In retrospect, Pat Walsh does feel regret about the thunderbolt of inspiration that found its way onto a T-shirt and helped define one of the greatest rivalries of the 1980s.
He was a junior at Notre Dame in 1988 engaged in the most collegiate of enterprises, selling T-shirts, and he needed a slogan for the Irish’s looming game with Miami.
The actual dorm-room light bulb moment was provided by his friend Joe Frederick, a member of the Notre Dame basketball team.
“There was a lot of publicity of Miami players getting arrested,” said Walsh, now a futures trader living in the Chicago area. “The news would come on and a Miami player was getting arrested for something. Joe said, ‘Catholics vs. Convicts.’
“I said no way, I’ll be called into the Golden Dome office. He said, ‘Yeah, but it would sell 10,000 shirts.’ ”
Notre Dame plays a Miami team that has rebuilt its image in Friday’s Hyundai Sun Bowl and “Catholics vs. Convicts” clearly no longer applies.
Twenty-two years ago, though, it gave a tag to that epic 1988 showdown, which included a pregame scuffle in the tunnel and a 31-30 Notre Dame victory that rates as one of the great college games ever played.
The national media latched on to Walsh’s slogan and made it synonymous with the 1980s version of the rivalry.
“I’m 43 years old and at times I feel bad about it,” Walsh said. “When you think of the moniker, it sounds a little critical of Miami people and I feel bad about that.
“When you’re 22, it’s different.”
Almost immediately, he knew he had captured a perfect storm. That much he figured out the moment he started selling his merchandise.
“I got the first batch of shirts the third week of the season,” Walsh said. “It was 150 shirts. I walked into the dorm, I didn’t get past the foyer before I was surrounded. I sold them as quickly as it took me to get a shirt out and take $10. I sold out in four minutes.
“At that moment I said, ‘I’ve got something here.’ I got my hands on as much money as I could and started putting them out.”
He ended up getting a second printing of 5,000 shirts, which lasted about an hour. And how many millions of dollars did he make?
“I didn’t make a cent,” Walsh said.
That’s because he was in fact called into the Golden Dome office where he was nearly expelled. The university made him hand over all of his profits, which weren’t big to begin with (“Only a couple of thousand dollars,” he said).
He never copyrighted the phrase and two years later someone else made a mint off a new “Convicts vs. Catholics” T-shirt.
Even after these years, Walsh sees how the slogan resonates. He was reminded of that while watching the ESPN documentary “The U” about Miami’s glory years.
“Some of the players were upset about the nickname,” Walsh said. “I was surprised. They loved the bad boy image, but they were (upset) about it. It wasn’t meant to be a cut on them. It was just capturing the moment: the bad boy image vs. the clean-cut image. I never meant it personally.”
Walsh, who has one original T-shirt left, is considering coming to the Hyundai Sun Bowl this year but he isn’t going to reprise the slogan.
He knows 22 years have brought dramatic changes to the Hurricanes’ legacy. Miami’s football team ranks second in the NCAA behind Stanford in graduation rates (81 percent) and has a sterling reputation for on- and off-field behavior over the past four seasons.
Convicts are “not who Miami is anymore,” Walsh said. “They’ve turned it around. It would be disingenuous to put that on Miami in 2010. If I could do something good, it would be to come up with a slogan for a nice rivalry.
“It’s the Catholics vs. other good guys. It’s two great institutions.”
That’s too many words for a T-shirt, but that’s how Walsh feels now.
Bret Bloomquist may be reached at [email protected]; 546-6359.