I'm 31. This means that unlike Mark May (Age 53) and Skip Bayless (Age 61) I have never known a time in which Michigan and Notre Dame were not playing each other, apart from the occasional two-year break. It also means that I don't know who Bubba Smith was, but I'm reasonably certain he never played for Michigan.
Like many of you, I was astounded to learn that the Michigan-Notre Dame series is not a rivalry. Wikipedia claims it is, but then wikipedia also claims there is such a thing as "Puppy pregnancy syndrome", a psychosomatic illness in which the victim thinks that "shortly after being bitten by a dog, puppies are conceived within their abdomen." So now I don't know what to believe.
I've always counted Ohio State, Michigan State, Notre Dame and maaaaaaaybe Minnesota as Michigan's rivals. The thing is, when I was growing up Notre Dame was the only team that was really a threat. Minnesota has beat Michigan twice since I've been born. Michigan State has always been and will always be Little Brother, even if a nasty Michigan coaching transition gave them the upper hand for a few years. Ohio State is undoubtedly Michigan's greatest rival, but my football brain was congealing during the John Cooper era in which Ohio State was more of a cartoon villain. Sure, they were menacing and evil, but at the end of the day they almost always got what was coming to them. Notre Dame was different, though. They were good, like the Buckeyes but without the hilarious tendency to choke games away. As often as not, a game against Notre Dame was going to end in tears, and that made the victories all the more sweet.
Here are my personal top memories of the rivalry that never was.
#8: Rocket @#$%ing Ismail, 1989
Hey, I didn't say they were all going to be GOOD memories, did I?
In 1989 the college football world was centered at the Michigan-Indiana border. #1 Notre Dame faced off against #2 Michigan at Michigan Stadium. I was only 7 years old but I knew this was a big deal. Things went pretty well... except some dude named Raghib "Rocket" Ismail returned two Michigan kickoffs for touchdowns, and Notre Dame won 24-19.
#7. Remy Hamilton Drills It, 1994
There's a special feeling of dread when your team needs to attempt a last-second, do-or-die field goal. There's so many things that could go wrong. A bad snap. A bad hold. A bad kick. A block. A sudden gust of wind. But when Remy Hamilton lined up for a 42-yard attempt with Michigan down by one point, he drilled the cleanest kick you could ever hope for. And he knew it, too. Watch the video. Foot hits ball at 0:17. Kicker and holder are in celebration mode not one second later, even though the ball still has a few more seconds of flight time before it makes it to the uprights.
#6 and #5: Thirty Eight to Nothing, 2003 and 2007
By the turn of the 21st Century, Notre Dame had fallen on hard times. In spite of Returning to Glory in 2002 and 2005, they had a nasty penchant for losing seasons. That did not stop their fans' (or the pollsters') belief in Notre Dame's divine right to a vastly inflated preseason ranking. It fell to Michigan to introduce reality, and we frequently did so, most notably with a pair of 38-0 beatdowns, in 2003 and 2007. 2006's 47-21 beatdown (aka the "Brady Quinn for Heisman" game) wasn't bad either.
#4: Tate sees Cover Zero, 2009
After enduring by far the worst football season I had ever witnessed in Rich Rodriguez's first year, 2009 started out with promise. After slapping around WMU the week before, Michigan settled in for a slugfest with Notre Dame. Michigan would win it 38-34 with a short touchdown pass with 11 seconds left, but it was this earlier play that really sticks in the memory. True freshman quarterback Tate Forcier found a hole in the Notre Dame defense on 4th and 3, and scampered straight up the middle 31 yards for an untouched touchdown. Finally we were starting to see how the Rodriguez offense worked! All we needed was our quarterback for the next four years to keep his head on straight and for the defense to be something better than terrible...
#3: Denard Robinson is to Midfield and They'll Never Catch Him, 2010
Denard Robinson's name appears in a lot of recordbooks. One of them is Notre Dame's. See: Longest run from scrimmage in the 83-year history of Notre Dame Stadium. Once again the game would be won by Michigan 28-24 on a short last-second touchdown, but it was this 87-yard run that is the lasting memory of the day.
#2: Under the Lights, 2011
In 2011, in the first-ever night game at Michigan Stadium, Michigan defeated Notre Dame, scoring the winning touchdown on a screen pass to Vincent Smith with 82 seconds left. In 2011, in the first-ever night game at Michigan Stadium, Notre Dame defeated Michigan, scoring the winning touchdown on a deep pass to Theo Riddick with 30 seconds left.
In 2011, in the first ever night game at Michigan Stadium, Michigan defeated Notre Dame, scoring the winning touchdown on a pass to Roy Roundtree with 2 seconds left. It was the craziest end to a football game I've ever seen. It was the craziest end to a football game not involving the Stanford Marching Band that I've ever even heard of. I nearly put it at #1 on my list, but not quite...
#1: Desmond Howard makes The Catch, 1991
The 1991 game was won by Michigan 24-14, which means it wasn't as close as most of the others on the list. This one play, though, left such an impression on my 9-year-old mind that it has not been topped since. To this date, when my wife asks for my opinion on interior decorating, I tell her what we really need is a floor-to-ceiling mural of The Catch. She hasn't gone for it yet but I'm still fighting the good fight. On 4th "and a foot", nursing a 3-point lead, Michigan did the most un-Michigan thing you could imagine. Elvis Grbac pump faked, then lobbed the ball into the endzone. When the ball was in the air, Desmond Howard was bracketed in double coverage. When the ball came down, his impossibly outstretched arms were there to cradle it. Touchdown.
Thank you to all the youtubers who posted the above videos, many of which are members of Mgoblog.