The Notre Dame and Michigan Rivalry – A Full History

Notre Dame - Michigan 2014
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Michigan Wolverines line up at the line of scrimmage in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 13-6. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame and Michigan’s football histories are inexorably intertwined, however inconvenient that truth seems to some folks in South Bend and Ann Arbor.


Notre Dame’s first football game EVER (partisans mark this rather than the Rutgers-Princeton game as the TRUE commencement of College Football) was on the day before Thanksgiving in 1887. The Michigan team had three players who were transfers from Notre Dame, and they had persuaded the Michigan powers to contact Notre Dame about a game while the Wolverines were “on the way” to Chicago for a Thanksgiving Day clash with the Chicago Harvard Club. Brother Paul, the head of sports at ND, consented. The Michigan team came in on the morning train and “taught” the Irish players the rudiments of football in a practice session before the game.

On a field that was unplayable in the November weather, a problem which Notre Dame addressed and fixed a swift, crisp 127 years later, Michigan won 8-0 when the game was called at halftime because of the first semi-officially recorded “quagmire.”

NOTE: On March 4, 1888, just a few months after this first contest, Lars and Martha Rockne enjoyed the birth of a baby boy who they named Knute in Split, Norway.For unto us a child is born…..

Notre Dame really enjoyed its taste of football. The Irish played Michigan twice more in ”88 losing both tilts. But the Irish were on the move and expanded to a five game schedule by 1893. Fielding “Hurry-up” Yost was ruling the roost in College Football and his Michigan teams were known for scoring a point-a-minute. Then the Michigan squad played Notre Dame in neutral, and equally insipid, Toledo in 1902. The Irish were stout and Michigan only led 5-0 at half, finishing the game with a 23-0 margin. This was considered a moral victory for Notre Dame and an embarrassment for Yost and his squad. Yost was less than amused.

Michigan won the first 8 games on the intermittent series by a combined 121 to 16.

November 6, 1909 the birth of the “Fighting Irish,” the end of a rivalry In Ann Arbor, two historic events occured on November 6, 1909. First the Notre Dame team beat Michigan 11-3, its first win in the series..

Then a sportswriter for the Detroit Free Press penned the folloowing lead for the game story:

“Eleven Fighting Irishman wrecked the Yost machine this afternoon. The sons of Erin, individually and collectively representing the University of Notre Dame, not only beat the Michigan team, but dashed some of Michigan’s greatest hopes and shattered Michigan’s fairest dreams.”

Well, the nickname stuck and had the right blend of accuracy and elan to serve as the symbol for college football’s greatest program.

Yost, in a remarkable display of arrogance, canceled the return match in South Bend as he protested that the Irish were going to use two players who should have been ineligible. The memo about “tending your own sheep” had not quite reached the irascible Yost’s mind, if not his desk.

Knute Rockne, ND ’14, was particularly incensed both that Yost would not play Notre Dame and that Yost strong-armed the Big Ten to not admit Notre Dame nor to allow its teams to play Notre Dame.


Hypotheticals are invidious, but Notre Dame may not have become the team and school we love had it entered the Big Ten. After Yost played Nicolo Machiavelli to scuttle Notre Dame’s misguided entreaties to the Big Ten, the Irish immediatly began scheduling teams from the East. Then, in a sheer stroke of visionary marketing genius, Rockne negotiated with Howard Jones to play the annual Notre Dame-USC game. The series began in 1926, and this established true intersectional football, cemented Notre Dame’s preeminence as a national power and validated college football on the “American Frontier” of the West Coast.

Rockne, typically understated, spoke about Yost:

“a hillbilly who was forever grinding a religious ax against Notre Dame, who was crooked as a dog’s hind leg, who was selfish and vain beyond comprehension. Yost was blindly jealous of Notre Dame’s success and ascension to national dominance and coached boring, Neanderthal football.”

So, Yost and Rockne were not invited to a lot of the same parties. But while Yost’s parties apparently were sponsored by gap-toothed Catholic-hatin’, Neanderthal football playin’ hillbillies, Rockne’s were sponsored by the folks who honored Knute for the National Championships he won in ’19, ’20, ’24, ’29 and ’30.

Watch: Notre Dame WR Miles Boykin's Ridiculous Game Winning TD

Our crack research staff attempted to find out if Rockne sent Yost laminated copies of Granny Rice’s article about the Four Horsemen and the then iconic photo of the the Four atop their steeds, but we, at press time, can neither confirm nor deny. At this point we would aver that Yost and his lackeys gritted their teeth in envy and anger, but that act of teeth-gritting is a challenge for the average gap-toothed hillbilly, or so we have heard.


Rockne, ever shrewd and opportunistic, knew he heeded a new stadium, and he demanded one from the good fathers. He told them he wanted one that was built and contoured like Michigan Stadium, even if not as large. Otherwise, Knute suggested, he might have to return some of those calls he was getting. Blending modernization with tradition, Rock had the field sodded with the hallowed turf of Cartier Field when Notre Stadium opened in 1930


It is not then surprising that Yost would not play Notre Dame, and there were 33 seasons before Fritz Crisler agreed to break the ice and schedule a home and home series in ’42 and ’43. Michigan won in South Bend in 1942 by a 32-20 margin over Leahy, then in his second year. Leahy would not lose again in South Bend until 1950, on that fateful day when Dale Samuels led Purdue to a win over the Irish. In ’43, however, Leahy led a skilled team, led by the magnificent Angelo Bertelli to a 35-12 drubbing of Michigan in Ann Arbor. This incensed the Michigan community, now brainwashed by three decades of Yost’s vitriol, and there was no eagerness to play the Irish. That ’43 game was by far the worst home defeat of Fritz Crisler’s successful reign.


Thus, Notre Dame and Michigan had another 45 year hiatus. This would result in there being only two games between the two in 70 seasons between ’09 AND ’78.

In the meantime, Notre Dame forced the Big Ten to change its schedule, making September the only time time for any Michigan ND games. As they say, you can look this up. It all happened in 1966. That was a different football era. Notre Dame was yet three years away from lifting its self-imposed ban on playing bowls. And Michigan State had been to the Rose Bowl the prior year and thus could not repeat, nor, in those ancient days, go to any other bowl.

Now, reasonable minds can differ, but these eyes have never, not with Texas/Arkansas in ’69, Nebraska/OU in ’71, not with ND/ Miami in ’88, not with USC/Texas ’05, not with Bama/LSU in ’11 seen a year in which the two best teams were so far above the rest (folks in Tuscaloosa differ about ‘;66, but I know what I saw). So as there was a buildup to the game, the nation pretty much knew that this game, on 11/19/66 would decide the National championship and effectively conclude the season.

It was Michigan State’s last game and Notre dame’s second last with just USC following. So it sucked the air out of the Big Ten’s balloon and made even the alleged epic battle betyween Michigan and Ohio State, played that same day, third page news. Imagine the fraternal glee washing over Ann Arbor as the two hated upstarts, Notre Dame and Michigan State, received ALL the attention. The Big Ten seethed and thus changed their scheduling rule to prohibit non-conference games after the Big Ten season started, and they stuck to that until Penn State because the 11th team. Inbred Big Ten twits!

So Big Ten, and Michigan, you didn’t let us in but we changed your scheduling practices because of our greatness and popularity. Excellence changes mediocrity, never vice versa.


With Don Canham as Athletic Director, Michigan was interested in reopening the sries. It didn’t hurt, that Glenn E. Schembechler, the Michigan Coach, had played football for for Ara Raoul Parseghian while Bo and his fellow offensive linemen were matiriculatin’ the ball down the field for Ara’s Miami of Ohio team. For the first time in decades, mutuality of respect and honor were being restored.

Ara was retired when the the series restarted in 1978

Post Game 6-Pack: Book, Boykin Power Notre Dame Bowl Win

1978: Dan Devine was coaching the Irish, fresh off the magnificent ’77 national championship and the massacre of Bevo and Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Devine had averred that “They’ll have to take the chanmpionship away from us on the field,” Ok, Dan, have it your way. and so it was. For after Mizzou came in and upset the irish 3-0 in the ’78 opener, Ricky the Peach Leach led Bo’s Woverines over the Irish 28-14.

1979: Chuck Male had a good day kicking and Bob Crable made a heroic block late to seal a tense 12-10 win for the Irish.

1980: One of the series’ oddest games. Devine and Schembechler both coached fundamentally sound football, but this game was a comedy of errors and strange plays. A Michigan defender, well, sort of committed mayhem against Tony Hunter and Kiel and the Irish moved downfield on one of the most protested interference calls of all time. Harry Oliver lined up for a ”51 yard field goal, and many attendees seem to remember the wind dying down. Harry O was true and the Irish prevailed 29-27. Let’s let Ufer finish the story.

The iconic Bob Ufer, the last airbender from an era when radio, not TV, was most important (folks from Texas of a certain age will remember Kern Tips) had the following, saddened, disoriented call at the end of the game:

“It’s 27-26, this will be the last play of the ball game
Holding will be Tim Koegel, a quarterback
Kicking will be Harry Oliver #3
Michigan has 9 men up front
It’s spotted, it’s kicked, its end over end
It’s good.
Notre Dame wins 30-29
Notre Dame wins 30-27
Notre Dame win 29-27……
and we’ll be back over this, the Michigan Football Network”

1982: In the first of what would be many night games at Notre Dame, (“Musco Lighting”) The Irish leapt to a big lead with Larry Moriarity pounding the Wolves, and hung on to win 23-17.

1986: In Holtz’ first game as ND head coach, the Irish shook off the cobwebs of the Faust regime and lost 24-23 when John Carney could not convert a late field goal. Bo would NEVER beat Notre Dame again

1987:  The Irish romped in Ann Arbor with local kid Terry Andrysiak from Allen Park MI leading the Irish, Ricky Watters looked like the next thing with that long stride. Notre Dame 26-Michigan 7.

1988: HO HO HO HO! The Irish, enroute to a national championship, rode Watters’ TD punt return and 4 Reggie Ho field goals to a 19-17 win. Notre Dame scored all of its points on special teams.

1989: 25 years ago. A game all Notre Dame fans will always remember and never forget. It was #1 versus #2 and while it is poignant, it is probably realistic that there will never again be a Michigan-Notre Dame game when they are the two top-ranked teams in the country. Bo was ready to pound the Irish with a massive OL and elephant backs Jarrod Bunch and Leroy Hoard. But the Irish defense would not allow that. Raghib “the Rocket” Ismail scored two kickoff return touchdowns on a wet carpet in Ann Arbor confounding Bo and the Michigan partisans24-19. Bo had never lost to the same team three years in a row, until that day. Bo retired 1-3 against Lou Holtz.

Lou had more difficulty with Gary Moeller, going 2-2-1 One of the losses was the ’91 game, in which Michigan shut down Bettis. A late pass from Elvis Grbac to Desmond Howard sealed the 24-14 Michigan win and turbocharged Howard’s Heisman campaign. In a masterful performance by Kevin McDougal, Notre Dame led early and then held off the late charging Michigan to win 27-24 in that nearly magical season of 1993 when the Irish vanquished the “all-time greatest team,” Florida State and its Heisman QB Charley Ward, only to lose to Boston College.


So we arrive here, at this final battleground. The two winningest teams in college football. Riding the momentum of the original 8 game winning streak, Michigan leads 24-16-1. No further games are scheduled so there is another hiatus. Notre Dame now turns its gaze toward the ACC.

Well, many thought the Apocalypse was upon us when the Cubs started playing night games at Wrigley. And Beano Cook, in his twilight, opined that he thought that civilization, as we know it, would end when teams not from the Pac-10 or the Big Ten played in the Rose Bowl. Things change, life goes on. And so it will.

Lingering Questions for Notre Dame on Eve of Citrus Bowl

There is only one task at hand. You see, back with Yost in ’09, and then with Crisler in ’43, and Schembechler’s last year in ’89, Notre Dame has always won the last game before the long hiatus. It’s time to resurrect that ancient ritual. Resurrect-with Extreme Prejudice!

Go Irish, Beat Michigan!

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  1. Kiwifan 3 years ago

    Really interesting, well done Duranko.

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  2. clubgitmo 3 years ago

    Irish win 31-26.

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    1. Ron Burgundy 3 years ago

      Whoa, that’s awesome! Can’t believe I slept through another one.

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      1. clubgitmo 3 years ago

        You were probably in an alcohol induced coma which leads to the crap you post.

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      2. Ron Burgundy 3 years ago

        You are always on top of things gitty.

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  3. Jack 3 years ago

    Win the Game! And keep the all-time pct. lead.

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  4. drew 3 years ago

    Michigan’s program is trending down. It will be enjoyable watching them sink “in the west”.

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    1. George 3 years ago

      They’ve been trending down for years now, since the loss to App State I’ve heard some argue, but that CLEARLY hasn’t helped ND at all.

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      1. duranko 3 years ago

        well, while it may be a truism, when your neighbor’s house burns down, it does not make your house bigger

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  5. Damian 3 years ago

    Great read. People forget Michigan (and to some extent Ohio State) blackballed ND out of the Big Ten, and not only that, used their influence to keep ND off the schedules of the other Big Ten teams. I’ve always found the Meatchickens to be a bunch of whiners, even today. When they lose, it’s because they lost the game, not because the other team was better, or it was the officiating.

    I love to rub it in their noses when they talk about ND how when ND did finally beat them, the “allmighty” Fielding Yost decided to take his toys and go home. Ironically, they helped ND become a national power. Had Yost let them in the Big Ten, they probably would have just been another college football team.

    A Penn State friend of mine, who holds Michigan in the same, ahem, esteem that I do sent me 2 funny pictures once. One was a car with a license plate that had the Michigan M on hit with -orons after it. Another was of an official with a Michigan hat on, since so many calls in the Big Ten seem to go their way.

    That being said, I think ND should still find a way to get home-home series against Michigan. Shared disdain among fan bases, and teams, make for great football games. I realize a yearly series is out now with ND’s ACC responsibilities and the Big “10” scheduling 9 conference games, but they should be able to get a series in every few years at least. Don’t let it die.

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  6. Jack 3 years ago

    It is funny that this could have been the longest running rivalry in college football if it wasn’t for that Jackass Fielding Yost and ND would be in the Big Ten which is what I always hear from these Penn State idiots. I tell them it could have happened if not for the moron running Michigan.

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    1. Toulmin H. Brown 3 years ago

      Penn State has the Jerry Sandusky scandal & began their football traditions with “hot-pink”/gray football uniforms voted in by the student body and feel they can afford to point the finger at & needle Notre Dame?

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      1. Toulmin H. Brown 3 years ago


        “Before that, Penn State always declined the decals so they can play out of their simple game uniforms. The blue and white uniforms replaced pink and black ones in 1890.”

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  7. Toulmin H. Brown 3 years ago


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  8. Nigel Tufnel 3 years ago

    Another quality contribution. Thanks Duranko.

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