On November 23, 1887, there were 38 states.
Grover Cleveland was president, the first Democrat to hold the office since before the Civil War.
The population of Los Angeles was 50,000.
Geronimo had just surrendered, but the Indian Wars would continue for another 13 years.
Coca-Cola and the Statue of Liberty were one-year-old. Mark Twain was fifty-four.
The football teams for Southern Cal and Ohio State did not yet exist. The actual city of Miami, Florida did not yet exist.
On November 23, 1887, the University of Michigan football team came to South Bend in their gleaming white uniforms. On a muddy senior campus field, they beat Notre Dame 8-0. Only one “inning” was played. And for their efforts, the Michigan team was given a hearty lunch and a horse-drawn carriage ride to the Niles, Michigan train station.
From that inaugural clash through 1908, Michigan would go on to win eight consecutive matchups by an overall margin of 121-16, their elite collegiate athletes holding a collection of ragtag undersized Catholic kids to zero points for five of the eight games.
But then, 100 years ago this November, it happened. On November 23, 1909, Notre Dame beat Michigan for the very first time. The final score was 11-3.
Today’s Michigan fans would have you believe that Notre Dame is arrogant and overly entitled, that the University and its alum think they’re too good for the Big Ten. What they gloss over is the actual historical record. In 1908, Notre Dame petitioned to join the Western Conference, but under explicit pressure by the University of Michigan, the petition was unanimously rejected. After Notre Dame’s victory in 1909, Michigan’s head football coach Fielding Yost (a raging anti-Catholic, just for the record), orchestrated a campaign to blackball Notre Dame not only from Michigan’s schedule, but from the schedule of all Western Conference schools. Notre Dame would in fact not play another “Big Ten” school until a 0-0 tie with Wisconsin in 1917. And after the loss in 1909, Yost and his coaching successors at Michigan would refuse to play Notre Dame for the next 33 years.
Is Notre Dame proud of its tradition as an independent school? You bet your ass. But before my friends in Ann Arbor start casting aspersions, they might want to stop and realize that our fierce independence was not forged by Knute Rockne, but by their very own “legend,” Fielding Yost.
2009 marks the centennial of Notre Dame’s first victory over Michigan. Since that win, ND has gone 15-13-1 in the series, a South Bend native penned “The Victors,” and more recently Notre Dame rejected the Big Ten’s overtures to join their conference. I’ll have my heaping plate of delicious irony with a side of shepherd’s pie and a tall Guinness, thank you very much.
I hope to see the Irish notch win #16 in the series on Saturday. But win or lose, we can be assured of at least two things: 1) the game will be fiercely contested; and 2) there will be a lot of idiot Michigan fans in the Big House who have no freaking clue about the actual origins of the rivalry.
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