An Open Letter To You (Probably)
So, yeah, it's article exchange time with Blue-Gray Sky. I have a post on the Michigan-ND rivalry from the Wolverine perspective over there (includes me nearly beating children up!). They've got this over here. Enjoy but, uh, forgive them their somewhat humorous opinions re: national splendor. It's been a tough 12 years...
Dear Michigan fans,
That time of year is upon us once again, when the two titans of midwest football clash in what's shaping up to be yet another epic battle. There's something extremely powerful surrounding this mostly-annual grudge match; we fight over local and national dominance, we fight over the top spot spot in all-time winning percentage, we fight over recruits. ND-Michigan has featured some of the best games in college football over the years, with legendary names like Hamilton and Oliver, Ismail and Howard, Carter and Brooks and Mirer and Gillette spilling across the headlines. Interestingly enough, despite the proximity -- Ann Arbor is just a scant 175 miles from South Bend -- Notre Dame and Michigan aren't really the dominant rivals in each other's worldview. Notre Dame has its traditional, and longer-running rivalry with Southern Cal, and Michigan's stalking horse has always been Ohio State. That's not to say ND-Michigan is taken any more lightly by its fans; on the contrary, the emotions run just as high. But the matchup is special: I would say that Michigan and Notre Dame are less rivals and more Enemies. Bitter, bitter enemies.
ND-Michigan more often than not features a battle of nationally-ranked opponents, and often goes right down to the wire. And unlike other grudge matches that often serve as a capstone to a team's season, the Notre Dame-Michigan affair is always right up front, usually kicking off the season. A win can catapult the victor to an undefeated season; a loss can sink a team's hopes right out of the gates. Off the field, we pit our rich traditions against each other in a never-ending argument over who's got the best academics, the best colors, the best uniforms, the best marching band, and the best fight song.
In a way, Notre Dame owes Michigan a debt of gratitude. It was a group of Wolverine players who first taught the game to a Notre Dame club way back in 1887. From those humble beginnings, both programs rose to national fame and fortune. So, we give thanks to Michigan for passing down the game that has defined us so, and we are grateful.
But we owe Michigan more than our gratitude. We owe UM our scorn, for they have earned it.
A quick look at the history books reminds us why the Skunkbears have a wing unto themselves in our Hall of Shame. Shortly after the halcyon days of 1887, when players shared the game in a collegial competition, you tried to kill us. Once Notre Dame beat Fielding Yost's "point-a-minute" champions (after 8 consecutive losses to the Wolverines), Yost took the fledgling Irish program off Michigan's schedule. The humiliation ran deep; as if simply dropping the Irish wasn't enough, Yost fought tooth and nail to keep the burgeoning ND program out of the powerful Western Conference, worried that the upstart immigrant school would damage the reputation of what is now the Big Ten. Yost blackballed us, and encouraged others to do the same; for 34 years, his cowardice was enshrined in UM's schedule for all to see. Like a deranged, Munchausen-by-proxy mother (look it up), you tried to smother us in the crib when our program was in its infancy. Fear of Notre Dame was a powerful talisman, institutionalized by Yost, and the cowardice and consternation towards Notre Dame oozes out of Ann Arbor even to this day.
Yost was but the first in a litany of men of low character to hold the reins at UM. Fritz Crisler's "bias" (ahem) toward ND is well-known, and, like his predecessor, again dropped the Irish from his schedule for thirty years after a loss. Bo Schembechler sat idly by, for years, as three different Irish coaches won National Championships, while he was busy losing Rose Bowls; Bo was driven crazy with the notion that ND might enter the Big 10 and end his biannual trips to Pasadena. Gary Moeller was frustrated that he couldn't pick Notre Dame up, drink it, and then drive into a ditch. These also-rans were over-shadowed by true coaching legends just down the road from them: legends like Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, and Holtz, who racked up championship upon championship as Ann Arbor stewed.
In the end, perhaps we do owe the Skunkbears a few more tokens of thanks. If Yost hadn't taken his ball and gone home, perhaps we would now be in the Big Ten, and our idea of football excellence would entail two or three losses per year and a trip to the Rose Bowl twice a decade. But instead, you blackballed us, and tried to choke us out of existence. You should have finished the job. We survived, and because too many teams were under Michigan's villainous spell in the Midwest, we were forced to look elsewhere to find quality opponents. And we did. We scheduled and played the nationwide champions of the day: Army, Southern Cal, Georgia Tech, Stanford, and many others. We criss-crossed the country, we were Rockne's Ramblers, taking on all comers, what tho' the odds. In doing so, we won national acclaim, respect, and the hearts of countless Americans. It was Michigan's attempt to stamp out a budding rival that created the nation's most popular and successful football program, the University of Notre Dame's Fighting Irish.
This is why we don't approach the Michigan game with the same tradition-laden respect, the pomp and circumstance, or the "contest of equals" honor reserved for the Southern Cal game. Rather, like Inigo Montoya closing in on the six-fingered man, we come with a singular focus. We are Notre Dame Football. You tried to kill us. Prepare to die.
[Editor's note: This is how I envision the way Notre Dame fans perceive time: 1887-1993 â€“ Ten Billion Years; 1993-Present â€“ What are you talking about, it's still 1948.]