Michigan Wolverine Football: A Look At Notre Dame
A Short History
The intent of this initial article of Notre Dame week is to focus on Notre Dame as a historic, successful academic entity and trace its successful football history. Specific game talk will come later as the week progresses toward Saturday’s night game at what will be an amped up event worthy of a ring performance at Bayreuth.
Many people believe that the University of Notre Dame is a Jesuit institution, like St. Louis, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Creighton, Holy Cross, several Loyola’s, Boston College, Xavier, San Francisco, and Detroit Mercy. The Congregation of Holy Cross, headed by Father Sorin, founded Notre Dame in 1842. The land was allotted by the Bishop of Vincennes.Like many universities in the 1800’s, Notre Dame did not take on its current mission or academic status until decades after being founded. Father Sorin passed away in the late 1800’s after making Notre Dame his life mission. Science and education took off as expanded ventures and the curriculum broadened, most notably the founding of a very successful law school. It is the post war period of the 1940’s that saw Notre Dame under Father Cavanaugh and Father Hesburgh change Notre Dame to today’s elite institution that expanded the number of students, degree programs, endowment, graduate courses and distinguished faculty hirings.
Notre Dame, like Michigan, does not hold the position that football was invented in 1951. Michigan is on team 135 and Notre Dame is on team 127, having started a football program in 1887. The beginning was not stellar as Michigan beat Notre Dame in its very first game and the next couple of years yielded few games and fewer victories. Michigan won a few consecutive games and finally Notre Dame won the match-up of 1909. For whatever reason the series took a three-decade break.
The most storied time of a long and glory-filled Notre Dame football history is the legendary Knute Rockne era, which objectively is very similar to Michigan’s Fielding Yost era. Coach Rockne put up the highest, long-term winning percentage ever, winning 88% of his games compared to Yost’s .833%. The team under Rockne won three national championships, garnered great glory, and won a Rose Bowl. Then came the tragic plane crash in 1931 when the plane carrying Coach Rockne crashed on Kansas soil.
The next ten years saw continued success but no national championships, mostly under former player of Four Horsemen fame, Elmer Layden. Layden left South Bend to be an early NFL Commissioner.
The second great era of Notre Dame football was the Frank Leahy era. Leahy’s success nearly mirrored Knute Rockne’s. Leahy won over 86% of his games, had a very long three season undefeated string, and won five national titles in a career interrupted by World War II.
The 1950’s saw a downtrend in wins, but Notre Dame was not in the football poorhouse as witnessed by two key events. First, Paul Hornung won the Heisman with a losing team, and second Notre Dame pulled off a massive upset of powerful Oklahoma ending the Boomer’s and ultra-legendary coach Bud Wilkinson’s 47 game win streak.
Notre Dame cycled slightly downward again until another legend, Ara Parseghian, took over in 1964 after leaving Northwestern. He became the third Notre Dame coach to win over 80% of his games and added two more national championships to the Irish trophy case.
Dan Devine, a fine coach, was in the unenviable position of replacing yet another Notre Dame legend. His short tenure was followed by a shocking high school coach hire of ultimate Notre Dame devotee, Gerry Faust, who finished with a slightly above .500 record.
Veteran coach Lou Holtz was next to take a venerable place in Irish history. He garnered a final win total of 100 games and a national title, along with several big upsets of top powers.
Bob Davies, Ty Willingham, and Charlie Weiss followed: all successful but not to the level Irish fans “demanded.” And so Brian Kelly entered as Head Coach and his legacy is still in the making.Michigan will take the field Saturday with 911 victories and Notre Dame with 875. The winning percentages are dead even. Every time the two teams have played for years a record is set for most combined victories. That record will now lay in limbo as other match-ups may take years to surpass the UM/ND combo record.
Some colleges can claim tradition, but few are in the same sentence as the two most successful programs in history. That is one thing that always creates excitement, even during the so-called down decades of UM-ND match-ups.
But, the sun is setting on what should have remained a great American football tradition. And many of us will bite our lip and withhold comment. At least until after this Saturday.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Doc4Blu
Go Blue — Wear Maize!