End of the Road for Michigan-Notre Dame Rivalry

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The Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry reaches the end of the road today in South Bend.

No longer will the eyes of Touchdown Jesus look down on the Wolverines and Irish, college football’s two most winning teams. Never again will 100,000-plus pack into the Big House to see the Golden Domes and Winged Helmets collide–well, never for the foreseeable future, anyway.

For those who grew up on college football in the 1990s, the end of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry is one of the maddening casualties of the changing landscape. The series fills me with nostalgia, bringing back memories of flipping from the X-Men cartoon over to NBC or ABC to catch opening kickoff.

The early September date marked an unofficial beginning of autumn to me. Conference expansion and jockeying for the College Football Playoff compromised that nostalgia.

The Big Ten’s expansion to 14 teams and addition of a ninth conference game eliminated one of Michigan’s nonconference dates. Meanwhile, Notre Dame held onto its football independence by brokering a partnership with the ACC. The conference gets each of the Irish’s other sports, and its football has the closest affiliation any league has ever had with the winningest program of all-time.

My own memories aside, the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry is actually one of the less historic sacrifices made in the name of conference realignment and the new Playoff scene.

Yes, the Fighting Irish and Wolverines have met all but two years since 1997, all but four years since 1985 and all but six times since 1978. And, in the last four decades of squaring off, the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry has produced memorable moments like the 1990 encounter:

Or Denard Robinson’s torrid finish in 2011 to lead a Michigan comeback in the first Big House game played night:

But the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry was its most heated in the 35 years it wasn’t played. There’s a genuine animus that exists between the two fan bases, and John Bacon’s excellent book Fourth and Long explores how the rancor built between 1943 and 1978.

This is a great series, but it isn’t Texas-Texas A&M. We aren’t seeing more than a century of history played out on the field erased and feeble attempts to replace it with manufactured “rivalries.”

On the contrary: The end of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry promises to produce some great football.

Since the end of the series was declared, Notre Dame has scheduled games with Georgia and, most recently, Ohio State.

That latter addition is the kind of tweak of Michigan fans that proves the hostility of this rivalry persists even without meeting on the field.

So while this may be the end of the road for the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry…it’s not really the end.