Notre Dame and Michigan prepare to say goodbye, at least for now
Notre Dame and Michigan will play the last meeting in their storied series, at least for the foreseeable future. Jon Solomon looks back at the Irish-Wolverines rivalry.
Notre Dame and Michigan are separated by six ten-thousandths of a point as college football’s all-time winning percentage leaders. They are so bunched together -- by geography, by recruiting battles, by success -- that Saturday’s winner will be the NCAA leader in winning percentage.
Then these two popular college football brands will split apart, ending their series as Notre Dame adjusts for playing ACC opponents and keeping other games. How long Notre Dame and Michigan will go on hiatus? No one knows.
|All-Time Winning Percentage|
|1. Notre Dame||875-305-42||.7332|
|4. Boise State||396-154-2||.7192|
|5. Ohio State||850-318-53||.7179|
“It’s really disappointing it’s going away,” former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “It speaks to the fact that longtime great traditions -- the greatness of college football -- are in many respects losing out. Now, we have to hope some of the new traditions will take effect. But for the old-timers like me, I’m just disappointed to see those great rivalries end.”
Michigan leads Notre Dame 24-16-1 all-time in the series since it started in 1887. After 1909, the teams did not meet for another 33 years. The series took a 35-year break after 1943.
Since renewing the rivalry in 1978, Notre Dame and Michigan have played every season except 1983, 1984, 1996, 2000 and 2001. Michigan holds a 15-14-1 edge since the series resumed in 1978.
“As a former player, and I’m sure some of the fans feel this way too, I care it’s going away,” former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn said. “It’s been a great rivalry for quite some time and there’s a lot of similar recruiting between these teams. You knew you were in a dog fight in this game. Times have changed. There’s a College Football Playoff system now and in order to have an opportunity to get into it, Notre Dame had to quasi-align themselves with a conference.”
It was only seven years ago that Notre Dame and Michigan announced they would play annually through 2031. But in 2012, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick informed Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon that Notre Dame would be ending the series.
Notre Dame senior associate athletic director John Heisler said the Irish’s decision was based in part on the Big Ten soon going to nine conference games and what that might mean for the series.
“From our standpoint, part of the notion of being independent is you ought to be able to play a lot of different people,” Heisler said. “When Dick Rosenthal was our AD (from 1987 to 1995), at one point he made a conscious effort to do more of that because he just thought there was too much of a sameness to our schedule and we ought to have the flexibility to play a lot of different people. With us being one of the very few independents, we have that flexibility.”
Notre Dame won’t give up strong historical games with USC and Navy and is keeping its series with Stanford to maintain a presence in California every year. New series will emerge. Notre Dame plays Texas in 2015 and ’16, Georgia in '17 and ’19, and Ohio State in '22 and '23.
“I’m not going to go so far as to categorize not playing (Michigan) anymore is a good idea, because that’s going to come back to me,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said at his news conference this week. “So I’m going to stay away from that. I will say this: Given the complexities of our schedule, in not being able to play Michigan, it opens up so many more exciting opportunities for us.”
What can’t be precisely measured is what gets lost when hated rivals stop playing. As Michigan defensive end Frank Clark put it this week to The Chicago Tribune about visiting Notre Dame, “I didn’t know there were so many people who would flick me off in front of Mary.”
Yes, Notre Dame and Michigan have largely been off the radar for national title contention in recent years. Still, four of the past five games have been decided by a touchdown or less, including Michigan’s wild 35-31 victory in 2011 before an NCAA-record crowd of 114,804.
“Even though this rivalry in terms of the number of games is not as long as some of the others, it was a great rivalry for the sport and for the fans,” Carr said. “I don’t know any football fan who doesn’t want to know what happened in that game when Michigan is playing Notre Dame. These games have given us some great moments.”
- Bob Crable’s blocked field goal in the waning seconds when he leaped off a player’s back to preserve Notre Dame’s win in 1979.
- Harry Oliver’s last-second, 51-yard goal field goal for Notre Dame to win in 1980.
- Reggie Ho’s field goal with 1:13 left for Notre Dame and then Michigan’s missed kick, jumpstarting the Irish’s 1988 national championship season.
- Rocket Ismail’s two kickoff returns for touchdowns for Notre Dame in 1989.
- Desmond Howard’s diving touchdown catch for Michigan in 1991 that helped propel him to the Heisman Trophy.
- Denard Robinson’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Roy Rouondtree with two seconds left for a Michigan win in 2011.
"I had a 2-1 record vs. Michigan, but you better believe I remember my senior season losing to Michigan,” Quinn said. “I would have rather lost the one earlier than my senior year. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. You know there’s going to be extra bragging rights after this one.”
Michigan vs. Notre Dame. One last time … for now.
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