Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What is Touchdown Jesus Thinking?

Notre Dame is off to its best start in 4 decades, having defeated Navy, Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan, proving itself the best team in the weakened Big Ten this year.

The Fighting Irish celebrated Saturday’s victory over Michigan by dropping the Wolverines from its schedule. Notre Dame is dropping Michigan, just like it dropped kicked Miami, Pittsburgh, Ty Willingham, and the Big East in the past, unceremoniously.

The fabled Michigan-Notre Dame football rivalry is coming to an end. The two heavyweights of the Midwest, the two college teams with the winningest record, the first and third winningest programs are calling it quits. Each claims 11 national titles. Notre Dame has 7 Heisman winners and Michigan three. Notre Dame’s legendary coaches include Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, and Lou Holtz. Michigan claims Fielding Yost, Frtiz Crisler, and Bo Schembecher.

Notre Dame claims Rudy (a securities fraud violator), “Win one for the Gipper,” and a TV network.

Michigan has over 500,000 living, loyal alumni around the world with an alumni club flag on the moon.

Texas, Alabama, Nebraska, Penn State, Oklahoma, USC and Ohio State are but pretenders to the throne.

The two universities with great academics, athletics, tradition, and two of the three greatest college fight songs have irreconcilable differences. Notre Dame wants more money and a chance for success in the post-BCS era, whatever that might bring.

In the limited joining the ACC, and dropping Michigan, Notre Dame said it wanted to retain the rivalries with USC and Stanford on the West Coast, and Navy on the east. Notre Dame has retained to date its future matches with Michigan State and Purdue. The Irish have dominated Purdue, which has defeated Notre Dame only 10 times. Michigan State has been more troublesome, but Notre Dame has had more success against Michigan State than Michigan.

Notre Dame needs the coastal games to recruit nationally. Its brand name, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, has lost luster with the fabled Subway Alumni. It has suffered through more bad seasons and coaches in the past two decades than Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Texas combined.

Michigan and Notre Dame 120 miles apart have not been faithful rivals over the years. Indeed, their relationship is one of the Bickersons. They’re more apart than together, with blame on both sides. They have only played each other 40 times in 12 decades.

Both teams would have been even better had they played each other annually since 1887. Neither though would have won as many games as they have. They both achieved football success on parellel tracks while keeping their distance.

Michigan taught Notre Dame how to play football in 1887 and routinely beat Notre Dame until 1909. The immediate result of Notre Dame’s 1909 upset victory was that Michigan’s great coach Fielding Yost dropped Notre Dame from its schedule. He may or may not have had a running feud with Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne, but he formed the predecessor of the Big Ten to exclude Notre Dame.

Notre Dame turned to the coasts, starting its great rivalry with USC, contributing to the success of both schools.

Michigan and Notre Dame played twice in World War II, and then resumed the series in 1978 on an fairly regular basis. Michigan leads the series 23-16-1, but the games since 1992 have witnessed a 14-14-1 record. Michigan has won games it should have lost, as has Notre Dame. Both have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

They play football.

The two teams epitomize Midwest, blue collar, smash mouth football.

That Notre Dame is calling it quits is not a major surprise. What is shocking is how Notre Dame did it. The understanding between the schools was that three years notice had to be given to cancel future games. A two year break was scheduled for 2018-19.

Notre Dame read the fine print. One hour before Saturday’s kickoff, Notre Dame’s Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick hand delivered a letter to Michigan’s AD David Brandon cancelling the games from 2015-2017. The notice requirement was three games – not three years.

Notre Dame has already made one Faustian Bargain. Are they doing it again?

What would Fr. Hesburgh have done? Is Touchdown Jesus is smiling again?

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