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Rivalry or no rivalry… it’s still a big deal

Sep 2, 2013, 6:50 PM EST

Kelly Hoke

It’s Michigan Week.

For Irish fans, these seven days come with an extra chip on their shoulders, with the hated Wolverines winning five of the last seven games against Notre Dame, nearly all of them in unreasonably cruel fashion. For Michigan fans, it’s an early season opportunity for the Winningest College Football Program to ruin Notre Dame’s season before it gets started, a nice September test before getting into Big Ten conference play.

Last year, the Irish conquered a few demons in Notre Dame Stadium, forcing Denard Robinson to turn the ball over five times on the way to a hard fought 13-7 victory. Making the pill even more difficult to swallow for Wolverines fans, Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick hand-delivered a letter to Michigan AD Dave Brandon, notifying the school that the Irish were canceling games in 2015-17, ending a 13-year run of playing each season.

The decision to step away from the rivalry was a product of scheduling conflicts that have arisen with conference realignment. While Michigan already asked to get out of games in 2018-19, Brandon made it clear that the decision to cut things early wasn’t a decision made by him.

“The decision to cancel games in 2015-17 was Notre Dame’s and not ours,” Brandon said in a release. “We value our annual rivalry with Notre Dame but will have to see what the future holds for any continuation of the series.”

On the banquet circuit, Michigan coach Brady Hoke threw some gas on the fire by accusing the Irish of “chickening out.” While Notre Dame fans can make the argument that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s land grab in conference realignment has had a bigger hand in this cancellation than either school, Notre Dame’s commitment to play five ACC games a year starting next year forced the Irish to make some room in their schedule, and Michigan was a game they felt like losing.

For better or worse (and it’s pretty obvious it’s for the worse for college football fans), this series only has two more games until the end of the decade. And while we can argue until we’re blue in the face as to who or what is at fault, it’s turned the focus onto one of those debate points that two proud fanbases like Notre Dame and Michigan love to discuss: Is this game a rivalry?

Here’s Brian Kelly’s take on the subject:

“I really haven’t seen it as one of those historic traditional Notre Dame rivalries,” Kelly said. “I’ve seen it as one of those great football games that Notre Dame has played. For me, I’ve been in Michigan a long time, so I’ve always felt the Notre Dame-Michigan game was a big regional game, but I think the Notre Dame history books, this game has played itself, but there have obviously been a number of years where it hasn’t been played.

“I think if you ask a lot of the traditionalists, the historians, this game has had many years where it hasn’t been played. From my perspective, being in Michigan, these have been really hard-fought and a really-high profile games.”

All fair points, considering there have been two thirty-plus year gaps in the rivalry, one a well-discussed product of blackballing and hatred. Of course, rivalries don’t need to be annual to be important, and Michigan coach Brady Hoke brought up the fact that ESPN’s College GameDay will be in Ann Arbor this weekend, the sixth time they’ve been at this match-up, squelching the notion that this game only has regional significance.

“I think it’s great for college football. ESPN Gameday has been here six times for this football game,” Hoke said Monday in his weekly press conference. “That’s pretty significant if they’re coming to this campus or to the campus in South Bend. So, it must have some sort of national appeal. Coaching in a lot of places, and maybe it’s just me, but 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.”

Rivalry? Regional or National? At this point, who cares.

For Kelly and Hoke, two head coaches who have been going head to head for almost a decade, calling this anything but one of the biggest games of the year is a lie. While they might stop playing each other after next season, these two will be going head to head each year for the region’s best players for as long as they both represent two of college football’s biggest programs.

Both teams head into Saturday with the belief that they should walk away victories. For the Wolverines, their 50-point victory over Central Michigan gave them the opportunity to get Devin Gardner and a young defensive front comfortable. For Notre Dame, an early offensive explosion and a vanilla defensive effort have the Irish heading into Ann Arbor with a much needed tune-up.

Water-cooler topics like this tend to get a ton of attention. But with a great football game on tap for this Saturday, let’s not waste time debating semantics. We’ve only got two of these left on the schedule.

  1. NotreDan - Sep 2, 2013 at 7:17 PM

    I’ll be right there fellas. Grill gets lit at 9am.

    Go Irish, beat the skunkbears!

    • nudeman - Sep 2, 2013 at 9:37 PM

      God I wish I could be there and hoist a few with you NotreDan
      What’s on the grill? What kinda seats you got?

      • NotreDan - Sep 3, 2013 at 11:40 AM

        Breakfast:

        Eggs
        Bacon
        Sausage
        ‘Taters

        Snack:

        Chicken Wings
        Fresh Fries/Chips

        Dinner:

        Baby back ribs
        Pulled pork
        More ‘Taters
        Roasted sweet corn
        Slaw
        Chili

      • NotreDan - Sep 3, 2013 at 11:41 AM

        Oh, and I don’t go into games at the big house. I pack up the rig about an hour before kick-off and watch from the comfort of the couch.

    • dickasman - Sep 3, 2013 at 12:09 AM

      Call me when you get da bluntz n bongs lit up ill bring couple UM graduate strippers!

      I dunno I always considered Michigan rivalry bk’s just being Obama lying since they cancelled them. Call it what it is coach then move on why lie about it? Focking liberals kill me.

      • NotreDan - Sep 3, 2013 at 7:48 PM

        I always giggle at tbaggers that smoke dope in the garage. Hypocritical much?

  2. NotreDan - Sep 2, 2013 at 7:23 PM

    I can understand the bitterness of Michigan fans and coaches, having Notre Dame bow out of a series makes them feel inferior :)

  3. jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 2, 2013 at 8:02 PM

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d be pretty happy with a 2-10 record as long as those 2 wins were against Michigan and SC. Of course, beating both of them and going 12-0 last year felt pretty good too. Yeah let’s do that again.

    • papadec - Sep 2, 2013 at 8:53 PM

      Sorry joisey, I can’t go along with 2-10, beating um & usc and being happy. I could more easily live with 10-2 & losing both of those games. I have endured too many Wash St losing seasons, where they beat UDUB as a moral victory. ND still #1 in my heart & soul (my son is the WSU alum). As far as the ND/UM rivalry – we’re getting coach speak the week before a big game. It is far more than a regional rivalry. It was more than that when I was growing up across the river, in NYC. It’s more than that out here in the Seattle area. It wasn’t that long ago that UM had the #1 spot for wins, and ND had the #1 spot for Winning percentage & #2 for Wins. A series of mediocre seasons cost us that #2 spot for Wins – I believe Texas moved into that spot. I defer to hist & bern for accuracy there. A bunch of 10-2 seasons would go a long way to moving ND back into the #2 spot & close the gap on #1. GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. twebb2 - Sep 2, 2013 at 8:24 PM

    Well, after all of the doubt from last weekend (inconsistent offense after the first 2 TDs, questions about the defense, how much of it was due to “vanilla” O & D saving it up for this weekend, etc.), it will be good to finally see a “real” test for our heroes. Whatever questions we had from Temple are difficult because of the inferior competition. Michigan will be a good test; afterwards we should have a good read on the state of the program. And as usual with this series, I’m dreading it. Not as much as when “Shoelace” Robinson was the QB, but Gardner is a much better “pure” QB while not the athlete Robinson was (that’s no slight; Robinson was one of the best in all of college football!). I’m scared; this game could go either way – a close victory for either team or an ‘easy’ victory for each, we’ll see. I still remember following the live blog a couple of years ago when Rees hit what should have been the game winning TD with 28 seconds later… and then Keith’s sign off after a dramatic and terrible loss. Come on, men, show the Wolverines what team earned the right to play in the Title game last year!!!

    • ndgoldandblue - Sep 3, 2013 at 9:25 AM

      I’m with you, twebb. Quite a few Irish supporters are very confident going into this game on Saturday. I wish I could say the same was true for me. Mattison’s defense gave the Irish fits last year, and I’m not so sure Notre Dame’s D can match last year’s performance.

      Then again, the Irish still held Temple to 6 points, so what do I know? And it doesn’t really matter how much confidence I have; it’s the confidence-level of the players that matters. It’s just so difficult for our favorite team to go into Ann Arbor and come out victorious. But, you’re right, no result from Saturday would surprise me. It could be a nail-biter or a beat down (from either team), and I wouldn’t be surprised. I guess I just fear the worst and hope for the best. Go Irish!

  5. goirishgo - Sep 2, 2013 at 10:32 PM

    Man, I LOVE to beat Michigan. Go Irish!

  6. mtflsmitty - Sep 2, 2013 at 11:09 PM

    I was 11 years old in 1980 when Harry Oliver gave me the richest memory of my childhood by kicking a 51 yarder to beat Bo and his Wolverines. I was with my mom, dad and one of my older brothers about 15 rows up behind the upwrights. My brother and I ran out on the field that afternoon, and my mom re-told the story of the miracle kick for years to come.

    I have always hated USC, but the UM game has always held a special place in my heart each season. I’ll miss the game come 2015. Until then…NO MERCY.

    GO IRISH.

    BTW….Great rememberance by a friend of KAs written in 2010 days after Harry Oliver died at 47.

    http://www.und.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/091010aae.html

    • papadec - Sep 3, 2013 at 12:41 AM

      smitty – thanks for that post.

    • dillonbigred - Sep 3, 2013 at 2:48 PM

      After that game a photographer sold a b&w photo of Harry O’s kick around campus. I bought a copy and left it at the football offices for Devine to sign for my father, Frank, a lifelong fan. I later picked it up and went back to my room. I pulled it out of the bag and read the inscription, ” To Fred, Best Wishes, Dan Devine”. Oh well, it still made a good Christmas present.

  7. 25kgold - Sep 3, 2013 at 1:20 AM

    Michigan can thank their coach for this loss that’s coming to them on Saturday! When coach Joke (damn autocorrect), made that statement in the offseason–he must of completely forgot they had to STILL play ND, THIS YEAR!

  8. irishdodger - Sep 3, 2013 at 8:23 AM

    For the Mark May is full of shit file

    @SandlapperSpike: Mark May just said he watched Notre Dame-Michigan growing up. May was born in 1959. ND and UM did not play between 1943 and 1978.

  9. runners00 - Sep 3, 2013 at 9:44 AM

    It is Michigan week. It is a huge week for the program. Our rival is USC but the Michigan game is huge. Enough said.

    Go Irish!

  10. ibleedirish - Sep 3, 2013 at 10:59 AM

    I’m really trying not to be pessimistic, but this game scares me (as do a lot of the games on the schedule after this first week). Don’t get me wrong, I still have bets on the line in favor of my Irish, but a few things from Saturday were piss poor.

    1. The middle linebackers were worse than I thought, and I knew they were going to be bad. If I’m UM I’m practicing my short passes over the middle, play action, and QB runs up the middle. There is your blueprint to beat ND, simple as that.
    2. Stop with this Atkinson thing. Just stop. He isn’t a running back. He isn’t a return man. He tiptoes everywhere he goes, and clearly hates contact. High end speed means NOTHING at running back if you don’t also have quickness and an absolute love of hitting and being hit. Play Bryant and Carlisle, and lets at least look like a big boy school. Did I mention Atkinson is really, really bad?
    3. Demoting Brindza after his performance last year as a sophomore? I’m sorry, I don’t get it at all. And how the F does friggin Notre Dame not have someone who can not punt it out of the endzone? That was amateur hour. What the hell did the punters do all camp?

    I do think we can exploit UMs linebackers and safeties with our tight ends and bigger receivers. I have to believe we are about to see a heavy dose of Niklas and Robinson. It was no accident that Corey was out there most of the game but never thrown to.

    • ibleedirish - Sep 3, 2013 at 11:02 AM

      Should have read “How the F does Notre Dame not have someone who can keep a punt out of the endzone?”
      Apologies for the lack of proofread on my tirade.

    • mcirish27 - Sep 3, 2013 at 11:25 AM

      I don’t see how you have Tausch kicking field goals this week – Brindza needs to be the guy. As for the punting – let Wulfeck do his thing and if/when we really need a booming punt, Brindza’s got the leg to let it fly.

      I can’t agree on the Atkinson piece. He’s a good back, but I think we have 2 or 3 better than him. My prediction is Carlisle gets the most snaps with Cam McD a close second. Atkinson has proven effective in the kick return game and obviously once he gets in space – so there’s room for him in this offense somewhere. I thought the froshies looked more than solid in their limited appearances though. I’m pretty excited to see if they get more opportunities Saturday.

      I had a roommate for 4 years who was a Michigan fan (although chose to root for Mich State when he felt compelled as well – something i had to deal with while ND played them both every year during the Weis era, ugly.), have 3 high school friends who are Ann Arbor grads, and a brother-in-law who is a skunkbear – I HATE michigan.

      Go Irish.

      • ibleedirish - Sep 3, 2013 at 11:33 AM

        I’m in the Detroit area, so I’m surrounded by them. Arrogant s.o.b.s in every sense, talk radio is painful to listen to during fball season.

        Much respect to your opinion on GA3, but I just don’t see it out side of 2 nice kick returns 2 years ago, and a couple “home runs” against mediocre talent in the run game. New depth chart out for UM, and guess what? No McDaniel, Bryant or Folston. If I wasn’t bald already, I would be by halftime.

        Total agreement on the kick game.

        Go Irish

  11. lionscornbread90 - Sep 3, 2013 at 11:40 AM

    Please check your stat line. Robinson 4 int, Smith 1 int. Final score 13-6.

  12. mickeyirish9 - Sep 3, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    As a native Detroiter and Irish fan, there are only 3 games those heathen wolverine fans care about; Michigan State, Ohio State, and our beloved ND. those smug neanderthals have convinced themselves they are the be all and end all of college football. Here’s to a (hopeful) beatdown by the Irish.

    Onward to Victory!

  13. irishdog80 - Sep 3, 2013 at 12:00 PM

    The company line for Notre Dame Coaches and Administrators should be:

    “We opted out of the games from 2015-2017 with Michigan solely due to complications from our new 5 game commitment to the ACC. We had hoped to renew our rivalry with Michigan in 2018-2019, but Michigan informed us back in 2010 that they did not want to play us during those years. It is unfortunate that Michigan took those first steps to end the rivalry.”

    Michigan is a rival, but USC is our main rival. I also prefer The Stanford/USC for west coast presence, Navy as a traditional game and believe that Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue should be rotated with at least two Big 10 teams on our schedules every year. Add in our Shamrock Series games against regional FBS conference teams and a game against a team like Oklahoma or Texas or maybe and SEC team in the future… Vanderbilt?…and you have a very demanding schedule.

    Go Irish! Beat Michigan!

  14. irishpuma - Sep 3, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    Let’s be clear it is a rivalry and any talk that it isn’t is just Bull Shit. USC is our hated main nemesis of all time but UM is a Rivalry. Christ they own us we are 16-23 against them. The first thing I learned when I got to campus as a bright eyed 17 year old was the alternate version to the UM fight song. It goes a little something like this………”Hail to those Mother F’ers, Hail to those big Cock Suckers Hail Hail to Michigan the cesspool of the world.” Lyrics by Stanford Hall Seniors Circa 1988.

    • dillonbigred - Sep 3, 2013 at 2:59 PM

      The ND band would sing it while playing the UM song in the late 70’s and early 80’s. It also includes, fornicators, mastibaters, the assholes of the west.

      • irishpuma - Sep 3, 2013 at 3:20 PM

        we had the line ending the assholes of the world! Why limit them lol.

  15. 1historian - Sep 3, 2013 at 2:10 PM

    I hope we beat those heathen mf’ers, I think we will.

    Let us not forget that Pope Francis has called for prayer and fasting on September 7 for the people in Syria who are suffering.

    • papadec - Sep 4, 2013 at 8:57 PM

      I guess Francis doesn’t know, or care, about the ND schedule. I’ll pray before, during, and after the game. For the people of Syria too.

  16. bb90grad - Sep 3, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    Francis = RKG. The dude gets it.

    • 1historian - Sep 3, 2013 at 9:59 PM

      Well said. Thanks.

  17. stanford90 - Sep 3, 2013 at 7:31 PM

    The real UM fight song lyrics and the “heathen godless m-…” reference awoke echoes that had been silent for decades. Likewise, the subtle charm of Stanford Hall, reflected best through the vivacious personality of Brother Vi, flooded back after years of repression like a cinderblock castle collapsing on a DirtBag D.

    Aside form my personal historical references, my imprinted Michigan memories are Holtz’s first game (loss to UM) that led me to declare that a championship was on the horizon, and ’89 in Ann Arbor – Rocket stole the show and the game.

  18. 1historian - Sep 3, 2013 at 10:00 PM

    I watched that game. Absolutely amazing.

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