Notre Dame renews a long tradition this Saturday with the annual playing of the spring game.

The Blue-Gold 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. Rockne also saw the game as a way to help sell tickets for the regular season.

Rockne’s original concept continued until 1937, when under Coach Elmer Layden 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 that year 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.

The old-timers format stayed in place for many years.

In 1953 a most unlikely of participants, lined up for a few series on defense for the old-timers. Future U.S. 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. Kennedy lined up on defense alongside greats such as Heisman winners Johnny Lattner and Leon Hart. The varsity prevailed that day 34-7.

Ted Kennedy played his football at Harvard, but he participated in the 1953 “old-timers” game. (Photo: unknown)

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 and the name “Blue Gold Game” in 1968. Various scoring systems and roster allocations have been used since. In 2022, Marcus Freeman instituted a “draft” to choose the rosters for the game. Jerome Bettis who was on campus that year completing his degree served as the master of ceremonies for the event. (This year’s “draft” will take place on Thursday, April 18th at 9:15 AM. It will be streamed live here:

While some details have changed over the years, 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 without a change.

The 93rd edition of the Blue-Gold Game presented by Meijer will kickoff Saturday, April 20, 2024, at 1 p.m. ET in Notre Dame Stadium. It will be streamed live on Peacock. 

ByPhil Houk

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

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