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Famous moments define series

Joe Hettler | Friday, September 12, 2003

It started in 1887, when a bunch of athletic Notre Dame guys asked some Michigan football players to teach them the new game played on a 100-yard field.

The Wolver-ines were more than happy to instruct the Irish on football, and even more eager to beat them 8-0 later that day. They played the Irish two times the next season, in April, and won both.

It took Notre Dame until 1909, eight losses later to finally beat those Wolverines, and once they did Michigan refused to play them again until 1942.

Michigan won in 1942, but lost to the Irish 35-12 in 1943. The teams didn’t meet again until 1978.

The rivalry has gone back and forth since, with Michigan leading the all-time series 17-12-1. Fans from both sides have grown to love the matchup and many can remember their favorite moment from the series.

For Wolverines followers it’s 1991, when eventual Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard stretched himself out completely and made a spectacular diving catch in the end zone to secure a win for his team that day, and the Heisman a few months later.

For Irish fans, it’s likely Harry O in 1980.

In one of the most famous plays in Notre Dame history, a soccer-style kicker from Cincinnati, Oliver, had to make a 51-yard field goal for the Irish to win. There were only a few seconds on the clock and a stiff 15-mph wind blowing into his face.

But when the ball was snapped, the flags on the goal posts dropped, the wind mysteriously died and Oliver pointed a No.1 index finger into the air as his leg connected with the ball, sending it through the goal posts and sending Irish fans into hysteria.

Moments like those make this series one of the greatest in collegiate athletics. They make this weekend a special one for both Notre Dame and Michigan fans. And they make the game that much more exciting, no matter the favorite.

This weekend Notre Dame will enter Ann Arbor as roughly 10-point underdogs. And there are several more factors going against the Irish.

First, they won last year 25-23 at Notre Dame Stadium, which in itself is bad news for this season. The last time Notre Dame won back-to-back times against their rival from the north was 1990. The last time Michigan accomplished the feat was when they defeated the Irish in 1994 and then in 1997.

Second, Michigan has an outstanding offense that is ranked second in the nation and led by senior quarterback John Navarre. Navarre has been touted, by some, to have a breakout year – the same way USC signal-caller Carson Palmer did last season for the Trojans. Add in some very talented wide receivers and the NCAA’s best rushing offense through two games, and it could be a long day for the Irish defense if they don’t play well.

Third, Michigan’s defense is in the top 20 in the nation and allows only 253 yards per contest. Last week, Notre Dame’s offense struggled to gain 125 yards through three quarters before finally coming together and producing points. They finished the day with 312 offensive yards for the game.

Fourth, the Big House, with all 110,000 Wolverine fans will be ready to exact revenge on the Irish after last season. Michigan still has the taste of defeat in their mouths from seeing the entire Notre Dame student section rush the field following the Irish 25-23 victory over the No. 6 Wolverines.

All those factors will make beating Michigan a very difficult task for Notre Dame this weekend. But the Irish must remember what kind of series this has been for the past 116 years.

It’s a series that saw 5-foot-5, 140-pound Reggie Ho make four field goals in 1988. A series where The Rocket returned two kicks on the same day in 1989 to put his name in Irish lore. And it’s a series that even witnessed Bob Davie coaching a great game in a 1998, 36-20 victory over the heavily-favored Wolverines.

Remember that anything can happen when Notre Dame and Michigan face off, no matter what the odds.

Just ask Harry O.

The opinions of this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Joe Hettler at jhettler@nd.edu