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September 22, 2012
In 1887, on their way to Chicago to play a football game, student-athletes from Michigan stopped in South Bend to teach a handful of adventurous Notre Dame students the rudiments of the game.
The Fighting Irish learned well. So well that while Michigan is the all-time leader in Division 1-A football victories with 897, the Irish are just 41 victories behind, despite the Wolverines' head start.
The two storied football programs have been walking on equal ground since the Wolverines won the first eight games of the series (1887-1908) by a combined score of 121-16.
Notre Dame finally broke through in 1909 with an 11-3 victory over Michigan. The loss didn't sit well with Michigan head coach Fielding H. Yost, and another 33 years would pass before Notre Dame and Michigan went head-to-head on the football field again.
In 1942, No. 6 Michigan defeated No. 4 Notre Dame in Notre Dame Stadium, 32-20. The following year in Ann Arbor, No. 1 Notre Dame defeated No. 2 Michigan, 35-12. And just like that, the series was abandoned again.
This time, 35 years passed before the Midwestern powers battled against one another on the same gridiron, and beginning in 1978, the two schools started and have maintained what has become one of the featured September games on the national slate.Notre Dame is 3-0 in night games at home against the Wolverines, and 6-2 all-time in night home games. Saturday night in Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish and the Wolverines will play for the 29th time in the last 35 years with two-year breaks coming in 1983-84, 1995-96, and 2000-01. Who knows what the future holds with the recent announcement that Notre Dame will play five games per season against ACC schools beginning in 2014.
With its current three-game winning streak, Michigan has inched ahead of Notre Dame since the modern-day renewal of the series, 14-13-1, with 17 of the last 27 battles decided by a touchdown or less and 11 of the last 21 by five points or less. The average margin of victory throughout the 39-game series is a mere 4.3 points.
The largest lead in the series since 1978 has been three games by the Irish after Lou Holtz fashioned a four-game winning streak over Bo Schembechler and his successor, Lloyd Carr. But Michigan's five victories in the last six games have tightened up a rivalry that was destined for competitive battles.
From 1978 through 2006 - a span of 23 games between Notre Dame and Michigan - at least one of the two teams was ranked. Both were ranked in 19 of those 23 games. Three times, Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 (winning two) and six times they were among the nation's top five. Michigan was ranked among the nation's top five on nine occasions during that span.
In 1989 in Michigan Stadium, No. 1-ranked Notre Dame defeated No. 2-rated Michigan, 24-19, on the strength of two Raghib Ismail kick returns for touchdowns. The following season, No. 1-ranked Notre Dame defeated No. 4 Michigan, 28-24, when sophomore quarterback Rick Mirer scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:40 left.
In the 23 games from 1978 through 2006, the higher ranked team lost 13 times, including No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 11 Michigan in 1981 (a 25-7 loss in Gerry Faust's second game with the Irish), No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 22 Notre Dame in 1998 (a 36-20 Irish victory under Bob Davie) and No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 20 Notre Dame in 2005 (a 17-10 Irish victory Charlie Weis' second game with the Irish).
Since 2007, however, Michigan has been ranked just once (No. 18 in 2009) when the two teams played while the Irish have been unranked in the last five meetings. That streak comes to an end tonight when No. 11 Notre Dame (3-0) takes on No. 18 Michigan (2-1) under the lights.
The Irish are playing their ninth night game in Notre Dame Stadium history. Including tonight, four of the night home games have been against Michigan. Notre Dame is 3-0 in night games at home against the Wolverines.
The first was on Sept. 18, 1982 when No. 20 Notre Dame defeated No. 10 Michigan, 23-17. The Irish defeated Michigan, 19-17, on Sept. 10, 1988. No. 1 Notre Dame knocked off No. 4 Michigan, 28-24, on Sept. 15, 1990.
Notre Dame is 6-2 all-time in home night games. In addition to the 3-0 mark against Michigan, the Irish are 0-1 vs. Miami (a 31-13 loss in 1984), 2-0 vs. Michigan State (a 27-10 win in 1985 and a 31-8 win in 1987 on Tim Brown's two punt returns for TDs), 1-0 vs. Stanford (a 42-14 victory in 1988), and 0-1 vs. USC (a 31-17 loss last season).
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