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Sports Then and Now

History of Notre Dame Football’s Touchdown Jesus

Posted on November 09, 2015 by Mike Raffone

Touchdown JesusAlong with the beautiful 218 foot tall bell tower of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and the gleaming 187 foot tall gold dome of the school’s administration building, the 210 foot tall Hesburgh Library forms the skyline of America’s most recognized Catholic university.

A gorgeous mosaic named the Word of Life adorns the south side of the entire Hesburgh Library and towers over the north end zone scoreboard of the University of Notre Dame’s 80,795 seat football stadium in South Bend, Indiana.

This famous mosaic showcases Christ the Teacher. He’s reaching out to others, and with his raised arms, appears to mimic a football official signaling a touch down. It’s obvious to onlookers that he’s presiding over the action from on high.

Known universally throughout the college football world as Touchdown Jesus, this Word of Life mosaic doesn’t need a Hail Mary Pass or an Immaculate Reception to ascend into today’s Sports Then and Now blog.

Though unintentional, Touchdown Jesus quickly found its way into football lore when fans of all religious beliefs recognized Jesus’ innocent, but obvious, pose on this monstrous mural.

The spectacular mural was formally unveiled on May 7, 1964 during the dedication of the school’s Hesburgh Library.

The clever and creative work of art is usually referenced whenever Notre Dame plays a football game at home.

Announcers have both joked, or intimated, that the Fighting Irish’s rich football tradition (comprising 11 national championships and 7 Heisman Trophy winners) has partaken in a heavenly edge as a result of a protective Touchdown Jesus hovering over its campus stadium.

A generous gift of $200,000 by Mr. and Mrs. Howard Philan in 1964 made the construction of the massive mural possible. Designed by artist Millard Sheets, the 134 foot tall and 68 foot wide image of Touchdown Jesus is comprised of 6,700 individual pieces of granite in 140 different colors. Granite from 11 states and 16 countries was carefully chosen to survive the harsh Indiana winters. Then, it was expertly crafted into 324 separate panels upon the side of the library.

University of Notre Dame President Emeritus Theodore Hesburgh, for whom the library was named, commented on the school’s web site that the theme of the cubist style mosaic incorporates saints and scholars through out the ages: The mosaic depicts the university’s religious beliefs with a chronological history of scenes from the Old Testament, Byzantine, Medieval and Renaissance eras.

The focal point of the beautiful adornment is the welcoming, confident face of Jesus which alone stands nine feet tall and is made up of 115 individual granite pieces. Hesburgh acknowledged that the initial intent of glorifying God through the construction of the mural has morphed into one of the most recognized icons in all of college football.

Legendary Notre Dame Coaches Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz could never have envisioned the popularity of the mural nor comprehended the influence Touchdown Jesus has wielded over the years.

With the mosaic’s imposing image of the Son of God’s raised arms peering confidently from the library into the stadium, no instant replay or further review should ever be necessary whenever Notre Dame scores a touchdown. The ruling on the field will always stand because apparently Touchdown Jesus has already made the call.

MIKE on sports!

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