Michigan vs Notre Dame: A Fan Rivalry Or A Football Program Rivalry

The days are coming off the calendar quickly as Fighting Irish fans look forward to September 1st when Notre Dame goes up against “rival” Michigan. On a return flight from a business trip, I began to think is Notre Dame versus Michigan really a rivalry? Rivalry, as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary “a state or situation in which people or groups are competing with each other.” To take this one step further in the rivalry discussion, is it a fan rivalry or football program rivalry? The two teams definitely have a history of being rivals. Though it is mostly an off and on again type of history. When they do play, there is a sense of pressure not to fail.



Notre Dame versus Michigan started back in 1887. Michigan was the first team that Notre Dame played. Michigan won that game 8-0 in South Bend in a shortened version as there were bad field conditions.  Notre Dame played Michigan twice in 1888, actually they played back-to-back days. Michigan won both games, but Michigan fans were upset as Notre Dame scored ten points against Michigan that weekend. Michigan had not allowed a point scored in a game since 1883 according to records. This would be the last the teams would play for a decade.


Notre Dame and Michigan got together again in the late 1890’s where Michigan prevailed in all three game in Ann Arbor. Notre Dame traveled to Michigan for the first time in playing history in 1898. Notre Dame would lose 23-0 in 1898, 1899 12-0, and in 1900 7-0.  The game in 1902 and played at a neutral site in Toledo, OH in which Michigan won 23-0. This series had a rivalry feel to it as the two teams played on a regular basis until 1903. There would be another break in play for six years. At this point in head to head match-ups, Michigan was 8-0 against Notre Dame in rivalry games.


In 1908 the two teams met yet again in Ann Arbor and with the same result. Michigan once again beats Notre Dame 12-6. There was change in the air at Notre Dame. Notre Dame, coached by a former Michigan player Frank Longman. The game played in South Bend, saw Notre Dame beat Michigan for the first time 11-3. Also handing Michigan its only loss that season. This was also the first time the nickname “Fighting Irish” was used. The “Fighting Irishmen” was part of the headline by a sports writer E.A. Batchelor from the Detroit Free Press. The rivalry was then postponed for 32 years. The two teams were going to meet in 1910 but was then cancelled by Fielding Yost.  For 32 years the teams did not play. Yost convinced conference members not to schedule the Fighting Irish.

Rockne and the “Stadium”

Construction of “Notre Dame Stadium” came to fruition because of Knute Rockne. Knute Rockne had approached the administration about a new stadium for a period of time. The administration had taken a long time to make a decision on the new stadium. They took so long that it is said that Rockne submitted a letter of resignation. After a compromise between the administration and Rockne the new stadium plans were underway. The stadium to be built was modeled on a smaller scale of Michigan’s stadium with the difference being the tunnel.


In 1942, the teams clashed for the time in 32 years. Michigan once again maintained it dominance over Notre Dame in a 32-20 win in South Bend.

In 1943, Michigan and Notre Dame collide in Ann Arbor. Notre Dame was then ranked #1 in the country and Michigan ranked #2. The game had a record 85,688 fans in attendance. Notre Dame wins 35-12, Notre Dame wins the 1943 National Title and the #1 ranking. Michigan at this point is 10-2 overall against Notre Dame. Again, a hiatus of 35 years of no games between the two schools.


Now this is a rivalry! During this period of time a true rivalry can be defined. In 1978 Notre Dame was the defending National Champion, and the game was then promoted as the “Reunion game.” During this period Notre Dame turns the table on Michigan. ND goes 3-2 in as many years. In 1982, the first night home game was also played against Michigan in Notre Dame stadium. Another 3 years would pass until Notre Dame and Michigan would meet. Michigan leads the series 11-5.


There is change in the air in the rivalry of these two teams. In the 1985 and 1986 campaigns, Michigan beats Notre Dame both times. In 1987 the series takes a swing.  For the first time, Notre Dame wins four consecutive games against Michigan.  In 1988, Ricky Watter’s and Reggie Ho are the heroes of the game. Notre Dame wins a National Championship under Coach Lou Holtz.

In 1989 Rocket Ismail returns consecutive kickoffs for touchdowns. 1990, Lake Dawson catches an unexpected pass from Raghib Ismael kept the Irish in the ball game. In 1992, a tie between the two teams. the Irish came back from down 17-7. 1993, at least minute touchdown, brought Michigan within four points. Michigan tried an onside kick but failed. the Irish recover the ball and win the game. in 1994, Irish hearts were crushed on a last second field goal and Michigan wins. Michigan is now 15-10-1 overall.


After three years of not having scheduled games, it was game on once again. Michigan won the series 2-1.  In 1997, Michigan shared a National Championship. Michigan is 17-11-1 in the series.


During this time frame, Michigan is 7-6 over Notre Dame. the series record is 24-17-1 in favor of Michigan. There is a vacated win for the 2012 season for the Fighting Irish, but also a controversy on the final score of the game in 2014. A pass intercepted by Elijah Shumate is then called back after a blocking call on Redfield. Later reviews say the block was legal.

Photo Courtesy of Rod Ratkay

Invention of Social Media

The Fans Rivalry

Nowadays, social media is running wild between both fan bases. There are different forms of fan bantering on each other’s programs. The “meme” is the biggest part of this clash. Creative juices are flowing as we draw closer to next Saturday’s game.

In conclusion, as I believe the “rivalry” originated as a football program rivalry. A rivalry in my eyes, is based upon teams that play each other on an annual basis. Notre Dame versus USC, Navy, and Stanford are rivalry games.

Over the years the rivalry, in my opinion has become more of a fan based rivalry. Fans talk trash back and forth, coaches try to keep their players focused and the eye on the prize and keep the spotlight from the locker room fodder. As well as not looking at the past but, focused on the future.

The “rivalry” between Notre Dame and Michigan renews on Saturday Night at 7:30 on NBC. I will have coverage from the press box on twitter @shakedownthethu and updates on Facebook ND Irish Sports Strong and Shake Down The Thunder Sports.

Cheers and Go Irish!

Shake Down The Thunder Sports would love to hear back from you

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