It's hard to start new traditions at a place where seemingly everything is a tradition. You do something once and it's a success, do it twice and it's a tradition, and all of a sudden you're spitting in the face of the Pope if you don't do that thing in the same way you did it a hundred years ago. The fact that the world changes around you doesn't wash away the tradition, it cements it. After a certain point, repeating the tradition in spite of change becomes the entire justification for its continuation.
Notre Dame's Shamrock Series has provided a path to successfully launching a new tradition amid a field of old ones. One time a year (or one time every few years, as we'll get to later), the Irish give themselves a break from the old to celebrate the new. Quite often, the Shamrock Series takes the Notre Dame football family to new or rarely-visited locales, against new or rarely-played opponents, and they do so in new uniforms.
The uniforms might be great, they might be awful, but either way they serve their purpose. For those that like them, the Shamrock Series unis are a necessary and welcome respite from the same ol', same 'ol. For those that don't, they're reinforcement of why Notre Dame wears what it wears all but once a year.
And nothing helps a new tradition take hold quite like winning. The Fighting Irish are 9-0 in Shamrock Series games, and they'll look to make it a perfect 10 when the game makes its return for the first time in three years on Sept. 25 at Chicago's Soldier Field against Wisconsin.
The Series began with what we'll call a soft opening -- a 40-14 blowout of Washington State in San Antonio, in Notre Dame's regular blue-topped, golden-helmet and panted uniforms.
2010 saw the first alternate uniform: the "traditional" Notre Dame alternate, a green jersey, in a 27-3 drubbing of Army at Yankee Stadium.
2011 saw the first edition of what we'd come to know as the Shamrock Series tradition. In a 45-21 defeat of Maryland at FedEx Field near our nation's capital, the Irish brought back the green jerseys with even-more-gold-than-usual helmets with -- gasp! -- a decal.
And from there we were off.
2012: A 41-3 blowout of Miami in Chicago.
2013: The first close game (a 37-34 squeaker over Arizona State) and the first, and thus far only, game in white tops against Arizona State at AT&T Stadium near Dallas.
2014: A 30-14 win over Purdue in Indianapolis. If you hate this whole thing, these are probably your favorite uniforms.
2015: A 19-16 survival of Boston College at Fenway Park. If you love the Series, these are probably your favorites.
2016: A repeat of gimmicks. Notre Dame repeated an opponent (Army) and location (San Antonio) for the first time, while also wearing green jerseys and gold-but-different helmets. The game was a success, though, a 44-6 drubbing amid a 4-8 season.
2017: No game.
2018: The most, um, ambitious look yet for a 36-3 hammering of Syracuse at Yankee Stadium.
2019: No game. “I think what we’ve discovered is some on-and-off element to it makes the Shamrock Series game itself more impactful,” AD Jack Swarbrick told the South Bend Tribune in 2018. “It also finds that balance between being true to our independence and maximizing the home schedule.
“Looking at the future schedules, I think we’ll have periods of two or three years when we don’t have one, and then may have one back-to-back again.”
2020: A planned one-year break turned into two when Notre Dame's game against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field was canceled due to the pandemic.
2021: The Series returns, with Chicago-infused uniforms for the game's return to the Windy City.
The stars on the helmet are meant to honor the Chicago city flag, and the stripes on the shoulders and gloves are to "resemble the rivers and waterways represented on the city of Chicago’s flag."
Chicago has long been Notre Dame's home away from home. The Irish are 10-0-2 all-time in Chi-town and have long claimed to be the official college football team of our nation's third-largest city. (It's not for nothing Northwestern claims to be "Chicago's Big Ten Team.")
The Wisconsin game represents the Irish's first Chicago game since the 2012 Shamrock Series win over Miami. Notre Dame is re-planting its flag in Chicago, and they're doing so by placing Chicago's flags all over these special edition uniforms.