In 1986, Lou Holtz became the new head coach of the Fighting Irish. In his third year as coach, he led his team to a 34-21 win against West Virginia to claim the National Title. Part of the reason for their success was because in Holtz’s first year as head coach, he sought a way to unite the team. One day while he was reading through a Notre Dame book, he came across the now-famous sign “Play Like A Champion Today.” Lou Holtz asked around and was unable to find out the whereabouts of the sign in the picture. Holtz later said, “Nobody remembered it even being up. So I said, ‘Get that painted up. I’m going to put it in the same place and everybody is going to hit it on the way out to the field to remind them of all the sacrifices they have made, their families have made and other people have made for them to be there.’” Holtz decided to resurrect the idea by having another sign put in the locker room of the Notre Dame Stadium.
Laurie Wenger, the one who painted the sign, said that the first individual to ask her for a copy of the sign was the one and only Rudy Ruettiger. Now thousands of copies of the sign have been made under Wegner’s official trademark.
Notre Dame, however, isn’t the only school with this sign. The Oklahoma Sooners also have an identical sign. Bud Wilkinson, like Lou Holtz, erected the sign in the beginning days of his coaching career. That original sign that Bud Wilkinson put up now sits under a glass covering on the third floor of the Barry Switzer Center.
While there is a question of which school started the tradition, the sign seems to be more identified with the South Bend natives. A search of “play like a champion today” within Google will quickly pop up with images and advertisements for the Irish-version of the sign. Notre Dame has also created a website (playlikeachampion.nd.edu) designed to “shape a positive sports culture for all young people.” Even the Domain Name of playlikeachchampiontoday.com points to a Notre Dame website.
Whether you are cheering for the Irish or Sooners (or any team for that matter) we can all hope that our team will play like champions.