Michigan-Irish near end of historic rivalry
By John Harris
Published: Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, 11:03 p.m.
What once was considered a great college football rivalry is no more.
Mutual respect between No. 14 Notre Dame and No. 17 Michigan — two of the three winningest programs of all time — has deteriorated into a blood feud, thanks, in part, to Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
Kelly stirred the pot for Saturday's 8 p.m. clash at Michigan Stadium when he said Michigan isn't one of Notre Dame's “historic, traditional ... rivalries.” The series began in 1887.
Backtracking from his original comments two days later, Kelly attempted to smooth things over at the beginning of his weekly press conference.
“It's a great and historic rivalry, so let's get that out of the way right away so we don't have to answer any more questions about this rivalry,” Kelly said Tuesday.
Too late. The damage was done.
Since Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick notified Michigan athletic director David Brandon a year ago about his intention to cancel games between the schools from 2015-17, Kelly's slight was duly noted in Ann Arbor.
The schools extended the series in 2007 through 2031 on a three-year rolling basis, agreeing to cancel games in 2018 and 2019 with an option to resume the series in following years.
The final game of the series will be Sept. 6, 2014, at Notre Dame Stadium.
“It's a great rivalry that we've played 29 of the last 35 years. Everybody sees it differently. His perspective — that's fine,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said regarding Kelly's comments. “I just grew up a little different (about) this football game.”
In May, Hoke told a luncheon crowd in Grand Rapids, Mich., that Notre Dame was “chickening out of the series.”
This week, Hoke focused on the historical significance of the series, of which Michigan has won five of the past seven meetings. Michigan leads the series, 23-16-1.
“I can remember being here with coach (Bo) Schembechler when he was still alive (Hoke was a Michigan assistant under Lloyd Carr and Gary Moeller). He would always tell us that's how you gauge your team, the game against Notre Dame. You'd find a lot out about where you were as a team,” Hoke said.
Last year, Michigan opened the season against Alabama in Arlington, Texas. Despite the embarrassing 41-14 setback, Hoke said the experience was positive.
“When we opened up with Alabama last year, some people probably thought we were crazy,” said Hoke, who's 1-1 against Notre Dame. “I think it was one of the best things we've done. No one likes to lose, but it taught us a lot as a staff. It taught us as a team where we need to get to.”
Hoke still can't believe the Michigan-Notre Dame series is nearing an end.
“The Notre Dame game is such a great game to play. I think there's a balance in there somewhere,” Hoke said.
Not according to Kelly.
“I know (Hoke) wants to continue to play Notre Dame, and we'd like to oblige him,” said Kelly, who's 1-2 against Michigan. “But right now, it's difficult with the (ACC) commitments we have.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.
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