the creation story out of Genesis. All of them had the shirt, and some still wear it on football Saturdays. Even though I was familiar with the glorious season, there was so much backstory I did not know.

Creation stories tend to be long, and ESPN’s newest installment in its “30 for 30” series is no exception. It covers the story of the students who made the shirt, players of both teams and histories of the coaches. During the Q&A, director Patrick Creadon admitted that the production team had too much material going into the film. When ESPN called and asked, “What do you know about ‘Catholics vs. Convicts?’” he replied, “How much time do you have?” After all, Creadon lived it.  A class of 1989 alumnus, he shared a dorm with Tony Rice and saw the events of 1988 unfold firsthand.

The film is filled with many beloved Notre Dame legends like Lou Holtz and Tony Rice, but when asked who his favorite person to interview was, Creadon revealed that Jimmy Johnson, Miami’s coach at the time, surprised him with his friendliness. Johnson even sent Creadon a card after seeing the film, joking, “It’s good, even though it is filled with Notre Dame bias.”

An image from the film stands out: “Miami 58-Notre Dame 7. Never Forget!” After this embarrassing loss in 1985, a perfect storm inflamed the rivalry: Players who were overlooked from Notre Dame’s football program were recruited to Miami and career conflicts ensued between Johnson and Holtz. The controversial shirt fed the already fanatical energy of Notre Dame fans.

Like the 1988 Notre Dame football team, this film has heart. You can feel the personal investment of each person’s hopes, dreams and regrets. Some even look back with remorse at the infamous shirt. Calling it hateful, the makers say they regret pressing the shirt — the student behind “Catholics vs. Convicts” shirt was even punished by Notre Dame.

Since the shirt, Notre Dame has seen the introduction of The Shirt, but the wholesome and polite T-shirts have not since attracted the level of publicity as “Catholics vs. Convicts.”

Even though the film is a bit long, it is worth watching. It is hard not to feel nostalgic and proud while hearing the details of the 1988 season retold by the players, coaches and fans who loved Notre Dame football. The highly anticipated “30 for 30: Catholics vs. Convicts” airs Dec. 10 on ESPN, the same night as the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

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