In 1879, only fourteen years after our nation stood divided during Civil War, reconstruction of the United States was underway, and there was Michigan football. Notre Dame didn’t have a football team until 1887. In the years leading up to the teams first match-up, some players hopped a train from Ann Arbor to teach the Irish how to play ball. The Wolverine’s were the quintessential big brothers to the Irish and the relationship was friendly.
1887 – the rivalry begins
Michigan would go on to win the first eight contests beginning in 1887, before the Irish would capture their first victory in 1909. The series would be suspended and renewed many times during the years, and despite the gravity of the rivalry, the teams have only played 37 times. The series is slanted in Michigan’s favor. (21-15-1) Various disputes and grievances has kept the two most winningest teams in college football history apart through the years, and it wasn’t until 1978, that the series was properly restored.
Through the eyes of a child:
In 1978 I was a six-year-old kid, enamored by my father -my hero- and my prized new possession; a maize and blue jersey sporting the number seven. Number seven was my other hero; Rick Leach. Dad and I packed up the Datsun and hit the road. Destination: South Bend, IN. Little did I know, I was among a lucky few, witnessing football history. But what do most six-year-old boys know anyhow? The two teams hadn’t met since the second World War II was raging (1943), and this would be the renewal of a rivalry that continues today. Little did I know – the quarterback for the Irish…Joe Montana would go on and become a household name. But for me it was tunnel vision; Rick Leach and a win. Fortunately I saw both.
1978 – present
The gravity of the rivalry is enormous. No it’s not Michigan – Ohio State but it’s huge. It is comprised of the two most winningest programs in football history – in number of wins and percentage. It is numerous national championships, it is numerous Heisman trophies. It is Rocket Ismail burning the Big Blue on kick returns. It is Desmond Howard who brought a Michigan victory after a five-year drought – alas. It is the two most recognizable fight songs in all of college football. It is Michigan – Notre Dame. It is everything the NFL isn’t. It is two top-tier educational institutions. Few on the roster will ever play on a Sunday. Even fewer will ever have bickering matches with millionaire NFL owners. Yet all will lay everything they have on the line, on the gridiron, on Saturday in one of the most storied rivalries in all of sports.
Both Michigan and Notre Dame have stumbled over the last few years, but when the teams take the field in South Bend tomorrow, and “The Victors” and “The Notre Dame Victory March” rips from the brass horns, it will still be surreal. Legends will be born, maintained, relived and renewed.
“Bless his cotton pickin’ maize and blue heart” – Bob Ufer
- Highest all-time winning percentage in NCAA Division I-A (.737)
- Most all-time wins in NCAA Division I-A (878)
- The most winning seasons (110)
- The most undefeated seasons of teams currently competing in Division I-A
- One of only three schools with a winning record against every Division I-A
- The largest crowd to ever attend an NCAA football game: 113,090
- The longest streak in home game attendance of over 100,000 (223 games – November 8, 1975
- The most televised school in college football history (407 televised games)