Late last week, “Irish” Brian Kelly spoke truth to power when he said the Michigan-Notre Dame matchup was not “one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries.” It hasn’t been, it isn’t now and it certainly won’t be in the future – and it is ALL the fault of the folks in South Bend.
I believe I touched on this subject a year ago, or even before that, on this blog, but it bears repeating – when Michigan plays Notre Dame, it is NOT a rivalry game. When Michigan plays a longtime foe – such as Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota (for the Little Brown Jug) – it should be properly classified as a “rivalry” (meeting an opponent of long standing with a shred of animosity between the two schools).
When the Big 10 Conference went to split divisions, and had placed Ohio State in a different lineup from Michigan, the Wolverines made sure they faced Ohio State EVERY year (regardless of the rotating byes given for other cross-division teams). It was THAT important to maintain an annual rivalry with the Buckeyes. Hell, if Michigan didn’t face Ohio State at the end of the regular season, what reason would there be to actually watch football in Ann Arbor?
Of course, Kelly reversed field faster than Paul Hornung running from the bookies he used to employ, stating at a Monday news conference, “It’s a great and historical 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. We’re excited about the game; excited about playing it. This will be decided by the players on the field and the preparation that goes along with it. So we can stick to that and dispense the nonsense.”
Sadly for Kelly, the miracle of the videotape (especially the clarity of digital) means it’s difficult to take back words already uttered.
History is as clear as digital on this point: this Saturday night, the two teams will only meet for the 41st time since… 1887. In comparison, Michigan has played Ohio State 109 times since 1897. Only from 1913-1917 (when World War I was happening) did the two schools not meet on the gridiron.
However, the Michigan-Notre Dame confrontations have stopped and started more times than the $25 car I first purchased when I got to Texas. The entire affair has been one that has lurched from contract-to-contract – sputtering most of the way.
Following 1909, here are the active years for meetings between the two schools: 1942-43, 1978-82, 1985-94, 1997-99, 2002-current. And after last year’s announcement of the non-renewal of the football contract (no more games after 2016), who knows when the Irish will return to town?
All this schedule interruptus sits totally at Notre Dame’s feet. If it were SUCH a major rivalry (instead of what it is – a good matchup), why did the Irish decide to call a timeout? Is playing Pitt more important? Or the Air Force? Or even Purdue?
Or is it too problematical that ND would lose to Michigan in any given year? As one Detroit sportswriter duly noted, even Rich Rodriguez notched two wins against Notre Dame.
Year-in and year-out, Notre Dame is THE most overrated football program in the United States. Last year, as it turned out, was just a mirage once it faced Alabama in the BCS title game, and only “the luck of the Irish” could explain how many times ND was outplayed yet stayed undefeated … until the end.
That was then; this is now. For future contracts between the two schools, I hope someone in Ann Arbor holds ND’s feet to the fire for its petulance and hesitancy and squeeze an agreement more in Michigan’s favor than the Irish.