SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The last scheduled Notre Dame-Michigan at the Big House is Saturday. It’s a big game. It didn’t need any more attention.
It got some Sunday.
“I really haven’t seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries,” Fighting Irish coach Kelly said during a conference call with reporters. “I’ve seen it as just one of those great football games that Notre Dame has played.
“For me, I’ve been in Michigan a long time, I’ve always felt the Notre Dame-Michigan game was a big regional game.”
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick handed Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon a letter on the field before last season’s game, cancelling scheduled games in 2015-2017. Brandon said he didn’t read it until the team was headed back to Ann Arbor following a 13-6 loss.
In May, Michigan coach Brady Hoke told a crowd at a luncheon in Grand Rapids that Notre Dame was “chickening out” of the series.
Swarbrick has said the move was necessary because Notre Dame had joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in most sports, while remaining independent in football. The deal calls for the Irish to play five football games a year against ACC opponents. That means Notre Dame’s trip to Ann Arbor will be its last for the foreseeable future.
“We’re a team that a lot of people want to play, including Michigan, or Brady wouldn’t comment in that regard,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to do the best we can while maintaining the independent status and fulfilling the obligations we have with the ACC. ”
It won’t be the first time there has been a pause in the series that started in 1887, when Michigan students traveled to South Bend to teach the game of football to Notre Dame students.
Michigan beat Notre Dame eight straight times before the Irish finally won 11-3 in 1909. The Irish traveled to Ann Arbor the next year, but the game was canceled when the Irish wouldn’t play without two players Michigan contended were ineligible. Michigan ended the series because of the controversy. They played again in 1942 and 1943.
Among the reasons they didn’t play was because Michigan coach Fielding Yost and Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne, then Michigan coach Fritz Crisler and Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy didn’t like each other.
The series was resumed because of a chance meeting at a football banquet in the late 1960s. Michigan athletic director Don Canham was talking about how Alabama had turned down a football series with the Wolverines. Notre Dame athletic directory Moose Krause, who was sitting nearby, asked: “Why doesn’t Michigan play Notre Dame?”
They agreed to play, with the series resuming in 1978. They’ve met 29 times in the 35 years since.
Hoke said Saturday he began thinking about Notre Dame shortly after the 17th-ranked Wolverines beat Central Michigan 59-9.
“It’s the last time Notre Dame is going to come to Michigan for a while. That’s got a significance to it,” Hoke said.
Michigan players said the break in the series will add to the intensity Saturday.
“That’s going to be huge,” Michigan right tackle Michael Schofield said. “That’s going to add to the atmosphere.”
Irish players said they always look forward to the game.
“It’s always a good game and they’re always a good team,” linebacker Dan Fox said.
Kelly said he doesn’t believe playing at Michigan for the last time in a while adds anything extra for players.
“They really don’t need any more motivation. There’s going to be over 100,000 people and it’s a very electric atmosphere. They’re not going to need any more motivation other than the team that they’re going to be playing against Saturday. That will be enough.”