There’s an old saying that “nothing good ever happens after midnight,” but the tech-savvy geniuses at Apple would disagree.
A few minutes after the clock struck 12 early Thursday, my iPhone flashed a wonderful media blast: Michigan, Notre Dame reportedly set to renew football rivalry in 2018.
The news immediately sent a jolt of energy through my veins. How cool would it be for Michigan and Notre Dame – the two winningest programs in college football history – to renew one of the sport’s best rivalries of the modern era?
The initial write-up didn’t contain a lot of meat, which prompted a number of open-ended questions in advance of Thursday’s expected joint press release from the schools. Such as:
- Would this purported meeting be a one-shot deal between the schools, at least temporarily?
- If so, would the game occur at one of the home venues (Notre Dame Stadium, Michigan Stadium), or at a neutral field based in the Midwest (Chicago or Detroit)?
- Would Notre Dame be filling Michigan’s final non-conference vacancy for the 2018 season? Or would either Arkansas or SMU get the “buyout” boot? (The Wolverines have a home-and-home with Arkansas slated for 2018 and 2019, and the SMU meeting represents a one-time occurrence.)
- Would Michigan be the 11th team on Notre Dame’s 2018 schedule? That would presumably be the case, since the Fighting Irish are locked into a nationally renowned system which includes five games against the ACC as part of its league-membership agreement with other varsity sports, two clashes with Pac-12 powers Southern California and Stanford (rotating home and away), one or two service academies (Army, Navy, Air Force) and at least one Big Ten foe.
- How would this news affect Purdue and Michigan State, which also covet regular meetings with Notre Dame? The Boilermakers and Fighting Irish had an uninterrupted run from 1957-2014 and the Spartans and Golden Domers locked horns every year from 1948 to 2013 – minus the 1953 season. (Note: Michigan State and Notre Dame have a home-and-home set for 2016 and 2017.)
Back to Michigan and Notre Dame …
Growing up in the Midwest during the early 1980s, there were four must-see games on the provincial college calendar: Notre Dame-Southern California, Michigan-Michigan State, Ohio State-Michigan and Notre Dame-Michigan.
From 1887 to 1943, Notre Dame and Michigan only met 11 times, with the Wolverines claiming nine victories. But things ratcheted back up in 1978 – the year after the Irish captured the national title – with a five-year run of scintillating games:
- For the 1978 meeting, Michigan quarterback Rick Leach outdueled Hall of Famer Joe Montana and led the Wolverines to victory.
- In 1979, Notre Dame literally piggy-backed off its special teams to stun No. 6 Michigan on the road.
- Strange but true: The 1980 game wasn’t broadcast live in Detroit, and perhaps that was for the best. With no time left, kicker Harry Oliver incredibly nailed a 51-yard field goal (above video) to clinch Notre Dame’s thrilling 29-27 win.
- Michigan opened the 1981 campaign ranked No. 1 in the nation. But a season-opening loss to Wisconsin quickly put a damper on things. A week later, however, the Wolverines experienced sweet revenge by spanking Notre Dame – the nation’s new No. 1 – by a 25-7 score. It would represent the first of many Irish losses during the Gerry Faust era (1981-85).
- The 1982 clash offered many explosive plays (namely Rick Rogers’ humpback-assisted touchdown catch – 8:44 mark), but one memory shall stand the test of time: It was the first night game in Notre Dame history.
That five-year period was essentially Phase I of something special between the schools; and minus some two-year breaks here and there, Michigan vs. Notre Dame has arguably generated more national attention than any other non-conference clash since the late 1970s.
And now it’s back … hopefully in perpetuity.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and Fox Sports.