So much attention is focused on Michigan’s rivalries with (The) Ohio State and Michigan State, we fans often forget that for 42 games since 1887, Notre Dame has been there in September. It’s like this rare semi-annual gift on the college football schedule, one of those top-billing, early-season games that can wreck or make a season and make it very hard to live in Michigan or Indiana for the ensuing calendar year.
Ahead of the much-awaited revival of the rivalry we haven’t been given enough iterations of, a primer on what has come before, and some live and in color highlights from the series.
It’s a different type of rivalry, encompassing a clash of towering personalities, bottomless talent pools of players who play the game the right way, and yes, a bit of luck over the course of the series.
Notre Dame and Michigan are eerily similar programs in those aspects and in the overall arc of college football program ups and downs. Both went through coaching upheavals at the same time, both had glimpses of, in their overused words, a return to glory. Both whiffed in different and often painful ways with those returns.
That doesn’t diminish the ludicrously successful foundations the schools come from. There has been Rudy Reuttiger (if he approaches you with an investment opportunity, run, but don’t be offsides!) and Joe Montana; Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, Lou Holtz, even Ty Willingham and...Charlie Weis; Elvis Grbac and Denard Robinson; Bo Schembechler, Lloyd Carr, and...Rich Rodriguez. Can’t have a rivalry without some characters who put on the show, right?
Notre Dame fought through Yakety Sax, Michigan fought through losing a lot of games, yet managed to still beat the Irish a few times. The most recent game has stung for four years because Michigan lost to a guy with a made-up girlfriend and couldn’t score any points. Double ouch.
Michigan and Notre Dame need each other to be successful, that’s why the rivalry is back. Bo Schembechler, while coaching, always claimed the Irish needed Michigan on their schedule more. Even in retirement, Bo used to say he wouldn’t schedule the Irish “if [Notre Dame] got down on their hands and knees and begged...To Hell with Notre Dame,”
I suspect Bo knew, deep down, having an occasional clash with another power program in September made his own more formidable come Big Ten season. Fielding Yost, Michigan’s first coach and athletic director, is the main reason Notre Dame became an independent school and forged rivalries with USC, Navy, and Stanford. Yost quarreled with Knute Rockne, the school’s first coach, for years, refusing to play them, and Rockne accused Yost of being anti-Catholic.
Frank Leahy, athletic director in the 1940s, said, “I just wish we had the opportunity to beat Michigan. We’d be happy to play them any time, on any Saturday, during any fall.”
Thankfully, the schools have decided to play on any Saturday in any fall again.
Highlight montage, engage.
SIX: Bo beats Lou Holtz in his debut
Our man Harbaugh rolled into South Bend to perform one of his many comeback victories, taking the lead late in the game and holding onto it after a botched extra point and a hooked game-winning field goal attempt. This game was wild, thus the lengthy video.
FIVE: Michigan pulls an (almost) midnight miracle
Take two of the most stubborn, traditional programs in college football. Now give them weird throwback uniforms, and a nighttime kickoff. Combine with Brent Musberger losing his damn mind on his rapidly-changing betting fortunes, and we got Under the Lights. Special cameo by a headset atop Brady Hoke’s dome.
FOUR: Desmond Howard
Desmon Howard scored two touchdowns against Notre Dame, one on a reverse run call, and the other...well. Fourth and a foot, and they went for it all. Unheard of.
THREE: Denard Robinson, shoelaces flapping in the wind
So fast, the only guys who could see him were the Notre Dame Honor Guard when he stopped in the end zone. Fun fact: they whispered something not very nice into Robinson’s ear.
TWO: Remy Hamilton quiets all of South Bend
Eight year old me could remember only one thing about Lou Holtz’s coaching tenure: He popularized playing with grass before Les Miles did. Holtz nervously yanked out hunks of Notre Dame Stadium’s notoriously-awful natural field by the handful as Michigan marched down the field to a 42-yard field goal to win with two seconds left. Noted Irish Homer Beano Cook, may he rest in peace, thought Ron Powlus would win two Heismans over his Notre Dame career, which was way more than the zero he won.
ONE: Michigan obliterates Brady Quinn
It was supposed to be Notre Dame’s moment. Year two of Charlie Weis’s genius system paired with a senior Brady Quinn at quarterback. A hilarious 37 seconds into the game, it got torpedoed by a pick six, and was already over. And Tom Hammond called Chad Henne “Brad Henne” at the start of the broadcast for some reason.
The rivalry is back, and Michigan and Notre Dame will again demonstrate that they still need each other.