The 2022 Blue-Gold game will be played in Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday, April 23, and Notre Dame fans are looking for some answers.

Like, with Tyler Buchner out is Drew Pyne ready to step up? Who will catch the football this season? Kyren Williams is out , who will be in? Will a defense on a five year roll continue under new DC Al Golden? Will LB Marist Liufau reclaim the playmaker expectations that were sidetracked by injury last preseason? After not being able to stop Oklahoma State’s Spencer Sanders from throwing for 371 yards and 4 TDs in last January’s Fiesta Bowl, has the ND secondary found answers?

For 93 years spring football at Notre Dame has culminated with the Blue and Gold Game. The game serves as an easily accessible celebration of Notre Dame football, and provides the first clues to answers about what is to come in the new season.

In 2020 that history was interrupted and permanently affixed a Covid induced asterisk to the year. Last year the game returned, all though in front of a small live audience limited to parents, faculty, staff and students in the stadium.

This year the game is back with gates wide open and promises to not only give some glimpses of the season to come, but should also provide a star spotting opportunity as around 300 former players are expected to accept new head coach Marcus Freeman’s invitation to past greats to return for the game to campus.

The spring game tradition started in 1929 when Knute Rockne, ever the showman, was looking for a way to promote his team and to make the end of spring football practice a bit more interesting for his players. He hit on the idea of conducting a scrimmage between his returning players against the outgoing seniors who would be soon graduating, along with a few other recent grads.

The concept continued until 1937, when under Coach Elmer Leyden many former players returned to honor former player and Coach Johnny O’Brian. O’Brian had tragically died in an auto accident on March 12, 1937. The game took on the moniker “the old timers game”, and that spring in a match that included participation by the Four Horseman and many others, the varsity defeated the “old timers” 7-6.

Beginning in 1947 and for many years the Notre Dame Alumni club of St. Joseph Valley took over sponsorship of the game, and since that year all proceeds from the game went to fund ND scholarships for South Bend area students. Proceeds today benefit the Rockne Athletics Fund, which helps fund student-athlete scholarships, academic assistance, team travel, facility upgrades, nutrition, and strength and conditioning .

In 1953 a most unlikely of participants, lined up for a few series on defense for the old-timers. Future Senator Ted Kennedy was visiting South Bend the weekend of the game. Kennedy, who lettered in football at Harvard and whose family was acquainted with head Coach Frank Leahy, accepted Leahy’s invitation to play. He lined up alongside greats such as Johnny Lattner, Leon Hart and Frank Tripuka. The varsity prevailed that day 34-7.

Ara Parseghian was not a big fan of the format because he felt it did not present ideal competition for his team. In fact in the three games played from 65-67, the varsity ran up large margins and was not scored upon. The last “old-timers” game was played in 1967, and was actually carried on TV nationally by ABC opposite the Kentucky Derby. The Varsity won that day by a score of 39-0. In the 37 year history of the “old-timers’ format, the varsity won 30 times.

The game took on the present format of intra squad scrimmage known as the Blue Gold Game in 1968. Different formulas have been used since to keep score and for the allocation of players between the two squads. Including this year’s innovative NFL style “draft”, hosted by “Commissioner” Jerome Bettis. But the tradition of legions of faithful Fighting Irish Football fans on an early spring day looking for a glimpse of what is to come in the Fall, has persevered.

The 2022 Blue Gold game will kickoff at 1:00 PM, Saturday May 1. TV coverage will be on Peacock the NBC owned streaming service. Tickets starting at $8 will be available at the stadium or in advance here.

By Phil Houk

For 25 years, bringing you the glory of Notre Dame football.

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