Catholics vs Convicts: The Legendary T-Shirt That Defined a Rivalry

Catholics vs Convicts The Legendary T Shirt

In the annals of college football history, few rivalries have captured the imagination quite like the Notre Dame-Miami matchups of the late 1980s. At the heart of this intense competition lies a controversial t-shirt that would become one of the most iconic pieces of sports merchandise ever created: the “Catholics vs Convicts” shirt.

The Birth of a Slogan

The story of the “Catholics vs Convicts” shirt begins in the lead-up to the October 15, 1988 game between the top-ranked Miami Hurricanes and the fourth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The rivalry was already heated, with Notre Dame still smarting from a 58-7 loss to Miami in 1985.

As game day approached, enterprising Notre Dame students saw an opportunity. While accounts vary on the exact origin, it’s generally credited to a group including Joe Frederick, a Notre Dame basketball player, and his roommate Mike Caponigro.

From Idea to Phenomenon

The front of the shirt read “Unfinished Business,” referencing the desire for revenge against Miami. The controversial “Catholics vs Convicts” slogan appeared on the back, playing on the contrast between Notre Dame’s Catholic identity and stereotypes about Miami’s players.

The shirts quickly became a sensation on campus. Caponigro recalls:

“I woke up every morning in Alumni Hall to hear Joe playing The O’Jay’s ‘For the Love of Money’ on our stereo. We convinced the student body that the team would be wearing the shirt underneath their jerseys.”

Demand was so high that Caponigro claims he sold the shirt off his back for $75, while Frederick managed to get $100 for his.

Controversy and Consequences

The Notre Dame administration soon caught wind of the unauthorized merchandise. Caponigro and Frederick faced disciplinary action, ultimately leading them to cease production of the shirts.

However, the phrase had already taken on a life of its own. Two other Notre Dame students, Victor Bierman and Alan Sorce, successfully trademarked “Catholics vs Convicts” and reportedly grossed around $100,000 from shirt sales.

Legacy and Reflection

The “Catholics vs Convicts” shirt has become an enduring symbol of the Notre Dame-Miami rivalry. While controversial for its stereotyping, many involved look back on it as a product of its time, emphasizing the spirit of competition over its problematic implications.

Alan Sorce, one of the students who trademarked the phrase, reflected:

“It was always for the fans, it was always for the fun of it. It was nothing but fun. The money is the byproduct, right? They usually go hand-in-hand.”

As Notre Dame and Miami continue to face off in the present day, the “Catholics vs Convicts” shirt remains a powerful reminder of one of college football’s most intense rivalries, for better or worse.

Timeline of Events


Miami defeats Notre Dame 58-7, intensifying the rivalry.

1988 (Early Fall)

Joe Frederick and Mike Caponigro conceive the idea for the “Catholics vs Convicts” shirt.

October 15, 1988

Notre Dame defeats #1 ranked Miami 31-30 in the famous “Catholics vs Convicts” game.

Late 1988

Notre Dame administration takes action against unauthorized merchandise sales.


Victor Bierman and Alan Sorce trademark the “Catholics vs Convicts” phrase.


The phrase becomes part of college football lore, referenced in documentaries and articles.


Notre Dame and Miami face off again, both ranked in the Top-10 for the first time since 1990.

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