The Centennial Celebration You Don’t Know About

2009 marks the 100th anniversary of Notre Dame's first win over the Michigan Wolverines. (Photo - Icon SMI)

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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  1. C-Dog:
    I think it is a bit naive to say that the reason ND won’t join the Big Ten is purely religious. Obviously money plays a huge part with that decision, and to gloss over it and claim religion was the central motivating factor shows a lack of knowledge and ability to recognize more than one circumstance surrounding a given situation.

  2. I’m a Michigan alum and a lifelong fan, and I can tell you that none of the fans I know ever refer to Notre Dame as “arrogant” for not joining the Big Ten. It’s just good business. Remaining independent (in football) has allowed ND the opportunity to continue a unique and lucrative TV deal. Why give that up to join a conference that would reduce revenue and make BCS bowl berths a tougher proposition? Arrogance has nothing to do with it. In fact, I’m much more used to being called arrogant myself as a Michigan fan – by everyone else in the Big Ten. That moniker is something UM and ND alums and fans probably have in common. I consider ND a great rival, partly because I consider the tradition and excellence there, both athletically and academically, to be similar to our own.

    If only your school wasn’t in South Bend…

  3. I am a devout Catholic Michigan Grad and Fan. I also like ND. I thoroughly enjoyed the accurate historical account of the Michigan/Notre Dame rivalry. However, though admitedly Fielding Yost was an anti-catholic, he was also well aware of the large Polish Catholic population in Detroit. He was fearful that as Notre Dame became a football power this might affect how the Detroit Catholics would support the University of Michigan. This was a stategic move as well. Go Blue!

    P.S. Embryonic Stem Cell reasearch is immoral. Adult Stem Cell research is permitted and in fact ecouraged by the Catholic Church. Adult Stem Cells are used to treat hundreds of diseases. Embryonic Stem Cells have not been proven to treat ANY DISEASE.

  4. Let me say I see progress yet it seems like we take 1step fwd to take 2steps back. We are talking about and we just lost to Michigan… We are truely in decline as a BCS contender when we loose early to an unranked team. As a Notre Dame fan that bleeds gold and blue somebody get me a medic cause im cut deep after todays loss….

  5. It’s Gameday, and you want to talk Humane Vitae, C-Dog? REALLY?

    Hey Irish, remember who you are: a football team that shouldn’t give two shits about embryonic stem cells.

  6. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. Notre Dame refused to join the Big Ten, because joining would have required participation in any Big Ten research activity including embryonic stem cell research. I know I voted down the invitation specifically because of that. What’s interesting is that the administration and the board of directors were for joining the Big Ten, but the still Catholic alums overwhelmingly voted it down. Guess what ND already participates willingly with Big Ten schools in research that does not violate Catholic teaching.
    Think the uproar over Obama was rough, it would have been much more controversial. ( see sycamore trust ).

    And that’s right there was and still is an anti-Catholic bias against Notre Dame. Notre Dame is very inclusive. Obviously other institutions and the mindsets of those associated are not. You want a chip? There’s your chip.

    Hey Irish! Remember who you are and what your part of.

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