Ten days remain until Harbaugh Year Two.
Ten years ago, Michigan’s 2006 team — the face-melting destroyers-of-worlds who came within a few minutes of an undefeated regular season — had something to prove early in the year in South Bend. Notre Dame was in year two of The Great Charlie Weis Experiment, and were feeling good, having beaten the Wolverines the year prior. At a pep rally the Friday before the game, Weis had the — how do I put this diplomatically — courage? to boast that his team never talked about Michigan in the preparation, and would do the talking the next day for the duration of the football game.
Things went poorly almost right away for the Irish.
A short 37 seconds into the game, a Brady Quinn pass got tipped by his intended receiver, and Prescott Burgess ran 30 yards in the opposite direction for a pick-six touchdown. The Irish answered to tie things at 7 apiece, but the nail-biting on both sides would stop there turn into dread and horror.
Michigan scored 27 more points that half to make it 34-7 at the break before Notre Dame could even figure out how to throw to the correct jersey color.
The Irish figured some things out in the second half and scored some more, but Michigan’s Terror Defense was too much. Notre Dame committed five turnovers, and two of those were returned for touchdowns. Burgess had that one score right away, and almost had another late in the fourth quarter after another interception.
Even with all that, Brady Quinn managed to make his day worse by just dropping the ball as he cocked his arm for a throw. I still don’t know how to properly describe LaMarr Woodley scooping up that football. As he ran away from everyone, he progressed from stiff-arming tight end John Carlson to high-stepping down the sideline in front of Michigan’s bench and then Notre Dame’s honor guard and marching band to spinning around in a circle, while backpedaling, into the endzone and nearly falling over as he came to rest. It defies description how rotten the luck of Notre Dame’s football team was on that September Saturday but that play seems apt.
“As they say in the South, this is a whoopin’,” Tom Hammond remarked after that play, as my group of housemates roared with delight in our off-campus living room.
Quinn actually managed to out-throw Henne in total yardage, but the final stat line from that game was a football crime scene. On top of those five turnovers, the Irish were outdone in time of possession, rushing yardage (four yards for the whole game), first downs, penalty yards, and third and fourth down conversion percentage.
In the end though, I’ll always remember that game this way:
Notre Dame will be back on Michigan’s schedule in 2018, and as a road game no less. This series is the best kind of rivalry game: the semi-annual opponent that provides for the wackiest of games, no matter the outcome. And the better news is that this time around, Notre Dame is no longer paying Charlie Weis to not coach their football team — they’ve fulfilled their nearly $19 million buyout as of last December.
But Kansas is still paying him.