Sept. 11, 2002
On Tuesday afternoon, the No. 20/21-ranked Notre Dame football team returned to the practice field for the first time since a 24-17 win over Purdue in its home opener last Saturday. The game was highlighted by two fumble recoveries for touchdowns and a game winning 33-yard interception return for a touchdown by junior cornerback Vontez Duff.
This week, the Irish renew their rivalry with Michigan after a two-year hiatus. The two teams will play for the 30th time when the No.7/6-ranked Wolverines come into Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday. After practice, head coach Tyrone Willingham did not need to be reminded how big the Michigan game is to the team.
“When you just say the name Michigan, it gets you excited,” said Willingham.
“There is no question that talking about Michigan gets everyone’s attention. The players showed a heightened sense of excitement today. I think playing in a rivalry game, a game this important, the athlete gains an extra sense of focus, energy and vision.”
Willingham also understands how important the Michigan/Notre Dame game is to fans. After practice, on his way over to the stadium, Willingham actually stopped to talk to a few Notre Dame fans.
“I chatted with some fans for a little while,” said Willingham.
“They actually asked a lot of good questions, some of the same questions reporters ask. They wanted me to talk to them about how I am feeling heading into my first Michigan/Notre Dame game and what it was like to run out of the tunnel for the first time. It was nice to be able to sit and visit with them. It is important to give back when you are fortunate enough to have the time to do so.”
Although Willingham acknowledges the significance of the upcoming Michigan game, he is quick to point out that the game will be played like any other game.
“No matter how big a game is, it is still a football game,” said Willingham.
“The truth is when kickoff comes around, you have to play a football game on a 100-yard field. Regardless of the great history, tradition and excitement surrounding the game, a coach must always keep in mind that it is still a game. The key is to not let everything surrounding a game become distracting to you or your team. Nothing is a distraction unless you let it be. We will be ready come Saturday.”
The Irish will practice Wednesday and Thursday before Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. (EST) game against Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium. The game will be televised nationally by NBC.