The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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50 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW Historical Fuel To The Fire It all began in such a collegial spirit. Michi- gan's 1887 crew was to head by train for a Thanksgiving contest at Northwestern, but agreed to swing by South Bend the day be- fore. The Wildcats backed out, but Michigan made the trip anyway, getting a tour of the Notre Dame campus before heading out to- ward a muddy athletic field. In the book Bitter Enemies — The Notre Dame-Michigan Football Feud, author John Kryk recalled that first encounter, facili- tated by 1887 Wolverines George DeHaven and Billy Harless, both former Notre Dame students. "At about 11 o'clock the elevens trotted onto the slop, which we can only assume was somehow marked to proper proportions," Kryk wrote. "Before the players were set to have at it, [Notre Dame's] Brother Paul informed DeHaven that the Notre Dame boys — several of them former classmates of De- Haven and Harless — had trouble playing by the book. Brother Paul then suggested the teams at first be mixed for a brief period of hands-on instruction. The Wolverines agreed. "'So we played gently with them that day,' DeHaven recalled, '… and carefully taught Notre Dame how to play modern football.'" When the Irish finally won, in 1909, fol- lowing eight straight losses to the Wolverines, gentleness played no part. Nor did diplomacy, Michigan head coach Fielding H. Yost waving off the 11-3 loss by insisting the Wolverines went into it "caring little whether we won or lost. Practice was what we wanted." Yost went on to note the Irish couldn't come close to Michigan in eligibility rules, charging Notre Dame featured players who had long out-stayed their time had they been playing in the Western Conference, forerun- ner of the Big Ten. Not shockingly, the Irish weren't enamored of Yost's dismissive approach. They screamed sour grapes, the war of words escalated, and the schools didn't meet again on the football field until 1942 — and then only for two years, before taking another 34 off. Yost's feud with iconic Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne proved legendary. The Michi- gan coach and then athletics director often ac- cused Rockne of cutting corners in recruiting and casting a blind eye toward Notre Dame players also participating in some profes- sional contests. Rockne believed Yost to be an anti-Catholic hypocrite and a driving force behind the Irish getting stiff-armed away from joining the Big Ten. Even when the series resumed in '78, fea- turing the classic battles that two generations of Michigan and Notre Dame fans will relish forever, nobody felt compelled to play nice. Bo Schembechler insisted that, at some point, the schools reached an understanding to only play each other in the first game of the season. He railed against the Irish for slipping in a game ahead of Michigan in 1989, when Notre Dame beat the eventual Big Ten champions in Ann Arbor. Schembechler regularly dis- missed the importance of having the Irish on the schedule, culminating with his infamous "The hell with Notre Dame" comment on local radio, a sound bite that surfaces every year. Still Chippy After All These Years Even now, Michigan and Notre Dame of- ficials don't agree on precisely what happened regarding the latest separation. University of Michigan athletics director David Brandon disclosed he found out Notre Dame had opted to end the series when Irish athletics director Jack Swarbrick handed him an envelope say- ing so just prior to the 2012 game in South Bend. The letter provided the requisite three games notice of the series' cancellation — the game about to be played in 2012, last year's in Ann Arbor, and the finale this September in South Bend. The move afforded the Irish more scheduling freedom, given its new agreement to play a handful of games against Atlantic Coast Conference teams each year. Meanwhile, Michigan officials questioned the handling of the breakup. "I knew what it was; he indicated it was the trigger letter, but I kind of naively assumed that the letter was gong to indicate they were gong to pull the trigger in three years, after the '14 and '15 games," Brandon said at the time on The Huge Show, a radio talk show in Michigan. "The game was played and I was riding back to Ann Arbor and I remembered the letter, pulled it out of my pocket and read it. That was the first time the light went on of why he handed it to me before the game started. "Jack decided they needed to speed up the opt out, so instead of waiting until after the game was played, he came up and handed me this letter just before kickoff, when meant the game counted as one of the three games no- tice. It really means we cancelled three games I had previously planned on playing, and I've only got two years notice to fill them." Swarbrick, in a December 2013 press con- ference, shaded the encounter differently. "The Michigan contract, at Michigan's re- quest, had a provision that allowed you to Bo Schembechler regularly dismissed the importance of having Lou Holtz and the Irish on the schedule, culminating with his infamous "To hell with Notre Dame" comment on local radio. PHOTO BY BOB KALMBACH 48-53.End Of ND Rivalry.indd 50 6/18/14 3:50 PM

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