* Sources: Kryk, "Natural Enemies: The Notre Dame- Michigan Football Feud", Sperber, "Shake Down the Thunder" and "Onward to Victory"; Notre Dame and Michigan Media Guides.
It is well this week to reflect on relations between Notre Dame and Michigan : how they began, how they developed, why they are the way they are and what forces impel Michigan to be the way it is.
Chapter One - The Yost Legacy
Fielding Yost is by far the most influential person in the history of Michigan athletics. A review of his tenure vis-a-vis Notre Dame is instructive of how and why Notre Dame and Michigan view each other the way they do.
"The two most powerful conference members athletically and politically were Chicago and Michigan . Both would become the staunchest athletic foes of Notre Dame. In 1898 Michigan voted to deny Notre Dame membership in the (then) Western Conference."
"In June 1901 Michigan and Chicago orchestrated the conference's banning of Notre Dame from the initial I.C.A.A. track meet"
1909 - Notre Dame defeats Michigan for the first time. After the game Notre Dame player Red Miller goes to shake Fielding Yost's hand. "When Shorty Longman introduced me to Mr. Yost, who had been my idol for years, I was thrilled beyond measure. . . To my utter amazement, he greeted me by saying 'Miller you were guilty of the most unsportsmanlike conduct that I've ever seen in all my days.'" Yost was angry because Miller had waited several times until the last minute to signal fair catches on punts and Michigan had been flagged twice for interference. "The fair catches were perfectly legal" as officals later confirmed.
Later that year despite, having a worse record and losing to ND, Michigan was voted "Champions of the West" by some Western Conference sportswriters and Yost claimed the split championship was just. "Of course we are champions. They have a good team down there, but you must recognize the fact that we went into that game caring little whether we won or lost. Practice was what we wanted."
1910 - 24 hours before Notre Dame and Michigan are to play, Yost cancels the game. The two teams do not play again for thirty-two years.
1911 - A general policy of blackballing of Notre Dame by Michigan and Western Conference schools begins. Jesse Harper writes to ask Michgan to schedule a game: "I am very sorry you could not think it best to schedule a game for next fall. If at any time you should find that your schedule is not working out to suit you and that you would like to play Notre Dame, I would be very glad to hear from you."
1913 - ND begins playing schools outside the midwest as a result of the boycott. Army, Texas , Penn State and Syracuse are added to the schedule. The 1913 Army game -- only scheduled due to the Michigan boycott -- becomes one of the most famous in ND history as Gus Dorais and Knute Rockne use the forward pass to upset the top team in the then-dominant East.
1914 - Yost to his AD "Do not favor Notre Dame game. It would be a hard game. Not much money or prestige if we won."
One senior football player of the class of '14 bears particular ill will towards Yost and Michigan for blackballing Notre Dame. Also, despite his pass-catching ability as displayed in the game against Army, Yost works to keep this player off of All American teams. The young player swears to friends that he will ensure that Notre Dame not only never needs the Western Conference, Yost or Michigan again, but that she will eclipse them across the nation.
Rockne viewed Yost as "a hillbilly who was forever grinding a religious ax against Notre Dame, who was crooked as a dog's hind leg, who was selfish and vain beyond comprehension, who was blindly jealous of Rockne's own success and ascension to national stardom and who coached boring, neanderthal football."
1923 Big Ten track and field meet to which ND is invited. At a meeting of athletic directors Yost makes a comment in front of all listeners that Rockne is a "Protestant holdout at a Catholic school" and urges Big Ten schools to boycott Notre Dame in all sports. During the meet one of Michigan 's hurdlers stumbled and lost. Yost inisted the hurdles had been placed wrong and demanded the race be re-run. Illinois , Wisconsin and other schools withdrew and Notre Dame joined in support of their protest. Yost then approached Notre Dame's captain and told him to tell Rockne that he was a quitter and that he and his "dirty Irish" would never play on Ferry Field again.
Rockne wrote Yost "The Western Conference could put in a regulation that all coaches had to join the Ku-Klux-Klan but that certainly does not apply to us any more than some of the other freak regulations they may have. Now if you personally don't want to meet Notre Dame, that is your business, no holler from this end. . . But I dont think it is fair for you to carry out a campaign against us. I have always been a loyal booster and admirer of yours and I always hope to be. However, I am no quitter. I will not sit by quietly and have my school knocked even though I am not of its faith [this was before Rockne converted]"
1926 - In a note to the Big Ten Commissioner, noting that Notre Dame had won its last twelve games against Big Ten teams Yost urges all to join Michigan's renewed boycott, "one can readily see how the Conference is helping Notre Dame."
1929 - After years of false assertions by Yost against Notre Dame, Michigan 's longstanding unethical tactics are exposed in a study by the Carnegie Report on college athletics. The report cited Michigan as "among the least fortunate" of 100 schools investigated in the manner in which both the University and its alumni clubs provided loans, jobs and other forms of aid to athletes. That same year, the Big Ten Commissioner denounced the report and called Michigan "an ideal" for other college athletic programs regarding ethics.
Rockne's system, involving the famed Notre Dame Shift caught other teams off balance and was the rage in football. Yost begins a national campaign to get the shift banned and resort to old-style less fluid football not involving shifting or as much passing - in other words, a return to the rugby-style that earlier had led to many deaths and led to President Theodore Roosevelt calling for reforms in the game. Eventually, the rule was modified to require a "complete stop" - Rockne coached his players to do so - briefly - and still used his motion offense to win a national championship in 1924. Yost was outraged. Next, Big Ten officials began flagging Notre Dame on a consistent basis for its "slick" plays and quick shifts and reverses. In a game at Northwestern, Michigan alum and Big Ten official Meyer Morton penalized Notre Dame 95 yards, NW zero, leading to the famous Rockne quote to the official "Looks like a Big Ten suckhole out there to me." Rockne was also outraged that Yost had a say on which Big Ten officials called ND games against Big Ten teams, even though Michigan was not playing Notre Dame. Even with the new rules designed by Yost and his allies to impede Rockne, Notre Dame went undefeated in 1929 and 1930 and won two more national championships.
At the end of the day Rockne has become the prototype of coaches and an American cultural icon, the winningest coach in the history of football with towns, buildings, stamps and famous movies named after him and the most legendary of all team exhortations to his credit. Yost's name is generally known only to Michigan fans.
Chapter Two - The Crisler Legacy - "They Say Hail Mary's"
Finally, in 1942, after thirty-two years, a game was played between Notre Dame and Michigan . Michigan won 32-20. The next year, the game was played in Ann Arbor . The teams were ranked 1 and 2 in the polls and it was a huge game. Notre Dame won 35-12 on the way to the national championship. The star of the game was Creighton Miller, son of Red Miller who Yost had attacked in 1909. As after Notre Dame's first win over Michigan , Notre Dame's second win provoked a cessation of relations for another thirty years.
In a gesture of goodwill in order to strengthen relations between the schools, Coach Fritz Crisler was extended an invitation to the Notre Dame football banquet in 1943. He told a friend to graciously say he was deeply disappointed he could not attend and that "No one but you need know that I have my tongue in cheek when I say that."
A Michigan official told Crisler that if asked about the Notre Dame series he would say its a great series, we are looking forward to more of the same. Crisler told him "I would back you in public for any quotes and then chew you out in private for going beyond your authority." Crisler thereafter politely put off all requests for a game in 1944, 1945 or 1946. In 1946 he instituted a policy requiring that aside from conference games, Michigan only play three other games of which one must be Michigan State , one must be an eastern team and one must be a western team, effectively elimintating any chance of playing Notre Dame without having to admit that was what was being done. Frank Leahy won five national championships at Notre Dame and constantly wrote letters to Crisler begging for him to play a game. Crisler never responded to those requests, but did work behind the scenes in an attempt to have Leahy censured by the coaches association for "faking injuries".
Crisler remained AD until 1968 and never scheduled Notre Dame for a football game. Moose Krause , ND AD during the period, would call Crisler every year to seek a game and was declined for twenty straight years. Said Krause, "I think he didnt want to play us because we were the power in his own backyard. If Michigan lost to Army, well, they were back East. We were too close."
Crisler often said he just did not want to distract from the Big Ten focus of the program. Others thought Crisler harbored anti-Catholic sentiment and feared that Catholics in Michigan might root for Notre Dame. A Detroit News writer, Pete Waldmeir, who covered Michigan for decades says the excuse of not wanting to jeopardize the importance of the conference was a smokescreen. He opined "That's the party-line ********. It wasnt that at all. Fritz didnt give a damn about the Big Ten. And you can quote me on that. He told them what to do in football. He had his people placed all around the Big Ten." In 1956 Crisler told Waldmeir, "You know, its tough. Every Saturday morning from every pulpit in town, they're praying for Notre Dame in Ann Arbor ." Even Michigan 's later athletic director Don Canham all but admits his predecessor's anti-Catholic bigotry: "Fritz didnt have a deep-seated hate of Catholics or anything like that. But, you know, in those days they figured if a Catholic ran for President he couldnt win. . . . I mean it was a different world. And thats what you have to realize when you look at it with today's perspective."
Bump Elliott, Michigan's coach from 1959-1968 also endorsed the "religious threat" reasoning for not scheduling Notre Dame, noting that when he was an assistant at Iowa, some of their Catholic alumni rooted against the Hawkeyes and for Notre Dame. Father Edmund Joyce, Vice President of Notre Dame, said that the only two schools that ever used Notre Dame's Catholic affiliation as an excuse for not scheduling Notre Dame in football were Ohio State and Michigan . Said Joyce, "I always thought the two of them were together on this. I never believed it." Continued Joyce, in the neatest summary of what the Big Two are all about: "Ultimately, Woody Hayes was a little more honest about it. He said he didnt want to play Notre Dame because the Michigan game was the only big game on their schedule, whereas if they played Notre Dame it would detract from the Michigan game. In other words what he was saying was they dont like to lose. Those guys all had great egos and they didnt want to lose." Said Elliott, "I think Crisler felt our schedule was tough enough without playing Notre Dame."
Indeed, Crisler loaded up Michigan with home games, as many as seven in a nine game season and even today, Michigan's historical record is incredibly slanted with a large majority of games having been played at home. From 1943 to 1958 Michigan played Indiana fifteen times, all in Ann Arbor . They played MSU eleven of thirteen games in Ann Arbor from 1945 to 1957. Despite such favorable scheduling and a boycott of Notre Dame, Michigan did not win any national championships from 1948 through the resumption of the series with Notre Dame, while ND was winning championships in 1949, 1953, 1966, 1973 and 1977. And Michigan 's light schedule may have had much to do with its lack of success against good teams for decades. In the 1970's, while Notre Dame was winning three Cotton Bowls, a Sugar Bowl, an Orange Bowl and a Gator Bowl, defeating undefeated Texas twice, undefeated Alabama twice, as well as Houston and Penn State , Michigan was 0-6 in bowl games.
One time, Crisler was assured by an alumnus that he could always count on support from Michgian alumni in his efforts to avoid scheduling Notre Dame and preventing other Big Ten schools from scheduling them, telling Crisler he could depend on "a public opinion sufficiently non-Democratic and non-Catholic." Perhaps the mentality and admirability of the second-most signifcant figure in the history of Michigan sports can be summed up in this quote from him about Notre Dame "You know, before the game they march them all off to church and they say their Hail Mary's,"
Chapter Three - The Canham Years - Michigan and The Big Ten Want ND's Money.
While figures such as Yost and Crisler didnt like Catholics or Irish, their successors did like green, the color of money. And money was precisely what led to Michigan realizing the greater spirit and glory of sport that a resumption of games with Notre Dame would serve. Businessman extraordinaire Don Canham became athletic director in 1969 and quickly looked for avenues to increase revenue. Notre Dame was one.
Canham quickly got the deal done and Notre Dame always had the utmost respect for him as he did for Notre Dame. Said Canham. "You have to give Notre Dame credit. Any sport you name Notre Dame goes after the best competition. Thats why they're Notre Dame." The class and largeness of spirit exhibited by Canham was a break with Michigan 's heritage and one not to be followed by those around him.
Canham was ahead of the game for the Big Ten in reaching out to Notre Dame. In the late nineties, Big Ten officials hotly courted Notre Dame to join the conference -- for money not love. Notre Dame wisely demured. In an ironic twist of history largely and predictably ignored by the media, Notre Dame was being asked to join the regional institution whose many earlier rejections of Notre Dame had forced it to seek a national schedule and thus become the national athletic institution it was. Moreover, the institution that had done the most to attempt to destroy, undermine and thwart Notre Dame athletics was aghast and insulted at its rejection when it came begging for Notre Dame join it so that it could monetarily profit from the name and brand ND had built up over the years.
Chapter Four - Bo and Lloyd - Pettiness Personified
Sound familiar? "I dont know whether [playng Notre Dame] is in the best interests of Michigan because Michigan should be pointing to Iowa or Michigan State or Ohio State . It had just got to the point where if I had remained there as athletic director and Notre Dame continued to manipulate the position of the game and to do some of the things they were doing, I'd have dropped Notre Dame." Yes, it is Bo. He also resented that his players didnt agree with him. "When you're setting your goals in your first meeting, Notre Dame always pops into the picture. And you say 'Okay men, we're going to shoot for Notre Dame, but I'm going to tell you something, Notre Dame is a non-conference game, and we'll always play it as that. There are only so many games you can really get your team up to a fever pitch." Bo was 4-6 against Notre Dame.
Bo's frustration undoubtedly stems in part from the fact that during his tenure at Michigan , three different Notre Dame coaches won national championships while Bo never got close. And throughout Lou Holtz's tenure, Notre Dame won five major bowls and played in four others while Michigan was going 2-3 in the Rose Bowl and not making any other major bowl games. Bo, who had the worst record against top-ten teams of any coach who ever won over a hundred games, had some of his most galling and embarrasing defeats at the hands of the Irish, including three straight losses to Holtz to close his career, Harry Oliver's 51-yard boot, Bob Crable's blocked field goal, Ricky Watter's punt return helping catapult Notre Dame to a national championship in 1988 and Rocket's two kick returns in 1989. So Bo's desire to avoid Notre Dame is understandable. His class and Michigan manner were recently displayed yet again when in true statesman of the game style he proclaimed "To hell with Notre Dame."
Lloyd Carr has picked up many of the same tendencies as his predecessors. He frequently talks about how it might be a good idea to end the Notre Dame series. Also, he went ballistic over a perceived "injustice" when Notre Dame played Kansas before playing Michigan in 1999. He claimed there was a gentlemans agreement that neither school would play a game before this one. Krause was conveniently dead. Unfortunately, the then-alive Canham opted to tell the truth and denied any such agreement. Carr's dissembling was further undermined by the fact that Michigan played games before playing Notre Dame in 1978-82, 1991, 1993 and 1994. As former Michigan athletic director Jack Weidenbach points out, "We can move our games around too" and had done so to get a game before Notre Dame for years before Carr's Yostian tirade.
Carr's hostility to truth is also displayed in his recruiting efforts to play the race card. Carr frequently uses Notre Dame's Catholic affiliation [sound familiar] and location away from a large city to attempt to convince African-American players not to attend Notre Dame. Carr's tactics are especially unworthy considering that African-American athletes going to Notre Dame almost uniformly earn degrees while an African-American football player at Michigan for most of the last two decades is most likely to serve his time in the fields at Michigan Stadium and around the Big Ten and then leave school with no degree. Carr's average of three-losses a season with what is generally considered unlimited recruiting resources and limited academic demands on his players has placed him squarely in the Michigan mold. Consistent winning with few outstanding seasons.
In the end, much of the Michigan-Notre Dame relationship comes down to smallness and jealousy. Notre Dame has won far more national championships, more Heisman Trophies, has more All Americans. Its games are more highly-rated, its team more closely followed nationally than Michigan . It has its own network contract and every year that polling is conducted Notre Dame is chosen as America 's most popular college football team. While Notre Dame has been consensus national champion nine times since the polls came into effect in 1936 and number two four times, Michigan has won a championship in 1948 and a half of one in 1997, and has finished second twice. Never has Michigan defeated an undefeated or number one or two ranked team in a bowl game to win a national championship as Notre Dame has done repeatedly. While Notre Dame has won bowl games against undefeated opponents seven times, Michigan has never won a bowl game against an undefeated opponent. And Notre Dame is the only school to have a winning record against Michigan over the last fifty years. Indeed, even failures such as Bob Davie and Ty WIllingham have a combined .500 record against Michigan , with Ty having a winning record against Carr! Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the average Notre Dame undergrad far outshines the resume of his Michigan counterpart, having finished in the top ten percent of his high school class and scoring much higher on standardized tests. Even by the ludicrous standards of the U.S News and World Report survey by which large universities such as Michigan live, Notre Dame outranks them. All of this is galling to Michigan , whose worldview is one conditioned on absolute superiority to the Big Ten schools it regularly dictates to politically, defeats on the field and over whom it presumes intellectual superiority.
Nowhere is Michigan 's "Notre Dame complex" more apparent than in the hostile, ugly treatment of Notre Dame fans at Michigan Stadium. Michigan and other fans routinely comment on how friendly and refreshing a trip to Notre Dame is for a game - a trip back to days of real college football sportsmanship. Michigan , on the other hand, while constantly publicizing its committment ot sportsmanship and the values of intercollegiate competition embarrassingly was forced to send an official apology to Notre Dame for the vulgar and violent treatment of Notre Dame's students and fans at Michigan Stadium in 2003. Unable to have a constructive, mature relationship with a school that sees itself as more than its equal, Michigan's relationship with Notre Dame has always been one of animus and pettiness, fueled at various points by historical prejudice against Catholics and envy of Notre Dame's unique place in the history of American sport and its success against the odds, all achieved outside the narrow confines of the conference walls Michigan so obsessively built and maintains.