September 20, 2012

Notre Dame - Michigan: Bring It

The hour draws near.  Regardless of what Mother Nature lends to the atmosphere, Saturday figures to be a special day.  Victory over the despised Wolverines awaits as a pot o' gold at the end of a double rainbow college football Saturday. Yes, it will be that intense.

A full day of merriment in the lots kick starts the party.  Once the team runs out of the tunnel and DJ Rockne launches into his Jock Jams set and Grampa Alumni heeds the StaND decree, the Wolverines will wish they could still be bailed out by the refs for perplexing reasons.  (Why someone thought too much crowd noise should penalize the home team with an automatic timeout for the visitors and warrant a flag remains an unsolved rule book mystery).  Oh yes, pandemonium will be on the precipice of ensuing at several moments.

We haven't even mentioned the enormous expectations last week's Sparty surprise created for BK's third season under the Dome microscope.  Exponential revenge is due Michigan after 3 consecutive losses, each feeling like a Kano fatality nightmare stuck on repeat.  It's no exaggeration that Denard Robinson has amassed a career's worth of stats in two games against the Irish keystone kops defense.  But Bob Diaco's revamped and inspired front seven is a different beast this season and will be hell-bent on tripping up Shoelace.

Oh yeah, and parietals be damned, everyone gets lei'd.

Discussing the hugeness of this game at the office, I was surprised by a few associates unaware of the intensity of Notre Dame-Michigan.  The off-the-field feud history between ND-UM is largely unknown to the general public.  Piggybacking on Mike's whetting the rivalry appetite post, and with a tremendous nod to John Kryk's detailed narrative, (seriously, if you visit this blog, Natural Enemies was written for you - do yourself a favor and read it), I offer a brief summary of what triggers the animosity and vitriol that defines ND v. UM.

Michigan, having started playing in 1879 and immediately asserting their claim as "Champions of the West" (distinguished from literally a handful -maybe not even 5 - of Midwest schools fielding teams) teaches the sport of football to Notre Dame.  To help get ND's nascent program off the ground, Michigan visits South Bend three times between November 1887 and April 1888.  Not surprisingly, teacher beats pupil handily in all 3 contests (44-10 combined).

10 Year Hiatus
Notre Dame tries in vain to schedule Michigan for more games.  Teacher doesn't have time for, nor cares to foster the growth of pupil.

The schools play five times, all in Ann Arbor, save for one neutral site game in Toledo.  UM dominates every game in lopsided fashion (77-6 combined score).  Teacher embarrasses pupil, on teacher's terms.

Notre Dame finally draws blood and surprises UM with an 11-3 victory, also in Ann Arbor.  Pupil beats teacher.  Teacher cries no fair, refuses to play for 3+ decades.  Petty insecurities and religious persecution from the top of Michigan's athletic administration prevail as primary reasons for the 33 year hiatus.  Knute Rockne never gets the pleasure of matching wits with Michigan.  Blame Fielding Yost.

After significant efforts from ND, as well as a groundswell of public opposition in Ann Arbor to the athletic administration's cowardly and illogical stance, the series resumes. #6 Michigan bests the 4th-ranked Irish 32-20 in '42, followed by a #1 vs. #2 matchup in Ann Arbor that ND dominates 35-12.  By this time, teach and pupil are both well-established and on equal ground, though Michigan cannot admit such.  After "teacher" loses to "pupil" again, Yost passes the proverbial baton of spite to Fritz Crisler and history repeats itself.

The Freeze Out.  For the same tepid reasons/excuses, Michigan shuns Notre Dame for the better part of 3 decades once again.  How non-existent was the relationship?  Fr. Joyce, the main man in the ND athletic department from the '50s through the '80s, says he never had a single conversation with Crisler, longtime Michigan coach and AD.  Even Americans and Soviets enjoyed diplomatic discussions during the Cold War.

Crisler's reign in Ann Arbor bears the scourge of an intentional boycott of Michigan scheduling against ND football and basketball teams, while also influencing other Big 10 schools to blackball the Catholic school in Indiana.  Purdue and Michigan State have the gumption to ignore such prejudices. This period witnesses some of each program's greatest teams.  Alas, despite the advent of televised games, fans of the sport are denied the enjoyment of watching the two programs compete.  Blame Crisler.

The Summer of Love sweeps the nation, and even bridges a union between these two star-crossed programs as Michigan AD Don Canham irons out a 4 game series with Fr. Joyce, to be consummated 9 years later.  Interesting tidbit from these negotiations: standard practice at the time was for non-conference tilts to split the gate 50-50 between the schools.  Instead, ND and UM agree to let the home team keep the lion's share of the gate, paying the visitor a modest guarantee for making the trip. This revolutionary deal soon becomes standard practice across the country.

Resumption of the rivalry in earnest.  Since then, the programs have collided in September on 28 occasions, often spoiling the other's season with the result.  Michigan holds a tenuous edge in the head-to-heads since '78 with a 14-13-1 record.  Remarkably, 19 of the games (nearly 70%) have been decided within a score.

Until 2006, one (or both as was often the case) of the schools came into the contest ranked every single year (nearly half the time, at least one team has been ranked in the top 5 for the matchup).  2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011 stand out as the lone outliers when neither of the two titans of college football were ranked, though that certainly hasn't detracted from the drama in the games.  This year's edition notches another tally for both teams being ranked.

Hold on to your butts.  Another classic is coming our way.

Go Irish!  Beat Wolverines!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You need to update this since ND has officially chickened out of the rivalry. This is sad because the two schools have collectively created so many great games. But at least ND preserved the sacred Purdue rivalry.....