SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame’s 2015 regular season was a showcase for the depth Brian Kelly & Co. amassed, which allowed this team to finish the season 10-2 and make a legitimate push for the College Football Playoff.
But the undercurrent to the program’s first double-digit win season since 2012 was an unquantifiable level of leadership brought by a slew of veteran players, which most everyone inside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex will say allowed so many players to successfully fill in for injured teammates this fall.
So it’s fitting, then, that this is the team that saw its seniors decide they didn’t want to have their names be put on the back of their bowl game jerseys, as has been common practice recently under sixth-year coach Brian Kelly.
“With respect to Team 127 and what we stand for, we’re just trying to honor the brotherhood, the camaraderie and how much we care for each other in every game,” linebacker and graduate student captain Joe Schmidt said. “It’s not a one game decision.”
“Team 127” is the internal buzzword for this year’s edition of Notre Dame football (it’s the 127th season in program history) and peppers social media postings and media interviews. It was embraced organically, beginning with experienced players like Schmidt, defensive tackle Sheldon Day, defensive back Matthias Farley, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, wide receiver Chris Brown and plenty of others. It trickled down to the underclassmen on the team, too, as guys like quarterback DeShone Kizer, running back Josh Adams and defensive tackle Jerry Tillery quickly assimilated into significant roles this fall.
“Team 127, there’s so many things that come along with it,” Kizer said. “One of them is the unselfishness this team has, the sense of family that we bring. As cool as it would be to have your name on the back of a Notre Dame jersey playing in a bowl game, we all understand as a team that the season in particular is all about how everyone’s come together and been successful.
“This team’s been through a lot of ups and downs, faced a lot of adversity, and at the end of the day we all have the idea that we’re fighting for that gold helmet and for the name on the front of our jersey, not the name on the back.”
So out of that team-wide mentality came the decision to forgo back-of-the-jersey names for the Fiesta Bowl.
Schmidt declined to get into specifics about how the decision was made, preferring to keep those discussions inside the locker room. But even if the specifics aren’t for public consumption, the broader explanation for Notre Dame’s New Year’s Day uniforms is clear when viewed through the wider lens of the entire 2015 season.
“This has been the best brotherhood I’ve been a part of here at Notre Dame,” graduate student linebacker Jarrett Grace said. “What I think makes it even more special is because this is also the most talented team I’ve been on at Notre Dame, and a lot of times teams have issues with that. They have a lot of individuals who are really concerned with individual accolades and statistics, but I haven’t felt that one bit this year at all.”