The great sport of college football is fueled by passion, pageantry, and of course, rivalries. While many teams claim the Notre Dame program as one of their rivals, if you asked the Notre Dame fan-base who they consider their true rivals, very few teams would actually be mentioned. One name that would be brought up often, but drenched with disdain while doing so, would be the Michigan Wolverine program. The same school that stakes claim to teaching the Fighting Irish how to play football, has also been one of its longest running opponents.
The first meeting between the schools took place 1887, as the Wolverines with an offensive explosion beat the Irish 8-0, and that would be the start to a series that fans of each respective school would see last well over a century. While the series did go on a 35 year hiatus after the two teams played in 1943, it is a series that has always been viewed as one of the best in the history of college football.
Notre Dame Michigan rivalry a casualty of Notre Dame’s move to the ACC
As the Irish embark on their inaugural journey into the A.C.C., there was bound to be a residual effect, some of a positive nature, some not as much. As part of their contractual agreement in joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, Notre Dame is now obligated to play five opponents out of said conference, and was forced to deviate from its standard scheduling practice that fans have grown accustomed to over the last two decades.
One of the programs that felt the unfair side of conference realignment happened to be the University of Michigan. In 2012, as the Irish and Wolverines were set to do battle in South Bend, through a letter hand delivered by Notre Dame’s own Athletic Director, Jack Swarbrick, Michigan’s A.D., their football program, and their fans were informed that the Notre Dame and Michigan series would be ending after the meeting in Notre Dame Stadium in 2014. While many out of the Michigan program cried foul, Notre Dame was well within their legal and contractual rights to do so, and did so with legitimate reason.
Although required play to a set amount of A.C.C teams, the Irish still have seven open slots per year in which they are free to schedule as they please. While it is easy to look at this fact and question the need to remove the Wolverines, the truth is Notre Dame is more concerned about consistent exposure on a national level, not only for the fans nationwide, but for recruiting purposes also. This is very evident as the Irish program annually participates in the ever popular “Shamrock Series”, facing such opponents as Washington State, University Of Miami, and the latest opponent, Arizona State University, at a neutral site location.
Even with the exclusion of Michigan, the Irish will still have a Midwest presence as they will continue to play Michigan State and in-state rival, Purdue – for now, as for how long that continues, only the powers that be can answer that. What we do know is this, Michigan and Notre Dame rank respectively #1 and #2 in winning percentage, and after 2014, that series is about to come to an end again, and we don’t see it starting up again anytime soon. Will there be another long hiatus, as was seen in the 1940’s? Who knows, but the ending of the series this time was less then amicable, and a certain program’s feelings have been hurt.
Whether you respect Michigan’s program or despise it, there are certain emotions this series created that will be hard to replace. Regardless of how poorly or how well either program was playing in any given year, the series has consistently been hard-fought by both sides. Obviously over the course of the series, there have been meetings that have been incredibly lopsided, this was typically not the case though, and since 2009, only19 points have separated the winner and loser, combined. In fact one would have to go back to the timeframe of 1887to 1908 to find the longest winning streak by either team, which would be 8, by Michigan.
Notre Dame and Michigan were natural rivals
Because of its proximity to South Bend, Michigan is considered a natural rivalry, and even without a mutual conference affiliation, it’s a rivalry that a nation a college football fans annually took interest in. Between the two programs you have two of the best helmets, two of best the fight songs, two of the best stadiums, and two of the best traditions in the sport. No matter what school you root for, both fan-bases would agree that there are very few schools that create a local electricity like these two schools do when they visit each other’s respective campus.
Regardless of recent comments made by Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon, or their football coach, Brady Hoke, that were less than professional, there has been and always will be a certain level of respect from both sides, for each other. This rivalry runs deeper than anyone currently involved it, and has been that way for multiple generations.
So while fans of both programs eagerly await the start of the 2013 season, they should both take time to reflect on this series. With only two games left for the foreseeable future, it will be hard to replace either school for both teams and the excitement that is associated with that given weekend. This series demands a certain level of respect, and I for one will miss the days of watching the Irish play in the Big House, or setting in Notre Dame Stadium as the hated Wolverines come running out of the tunnel.