Anyone connected with the Michigan-Notre Dame football rivalry knows that Saturday’s matchup (Sept. 6, 7:30 pm) in South Bend will be the last until at least the next decade.
Notre Dame’s recent agreement to annually play five games against ACC competition contributed strongly to Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick’s decision to cancel the M-ND series from 2015-17. (The two teams earlier agreed to drop the 2018-2019 contests).
Ending the series triggered Michigan head coach Brady Hoke to call the Fighting Irish “chickens,” then the Michigan Stadium staff took it one step further by playing “The Chicken Dance” over the stadium sound system right after the Wolverines stopped Notre Dame, 41-30, last season.
These displays of smack were merely the latest in what has become one of the ugliest feuds in all of college football.
Football rivalry began in 1887
The rivalry started innocently enough back in 1887, when a group of Michigan players ventured to South Bend in hopes of teaching the sport to Notre Dame.
Little did they know, the two schools would play only 40 times over the years while bickering as much off the field as on (Michigan leads the series 24-16-1).
Regardless, the two programs are among the winningest in college football. Michigan boasts the most wins (911), while Texas is second (876) and Notre Dame third (875).
Even since the the early 1900s, Notre Dame’s dilemma has been whether to join a conference or remain independent.
One wonders if Swarbrick’s decision was a payback to Michigan for ending the series in 1910 and again after 1943. Perhaps it was just a shot at the Big Ten conference, where Notre Dame’s admission was rejected more than once. The Irish returned the favor by saying no thanks to a Big Ten invitation as late as 1999.
After the 11-3 defeat, Yost reportedly described it as an exhibition game that the Wolverines approached “caring little whether we won or lost,” according to Shake Down the Thunder, the 1993 history of Notre Dame football written by Murray Sperber.
Crisler also criticized
The series eventually resumed again in 1942 but was cancelled again following the 1943 contest. Michigan Wolverines coach Fritz Crisler was the alleged culprit this time.
Ironically Yost and Crisler are two of the most successful coaches in the game. Yost won at a percentage rate of .833 (165-29-10), delivered 10 Big Ten championships and six national titles in 25 seasons. In 10 seasons, Crisler won two big Ten titles, a national crown while carving out a 73-16-3 overall mark (.805).
It wasn’t until new Michigan Wolverines athletic director Don Canham arrived on the scene in 1968 that the rivalry would be renewed again. Canham, who saw attendance at Michigan Stadium fall to an average of 65,000, figured adding Notre Dame would not only help ticket sales, it would provide some great football.
And he was precisely correct. The modern rivalry has produced some thrilling moments. Who can forget Rocket Ismail’s two kickoff returns for touchdowns in the 1989 Notre Dame victory? Or, a pair of games where kickers decided the issue? Michigan’s faithful suffered a crushing 19-17 defeat when Mike Gillette missed as time ran out in 1988, but was rewarded when Remy Hamilton connected from 42 yards in 1994.
Perhaps the Irish fans figured Michigan had their number for good, when the Wolverines eked out wins on their final possession in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
“The decision to cancel games in 2015-17 was Notre Dame’s and not ours,” Michigan AD Dave Brandon wrote for mgoblue.com. “We value our annual rivalry with Notre Dame but will have to see what the future holds for any continuation of the series. This cancellation presents new scheduling opportunities for our program and provides a chance to create some new rivalries.”
Down in South Bend, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has been making light of the rivalry. Kelly said he didn’t see it “as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries,” going on to call it a “big regional game.” Without saying, Kelly’s comments might have been sour grapes. In his four years as coach of the Irish, Michigan has beaten him three out of four times.
Kelly’s other concern today is the academic investigation surrounding five suspended Irish players.
Starting cornerback KeiVarae Russell, starting wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, defensive end Ishaq Williams, backup linebacker Kendall Moore and reserve safety Eilar Hardy aren’t scheduled to play Saturday against Michigan but could be reinstated at any moment.
Las Vegas sportsbooks have listed the Irish as an early five-point favorite.
Michigan notes: Gardner making news
Despite taking his share of criticism, fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner is moving up Michigan’s statistical ladder. When the season began, Gardner was the top returning total offense leader (286.9 yards per game).
Last year, Gardner set the Wolverine mark for single-game passing yardage with 503 against Indiana Oct. 19, 2013.
He also leads the Wolverines in career passing efficiency (152.4).
Against Appalachian State, Gardner completed 13 of 14 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns. His 92.8 passing percentage is second only to Tate Forcier‘s perfect 12 for 12 performance against Bowling Green in 2010.
First game jitters?
Seven Wolverines started their first collegiate game: junior/sophomore tackle Ben Braden, freshman tackle Mason Cole, junior wide receiver Dennis Norfleet, sophomore/freshman tight end Khalid Hill, junior/sophomore defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow, junior/sophomore safety Jeremy Clark and freshman cornerback Jabrill Peppers.
Ticket demand high
It’s definitely a sellers market for Saturday’s 7:30 pm start at Notre Dame Stadium. After-market seller stubhub.com has less than 1,000 tickets available with prices starting at $356.00.
Bolded players and coaches are linked to sports-reference.com, an enhanced statistical website.