As I prepare to head to Michigan later this week, I’d like to take some time to look at one of our northern foes, the Michigan Wolverines. Not only is it one of the games that I’m most excited about as I look at the upcoming football schedule (partly because it’s on my birthday, and partly because I’ve never been to the Big House before), it was also the first game I saw the Notre Dame Fighting Irish play under the lights (September 1990). It was also the first time my fellow classmate, Rick Mirer, was at the helm for the Irish. There are so many great ND vs. Michigan games, but here are a three of my favorites.
Notre Dame vs. Michigan 1990
The 1990 Notre Dame (#1) vs. Michigan (#4) game was the first time I had seen a Notre Dame-Michigan game in person, and it was a night game, under the lights at Notre Dame stadium. Notre Dame took the field that day ranked #1, thanks to a Miami loss the weekend before, and Michigan was hoping to take that away from the Fighting Irish on Notre Dame’s home field. But the game didn’t start out as Michigan would have hoped, as they fumbled the ball on the second play from scrimmage, recovered by Notre Dame’s Greg Davis. Rodney Culver set the tone for the Notre Dame rushing game, securing a first down, and sophomore quarterback Rick Mirer, scored the first touchdown on an option play. Notre Dame 7-0.
After a Michigan field goal, Mirer ignited the next drive with a pass completion to Ricky Watters. This was followed by a 22-yard run by Rodney Culver, which set up a diving touchdown by Tony Brooks to put the Irish up 14-3 after the first period. The Wolverines, however, weren’t just going to lay down and die, and dominated much of the second and third quarters. At the end of the third quarter, the Wolverines were on top 24-14, forcing the Irish to step up their game. This time after a missed Michigan field goal, Mirer’s pass skipped off of Rocket’s fingers and into the hands of Lake Dawson for a 41-yard gain. From there the Irish advanced on ten straight running plays, with Rodney Culver pushing the last yard into the end zone for the score, making it a three point game (24-21 Michigan). Each team got turnovers in the two drives that followed, and then Notre Dame marched 76 yards down field in the final four minutes, securing the win with a Rick Mirer pass to Adrian Jarrell. (28-24 Notre Dame)
Notre Dame vs. Michigan 1989
Coming off a win over Virginia in the Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands, Notre Dame headed to Ann Arbor on a cloudy, rainy day upon which Raghib ‘Rocket’ Ismail entered his name into not only Notre Dame history, but the NCAA record books as well. But the rain didn’t bother Rocket one bit, as he made two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Notre Dame didn’t pass much that day. In fact, Tony Rice only made one pass completion in the entire game, which occurred in the first half to Johnson, and put the Irish on the scoreboard first, 7-0. Going into halftime, Notre Dame was up 7-6 as Michigan bounced an extra point off the upright on their only touchdown of the first half. And then the magic happened. Notre Dame had won the toss to start the game, but had deferred until the second half. And that decision turned out to be the right one as the Rocket blasted off for 89 yards to start the third quarter. Following that touchdown, the Irish kicker Craig Hentrich kicked a field goal on the next drive and the Irish were up 17-6. That’s when Michigan QB Elvis Grbac tried to get the Wolverines back in the game.
Grbac completed 6 of 7 passes on his first drive of the game (in for the injured Taylor), and connected with Walker to pull Michigan within five points, 17-12 Irish. Then Rocket stunned the Michigan crowd once more, returning yet another kickoff for a touchdown. Rocket started our running down the middle, looking for a hole. This time the hole was off to the left, with Rodney Culver leading the way. Rocket ‘turned on the afterburners’ and dashed down the field for yet another touchdown. It was the first time any player had returned even one kickoff for a touchdown against Michigan in 32 years ... let alone two! The Irish beat Michigan that day, 24-19, and those two kickoff returns landed Rocket on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Notre Dame vs. Michigan 1988
And who can forget the crowd noise disruption in the 1988 Notre Dame vs. Michigan game at Notre Dame stadium? (Why is it that we have 20,000 more fans in the stadium than we did back then and it never seems to be THIS loud? ) I can’t even express how much I love this clip. Be sure and watch the ENTIRE thing!
There are so many great Notre Dame-Michigan games. I’ll cover a few more in October as we get closer to the game in Ann Arbor. What’s your favorite Notre Dame-Michigan game?
Cheers & GO IRISH!