Notre Dame vs Michigan: The two teams began playing each other in 1887.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish kicker Kyle Brindza (27) during the game against the Michigan Wolverines last season at Michigan Stadium. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
(C+P) — On Saturday night, under the lights of Notre Dame Stadium, Michigan and Notre Dame will face off for the final time until 2020 at the earliest.
The Michigan vs. Notre Dame rivalry is one rich in tradition and dates back to 1887. Several years ago the two schools agreed to mutually suspend the rivalry in 2018 and 2019. Two years ago Notre Dame came to an agreement with the ACC to play five games a year while still allowing Notre Dame to maintain their Independence.
By coming to this agreement Notre Dame was forced to make some changes to their schedule and the biggest casualty were the Michigan Wolverines. Notre Dame made the decision to suspend the rivalry for 2015 through 2017 leaving this rivalry with at least a five-year gap.
What makes this rivalry so special is the prestige and history of the two schools. Michigan has the most wins in college football history while Notre Dame ranks third all-time. Both schools have won 11 National Championships tying them with USC for fourth all-time.
The rivalry dates all the way back to 1887 when Notre Dame played its first football game against the University of Michigan. They played again in 1888, but did not play again for 10 years. Michigan and Notre Dame resumed the rivalry in 1898 playing three games between 1898 and 1900. Michigan won all three games by a combined score of 42-0.
After 1902, Michigan and Notre Dame did not schedule games the next five seasons. After the game in 1909 the two teams were scheduled to meet again in 1910, but Michigan canceled the game believing Notre Dame had used two ineligible players. After a long hiatus over the controversial 1909 game the two schools met again for a two-game commitment in 1943 and 1944.
The 1944 game was the first time two top-ranked teams played each other. Finally after 35 years the rivalry returned in 1978, which has become known as the “Reunion Game”. From this point on the two schools have played annually with the exception of 1983, 1995, and 2000. The two teams have played a total of 41 games with Michigan leading the series 24-16 with one tie.
Saturday will once again start another hiatus in this historic rivalry. Both teams are coming into the game 1-0 after commanding performances in their opening games. Michigan has dominated this rivalry recently; winning six of the last eight meetings including a 41-30 win last season.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said, what irritates him is losing three times out of four games against the Wolverines.
”I don’t like losing, so I’d say that I don’t want to lose to Michigan,” Kelly said.
With the rivalry coming to an end at least for the perceivable future this game has drawn a lot of publicity. With mass media coverage this week it would be easy for players to buy into all the hype, but Notre Dame players are trying to downplay it as just another game.
”I don’t think I get into all the hype of it around here,” quarterback Everett Golson said. ”But at the same time, you have to take care of business and prepare. Michigan is a great football team, so it’s going to be a tough one. But we’ll be ready for it.”
Coach Kelly started to downplay the rivalry last year when asked after the game. Kelly initially said he didn’t see the game ”as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries,” going on to call it a ”big regional game.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke accused the Irish of ”chickening out” of the series. After the Wolverines beat the Irish last season, Michigan played the ”Chicken Dance” over the stadium sound system.
Hoke said Saturday he’s disappointed the series is ending.
”It’s always been a great football game. Always. Bo (Schembechler) would say, it kind of lets you know where the team was early in the season because of the similarities of the athletes on the field. I just think for college football, it’s a great rivalry. The significance of being the last one down there, yeah, there’s significance to it,” Hoke said.
The Michigan players seem to feel the same way as their head coach. Michigan defensive end Frank Clark doesn’t like what’s happening.
”That’s one of the big rivals. You got Notre Dame-Michigan. You got Michigan State-Michigan. You got Ohio State vs. Michigan. For a team to opt out of that contract, and to opt out of playing another team that is a great rival and is one of those great games, it’s almost like a slap in the face,” Clark said. ”We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to get the job done.”
Saturday should be another classic matchup between the two historic programs. Look for a great game to be played with plenty of emotion on both sides.