Enjoy watching Michigan and Notre Dame face off this weekend, because you won’t be seeing them tangle again for a long time.
Their opponent? The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame
Michigan couldn’t have asked for a better outcome in the inaugural night game in Ann Arbor, as it was arguably the most exciting contest in the rivalry’s history. The Wolverines overcame a 24-7 deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat their counterparts from South Bend, 35-31. The game was highlighted by an 80-yard drive led by Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who threw a game-winning touchdown pass with two seconds remaining.
Nearly two years later, the second night game in Michigan’s illustrious history will signal the end of an era. After Saturday, the Irish and Wolverines will suspend their annual duel, a decision that was made after Notre Dame decided to join the ACC last Fall.
Recently, Brian Kelly showed little emotion about dropping Michigan from the schedule, stating that it was not one of Notre Dame’s historic rivalry games.
It’s understandable why Notre Dame would part ways with the Michigan rivalry after joining a new conference. The Irish are looking to focus their recruiting efforts towards the southern and eastern parts of the country. In order for this once-storied program to return to national prominence on a recurring basis, Notre Dame will need to lure prospects away from schools like Alabama, LSU and Florida and entice them to make the trip to South Bend.
Certainly, what Notre Dame is doing for recruiting and monetary purposes is something any other school and athletic department would do as the landscape of college football is changing. But for Kelly to argue that the Notre Dame/Michigan game isn’t a national rivalry is idiotic.
In fact, the bout between these two historical programs is more than a game. It even has the two most recognizable fight songs in all of college sports. There’s no better sound on a college football Saturday than to hear the “Notre Dame Victory March,” only to be countered by “Hail! to the Victors.”
This game, though only played 40 times throughout the years, embraces the history of the sport. There are 1,771 college football wins between the two schools. Michigan tops the all-time victories list in FBS history (905) while Notre Dame ranks third (866). Not to mention, the game features two of the best helmets in all the land: the golden plate helmets of the Irish and the winged, maize and blue caps of the Wolverines.
To say that this game isn’t of national prominence is somewhat irresponsible.
Games played in early September rarely have BCS implications attached to them. And yet, Notre Dame and Michigan agreed to play this game on a yearly basis.
True, the game is not as big as the Ohio State/ Michigan game or the USC/Notre Dame game played towards the end of the year. But just because this game isn’t the marquee matchup for each school doesn’t mean it’s not a rivalry and doesn’t mean it’s not of national importance.
ESPN’s College GameDay has been to South Bend and Ann Arbor a combined six times to preview this game. That must make it somewhat relevant, right?
It’s a game that featured 22 total national championships, 11 claimed by each school. It featured great coaches like Bo Schembechler and Lou Holtz. It has also boasted 10 Heisman Trophy winners, seven from Notre Dame and three from Michigan.
It will be hard to find another rivalry that has so much tradition.
College football is losing one of the most anticipated games of the season, at least for the time being. The landscape of this tradition-rich sport is changing, whether it be for better, or in this case, the worse.
This rivalry has endured temporary hiatuses before, so the college football world shouldn’t assume that this game needs a burial plot.
Only time will tell if Notre Dame will decide to skip out on its southern-based recruiting agenda for one week and return to Ann Arbor for another game under the lights at some point in the future.