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UM/ND Is A Rivalry Worth Saving

Notre Dame’s decision to end its annual early season game versus Michigan is a win for the Irish and a loss for college football. From the aspect of self-interest, the Irish made the right call. The other part doesn’t matter.

As a condition of its entrance into the Atlantic Coast Contest for all sports but football, Notre Dame agreed to play five fall contests against ACC schools. That means someone had to be left out. With its success against the Irish (leading the series 23-16-1) and Notre Dame having an established recruiting base in the state, Michigan was the obvious choice.

Fattening up on also-ran rivals Navy and Purdue (not to mention a weak ACC schedule), plus traditional middle-of-the-pack opponent Michigan State, is good for the morale of Irish boosters. Newer additions Texas and Stanford, along with old school rival USC, create and maintain a presence in important recruiting areas.

Michigan and Notre Dame met for the final time in Ann Arbor Saturday. Next year’s game in South Bend will be the last until sometime after 2020, when Notre Dame is scheduled to play out-of-ACC games against Texas, Purdue, Southern Cal, Michigan State, Stanford and Navy. And no matter Brian Kelly’s original comment of the game being nothing more than a regional rivalry (Brady Hoke responded by calling the Irish chicken), Michigan/Notre Dame has been a Keith Jackson-quality contest played by college football’s winningest programs.

The rivalry began in 1887, when the Wolverines introduced the Irish to the game. Michigan scheduled a Thanksgiving Day contest against Chicago Harvard School, and Wolverine players George Winthrop DeHaven Jr. and William Warren Harless, who had previously attended Notre Dame, contacted the Irish about playing a game. It was the first time Notre Dame fielded a team, and Michigan won 8-0 in what was essentially a 30-minute exhibition.

The teams continued playing in spurts and managed to generate controversy even during the down years. Both squads finished the 1947 season with 9-0 records. After trading the top spot for weeks, Notre Dame finished No. 1 in the AP poll, winning the national title.

Michigan beat USC 49-0 in the Rose Bowl, and since the Irish did not play in a bowl game, Wolverine fans naturally considered their team to be the best. Irish faithful countered that Michigan simply ran up the score on a weak Trojan team and that the conference was afraid to schedule Notre Dame. The arguing got so fierce that AP scheduled a second vote, this time the Wolverines came out on top. Notre Dame still holds the AP trophy and both schools claim the title.

After more time off, the series was renewed when the school’s athletic directors agreed in 1969 to a series of games beginning in 1978. The agreement caused then-new Michigan coach Bo Schembechler to reportedly tell his friend Ara Parseghian, “I’m gonna whip your ass!” The two never matched up, but the schools did combine to produce a number of college football’s greatest games.

* 1979: No. 6 Michigan outgains Notre Dame 306 yards to 179, but the Irish win 12-10.

* 1980: No. 12 Michigan erases a 14-0 first-half deficit against No. 8 Notre Dame, taking a 27-26 lead with 41 seconds remaining. The Irish drive to the Wolverine 20 and kick a game-winning 51-yard field goal as time expires.

* 1986: Notre Dame gains 455 yards of offense and never punts, but costly turnovers keep Michigan in the game. The Irish miss a late field goal and Michigan holds on to win 24-23.

* 1988: Ricky Waters returns a punt 81 yards for a touchdown. Irish win 19-17.

* 1989: In Schembechler’s last season, Rocket Ismail returns two consecutive kickoffs for touchdowns. Irish win 24-19.

* 1991: Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac completes 20 of 22 passes and Desmond Howard’s Heisman campaign begins with a diving touchdown grab on fourth-and-one.

* 1993: Notre Dame 27, Michigan 23

* 1994: Michigan 26, Notre Dame 24

* 2002: Michigan 25, Notre Dame 23

* 2009: Notre Dame leads 34-31 until Michigan QB Tate Forcier throws a touch-down pass to Greg Mathews with 11 seconds left to win the game 38-34.

* 2010: In his second start, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson runs for 258 yards, throws for 244 yards and the Wolverines win 28-24.

* 2011: Irish lead 24-7 entering the fourth quarter. Michigan scores three times to take a 28-24 lead with 1:22 remaining. A Notre Dame touchdown with 30 seconds left gives the Irish a lead but the Wolverines drive 80 yards and score with two seconds remaining to win 35-31.