Irish Stewed: The Road Less Traveled from 1887

The date was November 23, 1887. Geronimo had just surrendered. Coca-Cola and the Statue of Liberty were one-year-old. The population of Los Angeles was 50,000. Neither the University of Southern California nor Ohio State University had football teams. And never mind a football team or even a university, the actual city of Miami, Florida did not exist.

It was nearly seven o’clock on a soggy Wednesday morning when a University of Michigan student wiped some moisture from the Michigan Central Railroad coach window and peeped into the gloom.

“South Bend,” crowed the conductor.

Notre Dame-Michigan is the oldest Div I-A college football rivalry

“At last,” groaned the Michigan student. He and his companions tumbled off the train to the smiling, glad-handing welcome of a well-dressed group of Notre Dame undergraduates. A quick trip to campus was followed by a two-hour tour of that obscure little university.It wasn’t much.

A big building with a dome; a church; a grade school; an agriculture barn; and a few other scattered structures. There were signs of construction in progress here and there. The visitors were informed that the school had recently converted from gasoline lamps to the new Edison electric lights. None of which impressed the Michigan students as much as the unnerving sight of Catholic priests, hovering everywhere in those swirling cassocks.

Finally the boys from up North asked permission to withdraw. They reappeared a few moments later at the muddy senior campus field dressed in uniforms of spotless white. A few moments of instruction were given, and a team of Notre Dame undergraduates squared off against the champions from Michigan. It was the first inter-collegiate football game at the University of Notre Dame.

In the span of one “inning,” the visitors from Michigan slogged to an uninspired 8-0 victory and literally taught Notre Dame the game of football. Notre Dame sort of returned the favor in 1898 when Louis Elbel, a South Bend native, wrote the world’s second-greatest fight song, “The Victors.”

Truthfully, Notre Dame was little more than junior varsity tackling dummies for a seasoned Michigan program, losing the first eight games of the series by a combined score of 121-16. But then it happened. In 1909, Notre Dame finally beat Michigan 11-3.

Fielding Yost, the legendary Michigan coach, was beside himself. Channeling the anti-Catholic sentiment of the era (Notre Dame’s side of the story) and spurious claims that Notre Dame used academically ineligible players (Michigan’s side of the story), Yost abruptly canceled the teams’ 1910 game and managed to blackball Notre Dame not only from Michigan’s athletic schedule, but from the schedules of the entire Western/Big Ten Conference.

The Irish would eventually resume playing Big Ten teams, beginning with a 0-0 tie versus Wisconsin in 1917, but the seeds of animosity between ND and UM had been planted, ostensibly forever. There was a brief glimmer of hope when Notre Dame and Michigan agreed to a home-and-home series for the 1942 and 1943 seasons. The 1943 matchup featured the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, with the former being Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish won handily 35-12 in Ann Arbor and went on to win the national championship. It was Michigan’s only loss of the season and spoiled Michigan coach Fritz Crisler’s run for his first national championship. Crisler refused to play Notre Dame again, and the series did not resume again until 1978. From 1910 through 1977, this would be the only two times Notre Dame and Michigan played one another.

Still, what’s done is done, and the saddest of Irish fans is the one who holds fast to gridiron ghosts and dusty trophies. Harboring resentment for something that happened in 1910 or even 1943 is like my crotchety old Irish grandfather still hating the British. The Michigan boycott inevitably ended, their series with Notre Dame resumed in 1978 and, aside from a couple years off here and there, has continued uninterrupted. Yes, I realize jackasses like Bo “to hell with Notre Dame” Schembechler—whose resume still lists zero national championships, in case anyone’s counting—have done their best to continue the Michigan coaching fraternity tradition of crapping on Notre Dame. But beyond the soap opera, the games themselves have been nothing short of magnificent. For better or worse, I personally was in attendance for Harry O’s Field Goal in ’80, Reggie Ho’s Heroics in ’88, Rocket’s Returns in ’89, The Catch in ’91, the Tie in ’92, and in 1993, during the brief time I was actually a resident in Ann Arbor, I got to watch from halfway up on the 30-yardline an arrogant Big House eat a delicious plate of blue-and-gold crow.

As Notre Dame fans, most of grow up believing USC is our biggest, most historic rival, but I’m not buying it. There’s something uniquely intense and contentious when the Wolverines come to town. While the USC-ND matchup is certainly long and illustrious, in my lifetime it has been kind of ho-hum, characterized by one team dominating the series for decades at a time. From 1967 to 1982, ND went 2-12-2 versus Southern Cal. From 1983 to 1995, ND went 12-0-1. Currently, ND hasn’t beaten the Men from Troy since 2001.

And the Michigan series? The average score of four of the last five games in Notre Dame Stadium has been 29-26. No matter how good or bad they are, these two teams consistently play one another close. By comparison, the average margin of victory in USC’s current eight-game winning streak over the Irish is 22 points.

A Notre Dame alum once told me something that I think sums up the ND-UM matchup quite succinctly: “USC is our rival, but Michigan is our enemy.” (An old UHND article focused on Michigan being Notre Dame’s enemy as well).   The road this rivalry has traveled from 1887 hasn’t been without its potholes. What it’s lacked in sheer longevity—I think the Notre Dame-Navy “rivalry” is about as compelling as an interleague baseball game between the Padres and the Mariners, not that anyone asked—it’s more than made up for in intensity and drama.

Following its victory in 1887, the Michigan team was treated by Notre Dame to a hearty lunch and a throng of cheering ND students as they boarded a caravan of horse-drawn carriages bound for the Niles, Michigan train station. If you don’t mind, Coach Kelly, I’d really like to see you kick Michigan’s ass and their sendoff circa 2010 to be a tad less hospitable.

(Book excerpt from Out of Bounds: An Anecdotal History of Notre Dame Football, Michael Bonifer and L.G. Weaver, Piper Publishing, Inc., 1978)

McSweeney is a longtime blogger and poster on UHND. His novel, EXOTIC MUSIC OF THE BELLY DANCER, a coming-of-age story about sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, and Notre Dame football, is available as an e-book on Amazon by clicking here.

You may also like


  1. They should be relatively challenging, but you should ensurethat you can meet them, with a minimum of pain, every time.Most of them are full of sugar and processed flour. For anybody who isscanning this report, I would guess that you are looking to register with Visalus andso are searching around for reputable information about Visalus Sciences.

  2. Nice article. I spent some time doing research in the Scholastic this summer at ND. In the Scholastic, I read about that first game when we beat Michigan and the all of the fallout from it. Very interesting stuff. Reading those old scholastics, its very interesting to see how the school morphs from caring primarily about baseball to football. By the end of the nineteenth century, football is the undisputed #1 at ND.

  3. Menotti,
    It’s just bottom feeding. Instead of just talking about football, people like R.Will need to spew hatred of people and things off of the field. It’s sad really that someone would feel the need to come to a site about ND football and do that.

    It would have been legitimate if he had cogently and respectfully made his case. He could have taken issue with the statistics only. And he could have attempted to show why he thought those statistics did not represent the whole truth.

    But, once someone starts namecalling and debasing out of hate, it’s all over. You kwow they’ve already lost. It’s one thing to do it in jest, but that’s not what he’s doing.

    It’s best to ignore because the trolls that come here and do this get off on the attention. I’ve never been able to figure out why someone would go to a rival site and perform cowardly hit and run tactics, but it is what it is.

    1. JDH,

      Yes, I agree with you that people like R. Will definitely use the “hit and run tactics” that you described. Also, you’re right that it’s best to ignore them when they’re slandering our team, us as people, or on other matters, but I just won’t be silent when people wrongfully attack the Catholic Church by spewing out ridiculous blubbering and mindless hate rants that have zero credibility when it comes to the truth. The fact is that way too many people actually believe the crap that R. Will was implying in his hate rant because they just don’t know any better. Thus, I figured that hopefully someone — probably not R. Will, but hopefully at least one person– will stumble upon this and learn the truth on those matters. The media never gets it right when it comes to these matters and many Catholics themselves aren’t so sure either, so it can’t hurt to make an attempt at promoting the truth in my eyes.

      Now, if someone actually didn’t like something about the Catholic Church that the Church actually promotes, teaches, or represents in truth, then I’d have no problem with them voicing their opinion — even on this site — as long as it wasn’t hateful and was a rationally thought out statement. Then again, that would presuppose respectfulness as one’s disposition on matters like these, which people like R. Will unfortunately don’t take the time to think about before their mouths start running. Hopefully that will change one day — there’s always hope they’ll see the light.

  4. R. Will,

    I don’t really mind the mindless ND criticism that you’ve babbled on about in your response, albeit I’m a ND fan, but in all honesty you’re anti-catholic rant at the end of it is just ignorant garbage. Granted, anti-catholicism is the last standing prejudice that is ok to express publicaly in this nation (read the secular media’s newspapers if you disagree), but at least get you’re facts straight before you run your mouth and show just how ignorant you are. The Catholic Church is not against all forms of stem cell research, just embryonic stem cell research. Read that one more time since it might take you a minute to compute the syntax properly… ONLY embryonic stem cell research is morally appalling in the eyes of the Catholic Church (the Church ENCOURAGES adult stem cell research)! Why? Because babies should not be lab experiments, nor should their right to life be trampled on, and embryonic stem cell research has abortifacient results just like hormonal contraception does (that’s right, hormonal contraception doesn’t prevent conception, but it does prevent the newly conceived embryo’s/child’s implantation on the uterus. Thus, it’s caused incalculable amounts of abortions since it’s arrival in the mid-20th century. Look it up if you don’t believe me — even Planned Parenthood doesn’t deny that it prevents implantation rather than conception).

    As for the Inquisition, it was not world- wide or universally occurring everywhere like people think it was (occurred locally in Rome (1500s), Spain (late 1400s), France (1100s), and possibly in parts of the Holy Roman Empire; there were not around 50-95 million deaths during these seperate, local inquisitions like many people tend to think (there weren’t even 50-95 million PEOPLE in Europe until the modern era), and the main purpose of it was to inquire — hence the word “Inquisition” — about alleged Catholic peoples’ faith, mainly to clear their names of false accusations of being heretics, not to snuff out and burn every Protestant at the stake that they could find. Unfortunately, there were abuses of it and there were many people who sufered and died unjustly (a few thousand), but the Inquisition and its maltreatment of heretical Catholics is often paralleled and made synonymous to the Nazis’ concentration camp effort to exterminate the Jews, which is bogus anti-catholic history (I should know — I have a history degree).

    Final thoughts: the internet provides an opportuity to speak your mind without face-to-face confrontation. However, prejudice is still prejudice no matter how it’s spoken or thought out. Try learning something factual before you open your mouth next time for your own sake and ours. Also, try writing/speaking rationally, not emotionally and reactionary.

    1. Cripes. We got R. Mill on one side giving Michigan fans a bad name, and now we got an EWTN-watching, Opus Dei polemic giving Catholics a bad name.

      Can’t we just talk Notre Dame football without descending into a debate about stem cells, secularist bogeymen, and a woe-is-the-persecuted-Catholic martyr complex? You can’t lecture someone about being rational and then in the same breath devolve into this foaming-at-the-mouth pre-Vatican II Catholic who thinks modernism is evil and that the world is out to get the Mother Church.

      1. McSweeney:

        I agree. BTW, I’m a Notre Dame Grad and I DO like EWTN and —get this–am part Jewish too!! LOL
        I think Ann Arbor is a GREAT town with A LOT more culture than South Bend.
        I respect Michigan and LOVE the IRISH!
        * BTW, the Inquisition killed several more than Menotti claims–all in the name of Religion. GOD must be weeping.
        To be sure, I thought GOD was shining through in the waning moments of the game versus Michigan with the sunshine breaking through the clouds!

      1. C-Dog,


        How could you speak the name Robert G?

        It’s like Beetlejuice, say his name too often had he is likely to appear!

        I thought he got himself banished from every blog in America and went back to the planet Woo-woo.

      2. Well either he’s passed on, may he rest in piece, ( or hopefully those souls around him. Seriously can you imaging angels or saints getting pissed off ? )

        Or Bob is dribbling in his cheerios wrapped in a straight jacket with a guy in a white outfit standign behind him.

        But posts above did bring him to mind.

      -anti-Catholicism is NOT the last standing prejuidice to be OK about. As for your take on the Inquisition–the “HOLY” Empire and the “HOLY” Church are two different things. The latter of the two is indeed-HOLY-the former not so much-if at all.
      To deny that is anti-Catholic and anti-faith altogether.
      As for me, an ND grad, Catholic and of Jewish descent, I resent the fact that you say “unfortunately” some died. As for “heretic” perhaps these “heretics” say the actions of supposedly “devout Catholics” killing for an empire ( and not the Church) and thought–if THAT is Christian than I will worship Jesus in another way-hence heretical in political terms ONLY. Again, the Empire was ANYTHING but HOLY giving a huge blemish of empty creeds to the name of the Church while TRUE Catholics and Christians
      ( yes–there are Christians who are NOT Catholic) would be doing the work of GOD in their lives.
      AS for ND football–GO IRISH.
      AS for you Menotti, you want to debate? BRING IT ON-I’m pro-life, Catholic, ( again, Part Jewish and pro-Israel)
      and can make your account and “knowledge” of history blush in the twinking of an eye. KOL NIDRE probably is lost on you for your lack of history.
      TO THE REST of YOU :
      AND BTW,
      THIS HAS GOT TO BE BETTER THAN CHARLIE, WILLINGHAM and ANYTHING-including my 9 year old is BETTER than bob davie ( lower case letters intentional on that mans name and his pronunciation of FOOTBAW–what an idiot)
      My prediction?
      Irish at worst 8-4
      Pray for the Michigan State Coach that he recovers.

    3. Menotti:

      I’m an ND grad AND Catholic -conservative for the most part AND part Jewish too.
      If you REALLY think that just ” few thousand” died then you are sadly mistaken.
      If you knew ANYTHING about Jewish History–( not on the whole but something) you would recognize that KOL NIDRE done during Yom Kippor is a sacred piece speaking of vows and what not and the thousands upon thousands forced to convert. ( so much for Christian Love and Charity there)
      Mind you, I’m Catholic and of Jewish Blood on one side. As for the Church, it is HOLY.
      AS for the Empire, Well that is something else entirely.
      BTW, the papacy at times was filled with debauchery and what not that would make many blush today. I’ll debate you ANYDAY, ANYTIME, ANYWHERE on your “numbers” of ” a few thousand” and just how really “UNFORTUNATE” it was.
      Weapons to remove tongues, racks to stretch people are not made for just a “few thousand” Jewish, Catholic or otherwise. The Church Sacremental is one thing.
      The Church Political has grevious things on its heart and must be called for it–including giving items of Jewish Antiquity BACK to Israel which is in the hands of the Papacy. ( These items were taken from the HOLY TEMPLE destroyed in 70 by Rome-not the Church. Still, the Church has them and these sacred items do NOT belong to the Church.)
      Meanwhile, Menotti, I commented on your comments.
      Why would you even go on a Catholic martyr stint on this site? You want real persecution? Check out the Jews or American Indians.
      the persecution of lighter status to Irish fans has ceased now that Weiss is gone.
      I really think Kelly will be the good coach he is called to be. Meanwhile, I’ll debate you ANYTIME bud. As a CATHOLIC with more info on ND FOOTBALL and Romanism and History than your degree can ever take. Bring it.
      I’d love it. I’ll win -hands down.
      Let’s hope the Irish do too in future games.
      ( Now pagan Stanford comes to town –the same stanford which mocked The Church with disgusting rigor in a halftime show–) They looked good last week and I’m hoping we can hold them down.
      2 close losses is a toll on the emotions.
      ( so is Catholic martyr complex and the statements -“only a few thousand” or so here and there. Uhh-huh.)

  5. “From 1967 to 1982, ND went 2-12-2 versus Southern Cal. From 1983 to 1995, ND went 12-0-1. Currently, ND hasn’t beaten the Men from Troy since 2001.

    And the Michigan series? The average score of four of the last five games in Notre Dame Stadium has been 29-26. No matter how good or bad they are, these two teams consistently play one another close. By comparison, the average margin of victory in USC’s current eight-game winning streak over the Irish is 22 points.”

    It is interesting that this article recounts a great deal of the history between the schools, refers to the early Michigan victories, refers to the record against USC and how close the games have been, but doesn’t make mention of the post 1978 record in the series. Pretty slippery presentation. Are we to believe, by some sort of bizarre transitivity, that the Irish have emulated their success against USC with a corresponding success record against Michigan? What is the modern record? Who has the most “W’s” in the “modern era? Are we really to believe that the presentation of Michigan’s role in the history of the interaction between the two schools is really the unvarnished reality of that interaction?

    Shouldn’t you be out there fighting against stem cell research or otherwise trying to roll the calendar back to the Inquisition? How about a new strategy: try telling the truth about the rivalry…just for a change of pace.

    1. The truth? What part of me giving both the Notre Dame AND Michigan sides of the story in regards to why the series was dropped for most of the 20th century did you not understand? There’s not a single false statement in the article.

      The modern record of the series? Glad you asked, Mr. Will. Since the ND-UM series resumed in 1978, the Irish have a 14-12 record.

      Do you need me to get you a chair–you know, since you don’t have a freaking leg to stand on in this discussion? Read more, post less.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button