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Aura of tradition, mystery surrounds the Irish Guard

Beth Erickson | Friday, October 8, 2004

Though the Irish Guard’s signature marches and striking attire are famous in the arena of college football, the “fraternity” of 10 has retained a veil of mystery even in the confines of the campus.

“The purpose of the Guard is to lead the way for the band and to add a sense of prestige to the band as a whole,” senior Guardsman John Anderson said.

In order to lend Notre Dame football with this “prestige,” the Guardsmen take on a surprising number of responsibilities.

During the football season, the Guard practices every weeknight with the Band of the Fighting Irish, coordinating with band members to learn every new halftime routine, where they often play a large role.

On home game weekends, the Guard’s duties begin on Friday afternoon, when they ‘step off’ with the band on a march from the Dome to the practice field. They then preside over the pep rally that night.

They rise earlier than even the most die-hard of Saturday tailgaters to don the legendary Scottish plaid – a tradition inaugurated during the 1974 football season. It is literally a Guard trademark, as the pattern is officially registered in Scotland as Notre Dame Plaid, said alumnus guardsman Mark Baumgartner.

An hour and a half before kickoff, the Guard ushers the band onto the steps of Bond Hall for its morning concert, performing the time-honored Victory Clog and standing for inspection in front of the captain and Guardsmen alum.

The Guard then leads a procession across campus to Notre Dame stadium and onto the field. There, it performs the pre-game routine, halftime show and post-game ritual, which includes a repeat of the signature Victory Clog in the event of an Irish win.

Although the Guard requires a lot of commitment, it is all worthwhile, said Anderson.

“My most memorable experience on Guard was my first game, standing in the tunnel before we went onto the field and seeing the other team go into the locker room, and then leading the band onto the field,” he said.

From an alumni perspective, memories were perhaps a little more golden and glorious in 1977.

“[My best memory] was standing on the field in Texas at the Cotton Bowl after we beat Texas to win the National Championship my senior year,” Baumgartner said. “Nothing beats that feeling.”

“It was fun, we took it seriously and despite what some people might think, we really cared that we represented the University. Not that we were always perfectly behaved young men out of uniform, but I think we presented the right mix of seriousness and fun.”

As for the current Guardsmen, Baumgartner said this rule still holds true.

“[They’re a] great bunch of guys,” he said.

The Guard has always represented eminence and tradition to campus visitors, who delight in meeting the Guard and posing for pictures with the kilted men.

“There were a lot of parents with little kids who wanted us to pose for pictures and things like that,” Baumgartner said. “We always, and I mean always, did those things and always tried our best to make sure fans understood our desire to make the University proud of us.”

Both then and now, the experience of the Guard has forged tight bonds between its members.

“It’s awesome to be on the field on game day, but the best part is getting to know nine other guys and having a good time,” Anderson said.

And, like other alumni, they’ve stayed close throughout the years.

“Even when I come back for a game, it is still the same thing, even if we don’t know each other all that well, we are part of this brotherhood,” Baumgartner said.

As for the biggest mystery shrouding the Guard’s supposedly breezy attire, Anderson declined to comment.