Saturday, November 11, 2017

Catholics vs. Convicts: Yet Another Story Behind the Shirt of the Century

In the back of my classroom, next to iconic the album cover, Springsteen's "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and a framed portrait of Payne Stewart hung a worn out t-shirt that read: Catholics vs. Convicts. Taken out of context—or rather with no context, that shirt may have alluded to the conflict in Northern Ireland. Though this shirt was meant to represent the school colors of two storied football programs, some unsuspecting vistors—or students—might read it as the green of the Republic vs. the Protestants of the North. Rather, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (the Catholics) and the Hurricanes of Miami (the Convicts) had their own battle. And today these two top ten ranked teams will play one another....but before they do, that story must be (re)told.
A final picture of what once hung in my classroom
The "30 for 30: Catholics vs. Convicts" is one of the most popular in ESPN's video series. I had no idea this episode, in which my alma mater prevails, would catch fire the way it did. I should have known better....good stories do. However, my story has a twist.  About six months before that show was aired, I took down the shirt and I gave it away. I had no idea how lucky I was to have one of the original 2000 shirts that were made in the fall of 1988, but my students also had no idea what those words—labels that carry some weight—were about. 

At that time, I had to confront one of my students about some language and ideas he had written in a paper that was both problematic and inaccurate. I don't remember the exact issue, but it wasn't an easy conversation. Some consider these to be "teachable moments," but his response was meant to offer me one as well. The next day, he turned in a rewrite and said: "What is that shirt Catholics vs. Convicts about?" I wasn't entirely sure how to address his question. I could sense he was challenging me, he was retaliating and he was truth-telling all in one. I taught him about the Notre Dame vs. Miami rivalry in the late '80s. I didn't say "well, this is different," though I wanted to! I addressed how that might be interpreted and about two weeks later, I quietly took it down. I still think that was the right thing to do.
This is actually the FRONT of the shirt. The back reads C vs. C
Given the number of my students who have seen the "30 for 30" I think they would love to see that shirt as it's the portal to one of college football's greatest stories. Instead, I'll let Tony Rice, Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson, Joe Frederick, Chris Zorich, Steve Walsh, Andre Brown, and this blog posting: Catholics vs. Convicts: The Story Behind ESPN's "Shirt of the Century"—the most widely read posting I have written do that.

And today, yet another chapter will be written....I'll let you name the story.
Go, Irish.

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