Sept. 5, 2014

By Lou Somogyi, Blue & Gold Illustrated

The University of Notre Dame and the University of Michigan played each 11 times between 1887 (Notre Dame’s first football contest) and 1943.

However, the beginning of the most recent segment of Notre Dame-Michigan games actually took root in 1968. That’s when new Wolverines’ athletics director Don Canham wondered what he could do to enhance attendance at Michigan Stadium that seated more than 100,000 spectators.

By 1967, attendance at Michigan home games had dwindled to about 67,000 spectators per contest. Like a good neighbor, Notre Dame athletics director Edward “Moose” Krause, a good friend of Canham, offered at least one suggestion: play the Fighting Irish.

Scheduling commitments and/or conflicts resulted in taking 10 seasons before the two superpowers would renew their rivalry in 1978, with two-year hiatuses in 1983-84, 1995-96 and 2000-01. That 1978 meeting marked the first game between the two teams since 1943.

By 1978, Michigan routinely attracted 100,000-plus every game, while Notre Dame continued its eminence in the 1970s with national consensus titles in 1973 and 1977.

Nevertheless, the series renewal became everything the two titans in athletics administration had hoped it would be — and even more. Since the 1978 restarting of the series, there are few rivalries in college football that have been more evenly matched:

– Michigan leads the series 15-14-,1 beginning with that 1978 contest. That is what makes this year’s game so crucial to Notre Dame. That would make the record 15-15-1 from 1978-2014 and would seem apropos.

– In the 11 meetings from 1978-90, Michigan outscored Notre Dame, 218-217.

– In the ensuing nine meetings from 1991-2002, the Wolverines had another one-point edge, 180-179. However, in those 19 meetings combined, Notre Dame held a 10-8-1 series advantage while being outscored by those two points.

The one time the games became less pulsating came in the six-year stretch from 2003-08. Michigan defeated Notre Dame 38-0 in both 2003 and 2007 and also handed the then-number two-ranked Irish a 47-21 setback in 2006 at Notre Dame Stadium.

The 38-0 loss in 2007 became part of a 3-9 campaign for Notre Dame, but the Irish returned the favor the following year, with a 35-17 romp over the Wolverines, who ended their campaign with a similar 3-9 record.

Only three of Notre Dame’s 14 wins since the series renewal have been by more than one score: 1987 (26-7), 1998 (36-20) and the 2008 contest (35-17). – From 1988-90, Notre Dame won three straight pulsating contests versus Michigan by a combined 11 points: 1988 (19-17), 1989 (24-19) and 1990 (28-24).

– The Wolverines answered with three straight 11th-hour four-point wins in 2009 (38-34), 2010 (28-24) and 2011 (35-31) — and the game-winning touchdowns occurred with 11, 27 and two seconds remaining, respectively.

– In the 30 games since 1978, the outcome remained in doubt until the game’s final series 20 times, including Notre Dame’s most recent victory, 13-6 in 2012 that propelled the Irish to a 12-0 regular season.

Even in the 41-30 Michigan win in 2013, it took a Wolverine touchdown pass with 4:18 left in the contest to help put the game somewhat out of reach.


Unforgettable Moments

Any victory against Michigan is cherished by Fighting Irish faithful. Here’s a ranking of the 14 Notre Dame conquests achieved since the series renewal in 1978. The rankings are based on value of the win to the season, excitement, how strong both teams were and atmosphere:

1. 1988: Notre Dame 19, Michigan 17 This opener for both teams saw 5-foot-5, 135-pound Irish kicker Reggie Ho convert all four of his field goals, the last with 1:13 left. Notre Dame then survived when Michigan’s Mike Gillette missed from 49 yards out after nailing one from the same distance minutes earlier. Notre Dame finished No. 1, and Rose Bowl winner Michigan lost only to the No. 1 Irish by two and No. 2 Miami by one (31-30) after leading 30-14. Next winter, ESPN will feature a “30 for 30” documentary on Dr. Ho and this Michigan game.

2. Sept. 16, 1989: Notre Dame 24, Michigan 19 In a showdown between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan, a legend was born when Irish sophomore Raghib “Rocket” Ismail scored on 88- and 92-yard kickoff returns on a wet, slippery field. The first was at the start of the second half as Notre Dame extended its lead to 14-6. The second came with 12:46 remaining, providing a 24-12 cushion as Ismail earned a spot the following week on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Ironically, prior to Ismail’s two returns, it had been 32 years since Michigan had surrendered a kickoff return for a touchdown.

3. Sept. 20, 1980: Notre Dame 29, Michigan 27 Junior kicker Harry Oliver, who had missed an extra point earlier in the second half, booted perhaps the most dramatic field goal in Irish annals when his 51-yard attempt made it over the crossbar as time expired. The victory in head coach Dan Devine’s final season provided the impetus for a 9-0-1 start and eventual number-one ranking after a disappointing 7-4 campaign the previous year. Michigan also would bounce back from its first four-loss season under Bo Schembechler with its first Rose Bowl win under him and a top-five finish.

4. Sept, 11, 1993: Notre Dame 27, Michigan 23 After a 27-12 win in the opener against Northwestern, the Irish dropped from number seven to 11 and were pegged as nine-point underdogs at No. 3 Michigan. Senior quarterback Kevin McDougal scored on 43- and 11-yard runs and Mike Miller returned a punt for a 56-yard score to build a 24-10 halftime advantage. Following the 27-23 victory, Irish coach Lou Holtz was given a victory ride off the field by his players.

5. Sept. 18, 1982: Notre Dame 23, Michigan 17 The first night game in Notre Dame Stadium history saw second-year head coach Gerry Faust’s Irish open the year with an electric victory over a Wolverine team that had beaten them 25-7 the previous season. Mike Johnston’s three field goals and fullback Larry Moriarty’s 116 yards rushing paved the way for the win. It also was the beginning of Notre Dame’s 4-0 record versus Michigan in night games at home — a streak on the line in tonight’s game.

6. Sept. 15, 1990: Notre Dame 28, Michigan 24 In what would be Notre Dame’s last home night game in 21 years, the top-ranked Irish rebounded from a 24-14 fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the No. 4 Wolverines. Sophomore quarterback Rick Mirer’s 18-yard scoring pass to classmate Adrian Jarrell came with 1:40 remaining in the contest. The starting debut put Mirer on the Sports Illustrated cover with the title “Golden Boy.”

7. Sept. 22, 2012: Notre Dame 13, Michigan 6 Aesthetically, this one might not be considered the prettiest. The Wolverines committed six turnovers, including five interceptions in as many attempts at one point. Quarterback Tommy Rees scored the lone touchdown of the game on a draw, and the Irish defense, led by All-America senior linebacker Manti Te’o (eight tackles, one for loss, two interceptions), held on to end a three-game losing streak to Michigan. Te’o appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week and the Irish finished September unbeaten (4-0) for the first time in 10 years.

8. Sept. 10, 2005: Notre Dame 17, Michigan 10 First-year Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis won back-to-back road games versus ranked teams to begin the season — a first in school history. In week one, the unranked Irish moved to No. 20 after a 42-21 win at No. 23 Pittsburgh. The following week, at third-ranked Michigan, the Irish secured a 17-10 victory on a pair of Brady Quinn five-yard passes to Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija. The win elevated Notre Dame to No. 10 in the polls.

9. Sept. 14, 2002: Notre Dame 25, Michigan 23 All-America cornerback Shane Walton tipped away a two-point conversion pass by Michigan’s John Navarre with 2:53 left in the contest to help preserve the Irish rally after Notre Dame entered the fourth quarter trailing 17-16. The win over No. 7 Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium catapulted Notre Dame from No. 20 to No. 12 in the Associated Press poll en route to an 8-0 start under first-year head coach Tyrone Willingham.

10. Sept. 5, 1998: Notre Dame 36, Michigan 20 Under second-year head coach Bob Davie, Notre Dame exploded for 30 unanswered points in the second half to lead the Irish to the stunning victory over the co-defending national champions and fifth-ranked Wolverines. Notre Dame, which trailed 13-6 at halftime, was led by first-time starting quarterback Jarious Jackson, while junior signalcaller Tom Brady was making his initial start for Michigan as well.

11. Sept. 12, 1987: Notre Dame 26, Michigan 7 With five of the last six meetings between the two teams decided by six points or less, second-year Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz told his troops before the game, “it doesn’t have to be close.” That held true in Ann Arbor as Michigan committed seven turnovers to just one by the Irish. Both teams finished with four losses, but also embarked on prosperity in years to come.

12. Sept. 15, 1979: Notre Dame 12 Michigan 10 Although neither 7-4 Notre Dame nor 7-5 Michigan would finish in the final rankings at the end of the year, this victory saw Irish walk-on kicker Chuck Male set a single-game Notre Dame record with four field goals and began the legend of middle linebacker Bob Crable. Then a sophomore, Crable registered 19 tackles and vaulted over the Michigan line to block the potential game-winning field-goal attempt with two seconds left.

13. Sept. 11 2004: Notre Dame 28 Michigan 20 After a stunning loss at BYU to open the season and trailing 9-0 at halftime versus eighth-ranked Michigan, Notre Dame rallied behind freshman Darius Walker’s 115 yards rushing and two scores in his college football debut off the bench.

14. Sept. 13, 2008: Notre Dame 35, Michigan 17 Aided by what would become six Michigan turnovers, Notre Dame exploded to a 21-0 lead with 4:51 left in the first quarter. It was the highlight of a 7-6 season for the Irish, while Michigan’s 3-9 finish qualified as its first losing record in 41 years.