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Posted on Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 3:40 p.m.

Suddenly, the Michigan-Notre Dame football game has national relevance

By Michael Rothstein

The game had barely ended inside Michigan Stadium and the reminder rang down from the student section.

Forget about Western Michigan, the Wolverines faithful knew what was next.

“Beat the Irish,” the crowd chanted. “Beat the Irish.”

Lest anyone think this game isn’t a big deal anymore, consider the largest boos Saturday came whenever the continued Notre Dame beatdown of Nevada was announced.

The difference now, at least compared to the past couple of years, is an interest because of actual football being played instead of the trainwreckian attributes of the 0-fer Bowl in 2007 and Fumblepalooza 2008.

The Michigan-Notre Dame was important then. Now, though, there’s more of a national tinge to it.

“I would hope,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I would think Michigan-Notre Dame is always going to have a national tone. It’s one of the greatest rivalries there are.”

Michigan and Notre Dame haven’t both entered this game undefeated since 2006. Since then, the Irish have undergone a two-year swoon. Michigan, after rallying around Lloyd Carr and a bunch of seniors in 2007, collapsed in 2008.

Yet, here we are again. Michigan and Notre Dame are undefeated. Both are on the cusp of national relevance for on-field play instead of off-field drama. And yet, in some fitting way, they stand in front of each other attempting to have a breakthrough.

To be fair, this game means a lot more for Notre Dame and Charlie Weis than it does Michigan. The Wolverines’ big game was last week against Western. In that game it showed flashes of coming back.

A win Saturday would burst that door open. But there’s at least some feeling considering the youth within the Michigan program that as long as Rodriguez and Michigan don’t get blown out, that he’s playing with house money this week. A 3-1 September is attainable and likely.

Yet in South Bend, Weis needs to win this game in his fifth year. Last year’s win - the same game where his knees were taken out by Notre Dame defensive end John Ryan - was arguably Weis’ biggest at the time.

And Michigan ended up finishing 3-9. Now, a year later, it appears Weis may have something special in South Bend. And there is pressure for him to be in the conversation for the BCS or risk losing his job.

Beating Michigan, with the rest of the Irish schedule weak at best save for USC, Michigan State and possibly Stanford and Pittsburgh, pushes a long way toward that bar.

To prove itself as a BCS contender, beating Michigan is a must. Crushing a hapless Nevada team is one thing. Taking care of suddenly-potent Michigan is another. This is where Notre Dame should be concerned.

Historically, this rivalry has provided some underdog upsets. In 2006, Notre Dame was the No. 2 team in the country and looked like national title contenders. Michigan went to South Bend, trounced the Irish, 47-21, and Notre Dame never recovered as a title contender.

A year earlier, Michigan was ranked third in the country with the Irish coming to Ann Arbor. Notre Dame won, 17-10, and Michigan tumbled to 7-5. Since 2002 when the teams have played yearly, the lower-or-unranked team has won four times. Twice, neither team was ranked and 2003, then-No. 5 Michigan beat then-No. 15 Notre Dame, 38-0.

The Irish will almost assuredly be ranked again when the newest poll comes out Tuesday. Michigan won’t.

The winner Saturday, though, will likely be in a position to be in the rankings for a while along with back in the national discussion.

That’s what the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry does. It sets tones for both teams’ seasons. It also has much more national credence than most.

Just ask Michigan guard Stephen Schilling from Bellevue, Wash., where the biggest thing is usually the Apple Cup.

“It’s bigger on a national stage,” Schilling said. “Nobody out here knows what the Apple Cup is. A lot of people don’t know what the Apple Cup is.

“The Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry is something that goes back I don’t know how long. It’s definitely bigger on the national stage.”

Only this time, it’s not just the names that are heavyweights. One of the teams playing might emerge as one, too.

Michael Rothstein covers Michigan sports for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Tue, Sep 8, 2009 : 7:35 p.m.

OSUbeBetter you are incorrect. It was Fritz: The winged football helmet is a helmet bearing a distinctive painted design and used by some American football teams. Fritz Crisler first debuted the winged helmet at Princeton University in 1935. When Crisler was hired by the University of Michigan he brought the new helmet style with him. It has since become one of the most identifiable parts of college football. The helmet has been said to help quarterbacks easily identify their receivers downfield. The University of Michigan is the only Division I-A school to retain the winged football helmet, although variations were used by many teams in the past, especially in the era of leather football helmets. Princeton's helmet is patterned after the design which originated at Princeton but is most often associated with its 60-plus year run at Michigan. Most teams' helmets were bland and indistinguishable at that time, and Crisler's design was one of the first to bear some distinction. The triangular shapes are said to represent the folded-back ears of a tiger (Princeton's nickname), while the three stripes imitate those on the animal's body. Although these features are purely ornamental on modern helmets, they coincided with physical features of the helmet during the 1930s. Crisler took the design with him to Michigan in 1938, and Princeton ceased to use it at that same time. The design was resurrected in modern form at Princeton in 1998.


Tue, Sep 8, 2009 : 10:28 a.m.

Weiss has a lot more riding on this game than RR. If ND loses then Weiss (who should have been fired last year) will be on his way out. Forrcier a`nd Robinson afre still freshman and need more experience. The Defense looks faster and are tackling better which is a good sign. The team needs to expeerience playing tough for sixty minutes. RR has them on the right track.


Tue, Sep 8, 2009 : 6:42 a.m.

I have a feeling this is the year we beat OSU. I don't want to jump the gun, but I can see it happening this year. These guys are hungry and is anxious to provem themselves from last year's mess. GO BLUE!!!!!


Tue, Sep 8, 2009 : 6:30 a.m.

King RichRod, King RichRod; We love you. King RichRod, King RichRod; He's Maize and he's Blue. The Irish are done; DRob is great. Our #5, son; Is THE golden Tate! -Theo Nostradomski '09 We may have an EASIER time with ND than we did with WMU. Where is the BCS title game this year?


Tue, Sep 8, 2009 : 2:24 a.m.

At this point of time ND offense and defense are better but ND always has had trouble playing on the road. UM could pull this game out if they play aggressive on defense and not make any big mistakes on offense. Tate will probably have to scramble more on plays to find open receivers but if UM gets early momentum, I think they can win. Prediction UM 29 ND 27. Crisler bought the wing helmets from Princeton but it was designed by the Spalding Sporting Good company. Several teams at one time have used these helmets but UM and Princeton are the only teams that kept them. I think Princeton has copied the more modern versions of the UM helmet through the 50s into the 60s.


Tue, Sep 8, 2009 : 12:58 a.m.

OneWolverine, And michigan was the first to do the Script OHIO, Winged helmet came from Prinston (Yost i believe?), and Bo came from OHIO. Big deal why someone wrote a fight song, and i cant believe you are actually going to say that Michigan somehow invented the Oval (Wouldnt that be THE Colleseum?). Booooring........


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 10:45 p.m.

Actually UM73 that was more for mercury 69's stupid comment, and as far as you say how how good we used to be? Well I saw some pretty good stuff saturday so how about now?


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 10:43 p.m.

Amazen, I don't know your beef with the writer and you may be right overall, but I have to say you're not proving your point. First, that you know people in the program who are only talking about winning isn't to say that he's not hearing otherwise from other people. Secondly, the operative word next to the title of the article is "OPINION". Maybe he's misinterpreted what some have said. Maybe someone told him that. Maybe he's making it up. From this example alone, he hasn't been proven wrong. And personally, I think the sentiment is actually correct for the fans that I know and myself.


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 10:33 p.m.

OneWolv, if you think something that happened in 1888 (or 1988 for that matter) means anything to anyone outside our circle of fans, you need to rethink quick. This will get some press from the play by play guys but only because they need a story and this is about all they have. and consider this: Question: Name this country... Richest in the world Largest military Center of world business and finance Strongest education system Currency the world standard of value Highest standard of living Answer: Great Britain. In 1900. Everyone: please stop championing how good we used to be over the years. We are sounding like England.


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 10:23 p.m.

artichoke et. al., let's stop comparing ourselves to little bros in Columbus and Lansing. They may have beaten us with better teams, but we are Michigan and therefore better. QED.


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 10:20 p.m.

National Relevance is right! The two winningest teams in college football. SOME FACTS ABOUT THE MICHIGAN-NOTRE DAME RIVALRY: In 1888, the Michigan football team took a train to South Bend to teach Notre Dame how to play football! So, the next time a Notre Dame fan brags about their tradition, just remind him it was Michigan who taught them how to play football in the first place! Notre Dame's fight song (The Notre Dame Victory March) was written after a loss to Michigan! The Notre Dame fans had to listen to "The Victors" being played all day, so, after the loss to Michigan, two Notre Dame students wrote a fight song for their team. Notre Dame Stadium was copied after Michigan Stadium. If you get a chance to look at it, you can easily see it is a smaller version of the Big House. Even though Notre Dame has an exclusive home contract with NBC, and just about all of their away games are televised, it is Michigan that is the most televised team in the history of college football! No Relevance? Only a fool would make such a statement!


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 7:23 p.m.

As much as it irritates the MSU and OSU faithful that next Saturday's game has national relevance, it is nevertheless true. Yes, ND is barely top 25, and UM may struggle to win 9 games this year. But those two teams' combined tradition and "relevance" completely negates anything the Spartans and Bucks could ever muster, even in a year when they are supposedly challenging for the Big Ten title. And past tradition aside, things are lining up pretty well this year. Good Lord, last year's wolverines could have beaten OSU handily this past Saturday. Sheridan could have ripped that Buck "defense" to shreds while playing upside down -- rolling out on his hands and passing with his feet. And from what I can tell, MSU's offense would have trouble gaining yards against Brandon Graham even if he was the only one on our D-line. I can't wait for the big ten season to unfold. Go Blue.


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 7:06 p.m.

Michigan wins 35-21. GO BLUE!! One step closer to Weis being fired. Another 45-0 beatdown by USC then losing 35-43 to NAVY AGAIN will seal his fate.


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 7:06 p.m.

Actually, the number one and number three winningest programs in college football, both on the rebound, showing flashes of their old brilliance, is suddenly extremely relevant. The winner of the game will definitely be ranked. And, ahem, you're welcome, Mike. I remember writing in either the comment fields, the chat, or both, on Saturday, that UM/ND had suddenly become relevant.


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 6:19 p.m.

Sorry, but two unranked teams, playing a non-conference game has NO National Relevance.


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 6:11 p.m.

joeing: "This game DEFINITELY means more for Weiss"... Maybe. However, is it possible that the two coaches are in similar positions, as a certain contingency of "fans" will demand the firing of the loser?


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 6:05 p.m.

Ok, first off Im done posting on the Feep. I was just watching ESPN and they are saying that ND will win this game. I find this disturbing but still think the WOlverines can win


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 5:57 p.m.

"...there is some feeling in the Michigan Program that as long as Rodriguez and Michigan don't get blown out...."/ You are just making it up as you go Rothstein. I hope that the powers that be in wise up and dump you soon. I am very close to this program and no one is talking anything but winning this game!


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 5:56 p.m.

It's great that Greg Robinson isn't totally unfamiliar with the ND offense. His upset last year of ND with the 'Cuse could assist with the game planning for the week. Also, ND isn't going to benefit Saturday with the "turnover-fest" that last year's game turned out to be. Go Blue!


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 5:25 p.m.

Oh how I hope nd wins because I love to see wolverweenies cry.


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 5:11 p.m.

here's the chance nd has....if cissoko is more seriously injured than believed. If nd's oline plays the game of its life to give clausen time and the rbs holes to run thru. If Forcier and d-rob have a true freshmen like performance (neither played like freshmen saturday). If um oline forgets how to block. chances of this happening......slim to none....


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 4:17 p.m.

oh please let Michigan win-i want a winning season so bad. Go Blue!!!


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 4:11 p.m.

i can't wait for this game. i hope MICHIGAN is an underdog because they usually play better when they are. GO BLUE!


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 4:03 p.m.

This game DEFINITELY means more for Weiss in year 5 then for Rich Rod in year 2. I want a win, but would be happy with a good, sound, hard faught contest which proves that the team is headed in the right direction. Michigan has the advantage of being at home, but the way ND handled that bizarro Navada offense... they won't be caught by surprise by what UM throws at them. Pressure on the QB is the #1 key. Gotta get that D-line in the backfield and hope Warren holds up a little better than he did against the Broncos.


Mon, Sep 7, 2009 : 3:26 p.m.

Hmmmmm What was that Charlie Weiss said last year? "TO HELL WITH MICHIGAN" Ok Slim Pickens, Ill steal a line from Kurt Russell in the movie Tombstone, You Called Down The Thunder And Now You Got It. "GO BLUE".