Keeping Score

Alabama–Notre Dame National Title Game: Who Made Those ‘Catholics vs. Cousins’ Shirts?

How a catchphrase - which many find offensive -- got started

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Over the past few weeks, a little nickname for tonight’s Alabama–Notre Dame college-football national title game has gained some traction: “Catholics vs. Cousins.” You see, because Notre Dame is a Catholic school. And Alabama is a backwater that spawns inbreeding, don’t you know? Get it?

It’s a play on the famous “Catholics vs. Convicts” tagline that was big back in 1988. Notre Dame beat the defending national champions, the University of Miami, 31-30 that year and went on to win the national title. Back then, Miami’s players had a rogue reputation.

This play on Southern stereotypes hasn’t sat well in Alabama. When former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, now a third-stringer for the Carolina Panthers, tweeted a picture of a “Catholics vs. Cousins” T-shirt on Dec. 17, some Alabama fans erupted on Twitter. Clausen took the tweet down. “I’m sorry if I offended anyone by posting that shirt,” he wrote on Twitter. “I didn’t mean anything by it at all … Looking forward to a great game in Miami!” (That’s where tonight’s game is being played.)

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Kari Frederickson, the chair of the University of Alabama’s history department and a specialist in U.S. Southern history, says she’s “dismayed” by the shirts. “The characterization is tired, inaccurate and playing on stereotypes of ignorance and lack of cultural sophistication,” Frederickson says. “It’s not only ignorant, it’s wrong.” Jim Cobb, a history professor at the University of Georgia and a former president of the Southern Historical Association, says such ridicule is one of the reasons so many fans of Alabama’s rival teams in the Southeastern Conference, like his own Georgia Bulldogs, are pulling for the Crimson Tide. “Southern loyalties in games like these trump intraregional hostilities,” says Cobb. “The SEC is more than a football conference. It’s a manifestation of regional identity.”

“I’m used to it,” Cobb says of the ribbing. “Though I find Yankees just as amusing as they find us.”

So how did the “Catholics vs. Cousins” shirt get started? Notre Dame fan Matt Fairchild, the founder and CEO of SportsCrack, an online retailer, says a friend and fellow Notre Dame fan came up with the phrase. “Loved it right away and decided to do it,” Fairchild wrote in an e-mail to TIME. “Clausen tweeted me that he loved the shirt so I sent him a couple. Then he tweeted it a week later and all hell broke loose. Haha. It went viral. Great publicity from a great guy. I owe Clausen beers down in Miami.”

Fairchild says he’s sold over 10,000 “Catholics vs. Cousins” shirts in the past month. They’re going for $17. He calls himself a “subway alum,” the popular name for someone who roots for Notre Dame but didn’t go there. Fairchild actually has Southern roots — he spent most of his childhood in Georgia and has a degree in journalism and film from Georgia State University in Atlanta — and he now lives in Atlanta.

His response to anyone who finds the shirt offensive? “I grew up in SEC country so I know how fanatical some people can get,” Fairchild wrote. “The shirt is meant to be a joke. A friendly jab in a rivalry that is being renewed between the two most storied college football programs. If it offends COUSINS then so be it…lol. I have friends who graduated from Alabama and for the most part they think it’s funny.”

Notre Dame distances itself from the product. “Regarding this and other similar shirts and slogans, Notre Dame is not involved in their production and finds them to be offensive in every way,” says university spokesman Dennis Brown. “We do not condone them and hope that Irish fans will neither purchase them or assist in their distribution.”

And it’s not just Notre Dame fanatics marketing this moniker. The hype around the game has crossed international lines. Google Catholics vs. Cousins and you’ll see the shirt being sold on StatsGeekTees, a site owned by Laura Mills, a grad student in Canada. Mills’ site spots trending phrases and slaps them onto T-shirts. “I agree, that is offensive,” she says of the phrase. “It’s like retelling a joke in poor taste. It doesn’t represent my belief at all. If anyone is really offended, I feel bad.”

Mark Wilson, secretary of the Alabama Historic Association and coordinator of community and civic engagement at Auburn University, isn’t all that offended. In fact, he thinks some good can come out of the “cousins” label. “When Alabama wins,” Wilson wrote in an e-mail, “if the stereotype helps others feel better about their loss, I guess our identity has helped us do our Christian duty, as we say in the South.”

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22 comments
BuckyEades
BuckyEades

pedophiles priest vs Southern gents. 

jazzman71
jazzman71

My  cousin Binny on my third grandmother's side has the answer. Somewhat like Mark Twain, he found out that if you put five people of five different religions in a stadium with five different cousins, a monkey, and some cloth, they would fight, except for the monkey, until they killed each other off. Ergo, the monkey made the shirt.

GregDeSau
GregDeSau

:) Those cousins beat your ass Notre Dame. What division do you guys play in?

catgrammar
catgrammar

It certainly is offensive. How would you like someone calling you Catholic?

dan_the_southern_man
dan_the_southern_man

More accurate would be David vs. Goliath. Sometimes Goliath just kicks the sh*t out of David. The problem is no one ever tells you that story.

JimBunion
JimBunion

How many of their players know the HAIL MARY?  They might need to learn, as Bama is beating them up big time.

coyslavik
coyslavik

Good Lord. People are so thin-skinned these days. Lighten up!

ChristianLeBlanc
ChristianLeBlanc

Ashley Wilkes married his first cousin Melanie, and they were hardly crackers. Don't cringe- proclaim it!

bboaze
bboaze

More accurate would be the Saints vs the Saintly. 

azp88
azp88

I don't always have sex with my sister but when I do I scream Roll Tide. Cparton126 it could have been worse. Get over it. Its a t-shirt stop crying. Besides wasn't it Alabama fans who tried to make the gay bashing shirts during the LSU game.

cparton126
cparton126

As an Alabama alum and a native of the state, I didn't find it funny at all, especially in 2012.  However, as a person currently living in Charlotte, NC I guess it was nice for Claussen to finally get some media attention because lord knows his football skills aren't going to do it for him.  I love the hypocrisy of the woman in Canada but so be it.  All of the Notre Dame folks just enjoy that $17 rag you'll have come tomorrow and that you do still find some sort of solace out of trying to assert your superiority over us Southerners.  I hope it is made of good, quality cotton.  ROLL, TIDE ROLL!!!!!!!

Tvill
Tvill

People need to lighten up.  It's a joke.  Maybe not in the best taste, but a joke nonetheless.  And less offensive in my opinion than "Catholics vs. Convicts." For those listening, one other t-shirts I have heard about is :"Golden Domers vs. Mobile Homers".  

sandifjm
sandifjm

@Tvill I generally don't like when people that aren't the target of an insult tell those that are to "lighten up", and I'm not a southerner, or an Alabama fan. But I do agree that it is less offensive than "Catholics vs. Convicts". That was downright reprehensible.


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