Notre Dame – Michigan State Football Rivalry

Notre Dame at Michigan State
September 15, 2012; East Lansing, MI, USA; General view of Spartan Stadium during first quarter of the game between the Michigan State Spartans and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Just ten years after its first game, Notre Dame reached out to Michigan State and began playing the Spartans in 1897. Except for a hiatus between 1921 and 1947, the two teams have engaged each other most years, with the Irish holding a 48-28-1 edge. The 77 games is nearly twice as many as the Irish have played against Michigan.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Though not two peas in a pod, Notre Dame and Michigan State share a common experience: attempted, but failed, oppression and suppression by the University of Michigan.

Yost’s hateful vendetta against Notre Dame blended a virulent anti-Catholicism with a personal animus toward the glib, popular, charismatic Rockne. It led Yost to Machiavellianly and successfully organize a boycott by Western Conference (the birth name of the Big Ten) teams of Notre Dame. Without a good religious hatred available to fuel the fire against Michigan State, Michigan doubled down on secular, academic, and instate animus.

Michigan wanted to be the golden child of the state legislature and constantly lobbied against expansion of aid to Michigan State and funding of special programs, agricultural and beyond. And the reason why Michigan State was not allowed to join the Big X conference until 1950 can not be discerned in East Lansing or Chicago. It resides in Ann Arbor.

Notre Dame and Michigan State always had a comfortable and easy working relationship. Michigan’s animosity was a bonding force.

Sleepy Jim Crowley, one of Rockne’s four horsemen, was the coach at Michigan State from ‘29-‘32.


The teams have played for the Megaphone trophy since 1949. Notre Dame’s side of the trophy is blue, Michigan State’s side is green. Since the institution of the Megaphone trophy, Notre dame is 34-26-1.


Then came a big man. And he showed up just as the postwar boom was fueling the auto industry, and workers from across America flocked to Detroit, Flint, Saginaw and other Michigan cities, bringing their large, athletic sons with them. Waiting with open arms was Clarence “Biggie” Munn who led the Spartans to the National Championship in ’52 and ’53. Munn had played for Fritz Crisler at Minnesota. Munn was rising just as Frank Leahy was nearing the end. Biggie Munn and his protégé Duffy Daugherty led the Spartans to wins in 9 of ten games against the Irish between 1950 and 1963.

Then Notre Dame hired Parseghian, and Notre Dame went 25-4-1. Just when Michigan State was losing hope as the century waned, their Messiah arrived, albeit in South Bend in the person of Bob Davie. Davie’s record against Michigan State was an unblemished, 0-4. But he actually got as close as six points in the 2000 loss.

Brian Kelly lost his first game against Michigan State in 2010 on the “little Giants” fake field goal play, but has won three since.

With the movement toward the ACC, Notre Dame will play its Midwestern rivals less frequently, but Michigan State does reappear on the schedule in 2016.

The record does stand in Notre Dame’s favor, 48-28-1. And that one tie just may have been the game of the century.


Early during the ’66 season, it became clear that Notre Dame and Michigan State were the two best squads.

Oh sure, Alabama was on its way to an unbeaten season, but it was playing in the segregated south, and the Tide struggled to beat even nondescript Tennessee 11-10.

But the eye test was more powerful

Bama was quick, but small. Notre Dame and Michigan State were massive and swift.

Several factors contributed to the unparalleled frenzy which surrounded the game. First, few games were televised. This one would be. And the first Super Bowl had not yet been played.

Next, it was GUARANTEED that game would be Michigan State’s last of the year. At that time, the Big Ten allowed only one team to play in a bowl game, the conference champ in the Rose Bowl. That issue was exacerbated because the Big Ten had a no repeat rule and Michigan State had played in the Rose Bowl after the ’65 season.

Notre Dame was still three years from lifting its self-imposed 45 year bowl ban, and would have only the USC game after its tilt against the mighty Spartans.

The college football season and its champion would be decided on November 19, 1966. No ifs. No ands. No buts.

Pro scouts threw more gasoline on the fire. They were lining up to draft Bubba Smith and George Webster of Michigan State and Alan Page and Jim Lynch of Notre Dame. Michigan State, had, under the clever Duffy Daugherty, recruited well in Chicago, Ohio and Michigan. But they pressed their advantage in the segregated south, dipping deep into dewy Dixie for some extraordinary talent. Bubba Smith was from Beaumont, Texas and fellow Texan , wide receiver Gene Washington, was from Laporte. QB Jimmy Raye was from Fayetteville, NC. George Webster was from Anderson, South Carolina and Charley “Mad Dog” Thornhill from Richmond. Michigan State conceded NOTHING to Notre Dame in terms of national recruiting.

Michigan State was unbeaten through nine games and had outscored its opponents 282-89. The unbeaten Irish had outscored their foes 301-28..

November 19, 1966

At last. The sky was Armageddon Gray. The pregame warmups could have doubled as an NFL combine. In those days, the NFL had 26 teams. Seven first round draft choices, more than 25%, in the ’67 draft would play in the game. Bubba Smith, Clinton Jones, George Webster and Gene Washington of Michigan State and Alan Page, Paul Seiler and Tom Regner of Notre Dame were the SEVEN first round daft picks that were on the field. Larry Conjar and Jim Lynch lasted until the second round, Goeddeke and Rhoads the 3rd.

Folks say it was the greatest amount of talent on both sides of any college football game every played. And people who were there in the stands and who played agreed that it was the most physical football game every played.

It was both modern in the size and quickness of the players yet a throwback because it was position/possession football with every yard contested with great violence and passion. It was bone on bone. The game was clean. Both teams were so confident of their power that they had no need to resort to penalties.

The game was epitomized by one curious, but typical play. Jim Lynch, Johnny Ray’s on-field brain, made an exquisite drop and intercepted a Jimmy Raye pass. As Lynch galloped, somewhat, toward glory he was body blocked by All-America halfback Clinton Jones with such force that Lynch was literally flipped upside down and when he landed on his head, Sports Illustrated captured the moment in a photo, Lynch completely vertical and upside down, his glistening gold helmet making contact with the Spartan green turf, the ball coming lose for a Spartan recovery.

Bubba Smith knocked Terry Hanratty out of the game in the first quarter. But Coley O’Brien had gotten a lot of snaps at qb and he subbed in. Later, George Goeddeke injured himself on a punt play. Strength up the middle? Center Goeddeke, QB Hanratty and HB Eddy were out! Ara never blinked.

As often happens in these epics, the scoring came from unexpected sources. Michigan State was able to muster one sustained drive on the ground. Early in the second quarter, Regis Cavender, punched in from the 5 yard line for a 7-0 Spartan lead. Later in the quarter, Dick Kenney kicked a field goal barefoot for a 10-0 lead. Were the Irish doomed? Parseghian, Pagna and Ray didn’t think so.

Late in the second quarter, Pagna cleverly ran Gladieux from his RB position deep into the Spartan secondary and Coley O’Brien was on the money for a 34 yard touchdown pass. Michigan State led at half 10-7.

The Irish had the better of it in the second half. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Joe “the Toe” Azzaro lifted the pigskin over the bar for a 28 yard field goal and a 10-10 tie. The slugfest continued and the drama heightened. Tom Schoen’s second interception of the game gave the Irish field position and Azzaro attempted a 41 yard field goal. He hit it solidly, but it was just inches right.

With about four minutes left, the Spartans got the ball, but played it conservatively and punted, seemingly content with a tie. Ara and Pagna knew that O’Brien, a diabetic, had misfired on his last 6 passes. When the Irish got the ball back, they were on their 30, with just over a miute to go. After 58 minutes the game had resulted in a tie, and that’s how it ended. Charley Thornhill, whose Spartans had just avoided risk in their last possession, barked at the Irish. But at that point it was like talking smack at Joshua Chamberlain after his 20th Maine had secured Little Round Top at Gettyburg.

10-10. An elegant result for an elegant game, it just might have been the game of the century.

Notre Dame vs Michigan State

Record: 48-28-1

1W11-25-189734South Bend, IN6
2W10-15-189853South Bend, IN0
3W09-30-189940South Bend, IN0
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16W10-09-194826South Bend, IN7
17W11-05-194934East Lansing, MI21
18L10-28-195033South Bend, IN36
19L11-10-19510East Lansing, MI35
20L11-15-19523East Lansing, MI21
21W10-16-195420South Bend, IN19
22L10-15-19557East Lansing, MI21
23L10-20-195614South Bend, IN47
24L11-09-19576East Lansing, MI34
25L10-17-19590East Lansing, MI19
26L10-15-19600South Bend, IN21
27L10-21-19617East Lansing, MI17
28L10-20-19627South Bend, IN31
29L11-16-19637East Lansing, MI12
30W11-14-196434South Bend, IN7
31L11-20-19653South Bend, IN12
32T11-19-196610East Lansing, MI10
33W10-28-196724South Bend, IN12
34L10-26-196817East Lansing, MI21
35W10-04-196942South Bend, IN28
36W10-03-197029East Lansing, MI0
37W10-02-197114South Bend, IN2
38W10-07-197216East Lansing, MI0
39W10-06-197314South Bend, IN10
40W10-05-197419East Lansing, MI14
41L10-04-19753South Bend, IN10
42W10-02-197624East Lansing, MI6
43W10-01-197716South Bend, IN6
44W10-07-197829East Lansing, MI25
45W09-29-197927South Bend, IN3
46W10-04-198026East Lansing, MI21
47W10-03-198120South Bend, IN7
48W10-02-198211East Lansing, MI3
49L09-17-198323South Bend, IN28
50W09-15-198424East Lansing, MI20
51W09-21-198527South Bend, IN10
52L09-20-198615East Lansing, MI20
53W09-19-198731South Bend, IN8
54W09-17-198820East Lansing, MI3
55W09-23-198921South Bend, IN13
56W09-22-199020East Lansing, MI19
57W09-21-199149South Bend, IN10
58W09-19-199252East Lansing, MI31
59W09-18-199336South Bend, IN14
60W09-17-199421East Lansing, MI20
61L09-20-19977South Bend, IN23
62L09-12-199823East Lansing, MI45
63L09-18-199913South Bend, IN23
64L09-23-200021East Lansing, MI27
65L09-22-200110South Bend, IN17
66W09-21-200221East Lansing, MI17
67L09-20-200316South Bend, IN22
68W09-18-200431East Lansing, MI24
69L09-17-200541South Bend, IN44
70W09-23-200640East Lansing, MI37
71L09-22-200714South Bend, IN31
72L09-20-20087East Lansing, MI23
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75W09-17-201131South Bend, IN13
76W09-15-201220East Lansing, MI3
77W09-21-201317South Bend, IN13

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  1. Mike, congrats, enjoy your 49th this Fall and your 50th in ’16. It was the most intense football game I’ve ever seen. EVER.

    Historic football is challenging, as you have to have been in the moment when a play or game was occurring. I talk to “young’uns” about jim Brown. Well, you can watch the highlights, but it’s not about that.
    Unless you were in that moment you can’t really understand.

  2. That’s the day I was born. I was born around 7:30AM in Philadelphia. My dad watched the whole game and used to tell me stories about the gam.

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