Cherished rivalry says goodbye to Big House
Andrew Gastelum | Thursday, September 5, 2013
It all started with a sealed letter handed off from one NCAA powerhouse to the next prior to just another installment of the famed Notre Dame-Michigan series on Sept. 22, 2012. In just the last two seasons, the two programs have fielded a perennial ESPN Classic re-run, two Heisman candidates and two BCS bowl appearances to renew fervor for the glory days of old.
But with that letter, it turned out, Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick thought the Irish should see other people starting in 2015. Now the uproar has shifted from ending a rivalry to arguing if it is even a rivalry at all.
“It is for us,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said at his Monday press conference. “Everybody looks at things differently.”
Those comments came a day after the issue was put into question, when Irish coach Brian Kelly dubbed the series a “big regional game.”
“I really haven’t seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries,” Kelly said Sunday. “I’ve seen it as just one of those great football games that Notre Dame has played.”
Kelly seemed to backtrack on Tuesday, although he appeared miffed at how the amount of attention and backlash he received.
“It’s a great and historic rivalry that we’ll be playing this Saturday, so let’s get that out of the way right away so we don’t have to answer any more questions about this rivalry,” he said.
Rivalry or not, the matchup features the two programs with the highest all-time winning percentages in the NCAA. And Saturday will be the 41st matchup of the series, with Michigan leading 23-16-1.
But it could also be the last meeting at Michigan Stadium for quite some time, as Michigan Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Dave Brandon told The Detroit News on Wednesday there are no current discussions with Notre Dame.
“Our schedule is booked going out into the early [2020s] and my understanding is theirs is, as well,” Brandon said. “So my view is the only way we’re going to play Notre Dame after next year would be if we run into them in a bowl game or if our schedules allowed us to have some kind of a neutral site one-off game somewhere along the way.”
The Irish have lost six of the last seven games at The Big House, with their last win coming in upset fashion in 2005. Of course, the last loss in Ann Arbor may sting a bit more than the others, as the Wolverines took a 35-31 lead with two seconds remaining to seemingly renew the matchup’s rivalry status.
“It’s a huge national rivalry to be around that team and play that team,” Michigan All-American tackle Taylor Lewan said. “The idea of a rivalry and being there on Saturday, it’s a phenomenal feeling. … It’s unfortunate [that it’s ending], but I’m going to get over it.”
On Saturday, ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ will feature the series for the sixth time. The Notre Dame-Michigan matchup is now tied with Miami-Florida State as the third-most visited matchup by ‘College GameDay.’ Notre Dame-Michigan is just one appearance behind the Florida-Florida State and Florida-Tennessee matchups in the show’s history.
“I think it’s great for college football,” Hoke said. “It must have some sort of national appeal. … I know that whenever Michigan and Notre Dame was on TV, I was going to be watching it. I know people in Corvallis, Ore., were going to be watching it, for one reason or another.”
The average margin of victory in the entire history of the series is 4.1 points, which only heightens the anticipation for an historic matchup that will soon meet its indefinite hiatus.
“It’s our rival. I mean, it’s Michigan,” Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. “Everybody wants to go home with that win, go home with that chip on their back saying they beat somebody. So [we] definitely want to go out hard.”
Contact Andrew Gastelum at [email protected]