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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Irish Insider Extra: Lou Holtz, Bob Davie, John Kryk, Bob Crable and Chuck Male

With Notre Dame and Michigan set to square off Saturday in their final scheduled meeting, The Observer took a look back at some of the history and notable moments from the rivalry.

Our in-depth historical piece on the rivalry can be found here.


The following are some of the highlights from recent interviews:


Lou Holtz, former Irish head coach

On his first Michigan-Notre Dame game in 1986:

We outplayed them badly. We had five turnovers, but we the two things that stood out in that first game was [Michigan quarterback] Jim Harbaugh hit a fade late in the game to score, then [Irish quarterback] Steve Beuerlein led us right down the field, caught a pass in the end zone, [Notre Dame’s] Joel Williams did, the tight end. They ruled he was out of bounds. Later the replay shows he was in bounds. Then John Carney, one of the best place-kickers in the country, missed a field goal on the last play of the game. So that was devastating to lose that game. I remember so much about that game.


On opening seasons against Michigan:

I think it helped the team in the long run because we knew we had to be at our very best coming out in the first game if we had any aspirations for national championships. We played well, but they were always great games.


On the last scheduled meeting between the teams:

Even to this day, I’m on airplanes, I’m all over. And people will say, ‘Boy, I hate to see that rivalry stop because they were such great games.’ It’s a country that’s going to miss it. It’s not necessarily Notre Dame fans. But the country’s going to miss it. Because it’s one game that everybody looked forward to every year. You knew it was on the schedule.

I have great respect and confidence in the administration the Board of Trustees the leadership at Notre Dame both in the athletic director’s office and in the football office. They know what aspirations, they know what they have to do. And they know how to do it. And whatever reason they have for not scheduling Michigan or Michigan State is very well-founded. I can understand why they’re playing five ACC football teams. I don’t necessarily think it’s good for the football team. Btu I think it’s an absolutely necessity for every other sport at Notre dame. And sometimes you have to make a sacrifice in the long term.

From my point of view, I hate to see it miss like the country, because it was great. It was great to participate in it. But, those people know what’s in the best interest of Notre Dame. I accept that. I trust that.


On walk-on kicker Reggie Ho, who drilled four field goals in the 1988 victory over Michigan:

He didn’t have a real strong leg. … If we get a penalty on the extra point, we’re gonna have to go for it because we’ll be out of Reggie’s range. He was very accurate and he made four field goals and was not the least bit daunted by the situation, the crowd or anything else.


Prediction for Saturday:

I think Notre Dame is gonna be one of the four teams in the final. I don’t want to put pressure on them, but I love what Golson has done. I think they have more speed. I was impressed with them in every single facet. I think Notre Dame by at least 10 [points].


Bob Davie, former Irish head coach and defensive coordinator

On his strongest memories of the Michigan rivalry:

There were two games to me that just epitomized Notre Dame football and Notre Dame Stadium. To me it was the Michigan game and the USC game. Those two games were the two games that to me were the flavor of what Notre Dame was.


On first home game as the defensive coordinator, when Notre Dame played Michigan in 1994:

I’ll never forget just the momentum in that stadium as we took the lead and then you could hear a pin drop when that kid kicked that long field goal to beat us.

I just remember the atmosphere after that game and around that campus. I drove back down to campus. I went home after the game. But I drove back down — about 10 — just to watch the tape. About the second play of that drive, they hit us we were in two-deep and they hit the tight end down the seam on us for a big gain that put them into field-goal position. And I had to go back down to the office — before computers — and watch that tape.

Just to walk back on that campus at 10 p.m. after losing that game and sitting in that office by myself watching that tape, I can remember all that like it was yesterday.


On defeating Michigan in 1998 as the head coach:

We beat Michigan at home and College GameDay was there for that. The atmosphere again after that game, beating Michigan in the opener, it gave us some momentum in the program.


On his impressions of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry:

I remember being the Texas A&M defensive coordinator and I’m watching a Michigan-Notre Dame game that was a home Notre Dame game, under the lights. It was probably portable lights they brought in.

Just the helmets, the color of the uniforms, something everybody relates to. You relate to those helmets on both sides. You relate to the fight songs for both programs. Those are the tradition, tradition-rich deals. The USCs and the Michigans and the Notre Dames.


John Kryk, author of “Natural Enemies: The Notre Dame-Michigan Football Feud:”

On putting the rivalry in perspective:

When you think of all these ways that the two schools’ football traditions were intertwined at the beginning and then they went 70-some-odd years when they only played twice, it’s a remarkable rivalry.


On the peak years of the rivalry:

People don’t realize now I don’t think that Michigan-Notre Dame was immense because both schools every year — in those Lou Holtz years — were entering the season in the top five, basically, top 10 at worst. Not only that, but usually whoever won the game was going on to great season.


On the length of the rivalry:

There were like 38 states in the Union. The Stanley Cup would not be hoisted for five more years. The sport of basketball wasn’t even invented yet. The BoSox-Yankees wouldn’t play for like 16 more years. This is an old rivalry. And it’s the last one anyone’s going to see probably for a long time.


On future possibilities for the rivalry:

One thing is absolutely certain. Coaches and athletic directors come and go. And they usually take their grudges and their frigid natures. They all go and somebody else comes in there. So there could be new athletic directors that in maybe six or seven years go, “Why the heck did we ever pull the plug on that series?”


Bob Crable, former Irish linebacker

On the 1978 “Reunion Game” against Michigan

As a freshman coming in, you’re kind of like an outsider. You’re not sure exactly what to expect, we just came off that 3-0 loss to Missouri, and that’s when [Bob] Golic and [Steve] Heimkreiter and [Mike] Whittington and [Bobby] Leopold were the linebackers, so you’re watching them and you’re trying to figure out where you’re supposed to be, and we wind up dropping that one 28-14. There were some real eyebrows raised at that point. You’re just trying to figure it all out. As a freshman, you kind of, I won’t say lost, but you feel lost in a situation like that.


On playing at Michigan Stadium in 1979

One of the neat things about it was before that game, I had a couple of buddies from high school who were actually in the stadium as we were out walking, doing walk-arounds on the field. We were out there walking around, and I had a couple of buddies who said, “Ah, Crable,” they’re halfway up, so they come down. From that standpoint, you feel a lot more apart of what’s going on. It was absolutely the biggest venue we played on, maybe the biggest venue I’ve played on to date. The neat part about it is when you’re playing, you don’t really recognize what’s going on around you. You’ve got what’s going on in front of you on the field and on the bench, and you hear the cheers and something big happens when the cheers go up or the boos go up, whatever, but that was cool. And even senior year, as well. It’s a neat place to play. The worst part about it at the time was that it had the nasty Astroturf on it, which wound up killing my knees down the road. But it’s a neat place to play and each time we were up there, when I was being recruited, my choices came down to Michigan and Notre Dame. I can’t say I got a chance to see Bo after the game or before the game, but I saw some of the people who were involved in the recruiting and got a chance to say hi to some people. And you know what, wherever you go, you’ve got those situations where you’ve got the crowds, you’ve got obnoxious people, you’ve got drunk people, you’ve got all different characters that exist in the stadium, but at Michigan, it seems like it was exaggerated. Everything was exaggerated. It’s a neat place to play, great place to play.


On whether players and coaches referred to the Michigan series as a “rivalry”

Oh my goodness, yeah. It’s a rivalry from a standpoint of not just winning the game, but being in a position, that’s a big recruiting game for us. And even though we recruited nationally, the region was a big deal as far as the kids that we got in. The heart and soul of what we did was really [in the] Midwest, so that was a very big recruiting game for both teams.


On the comparison between the Southern California and Michigan rivalries

Absolutely. I can’t say that I like either one better than the other, but as far as the intensity that existed, I think they were both equally as intense football games as the other one. My senior year [1981], when we went there, they were No. 1 in the country that year, and Wisconsin knocked them off in the first game, and then they knocked us off in the second game. You know what, I don’t like them, they probably don’t like me. You get those games where, I’ve got a son who’s a senior [in high school] this year, I’ve got friends who tell me, “Maybe Michigan would be a great place for him to play.” His coach actually told me that. He’s a quarterback, and he said his style of offense, he said “Michigan would be a great place for him.” And I looked at him and said, “You don’t know what you just said.” That would be a tough one, but hey, if that’s the way it works out, that’s the way it works out.


On the end of the Michigan series and future of college football

It’s unfortunate that it’s got to happen that way. College football has become such a big business. I guess all you have to do is look at the business environment in general and retail, you don’t look at any general stores in the small towns anymore, you look at Walmarts and the big chains. That’s kind of how our whole culture seems to be going business-wise. It is a shame because you don’t get the opportunity to play some of these games, but on the flip side of it, you’re looking at a playoff system at the end, and that’s probably a good thing.


Chuck Male, former Irish kicker


On the 1979 game at Michigan Stadium

It was wild. It was a beautiful day, I can remember getting up that morning, having our team breakfast, getting on the bus and looking at the sky, blue skies were popping out everywhere, there were some nice white puffy clouds around. It was a breezy day, it wasn’t hot. I just thought, “Wow, this is a really, really good football day.” The stadium was electric, and I just kept feeling even on the way to the game — we took a bus, we didn’t fly to the game — that something good was going to happen. We were significant underdogs and I think Michigan had played a game or two, and I think it was our opener. So they’d already gotten the kinks out, we were completely untested, because I think the year before — 1978 — we still had Joe Montana as our quarterback, so we were going in with a bunch of new faces and new names, especially offensively. So it was a big question mark, but in my mind, I just kept feeling that this was such a good setup for Notre Dame to win going in as the underdogs. It was such a good setup for an upset, and I just kept feeling really confident about that.


On whether Michigan Stadium was the most hostile venue in which he played

The answer to that question is actually no. During my time, Georgia Tech was a more hostile place to play in Atlanta. Michigan, I felt it was a really exciting fanbase, a great rivalry, extremely loud, just like you’d want to think about college football, but it was respectful. I don’t want to say that it was, we had some experiences at Georgia Tech that were not appropriate for college football, but we never really experienced anything like that when we played in Ann Arbor. It was a great rivalry, but it was a respectful rivalry between the fans.


On his feelings regarding the end of the series

Well, I’m kind of in the camp that it’s a bad thing because it’s such a great rivalry. It’s got the geographical proximity, it’s such a great rivalry, two of the oldest, most storied and historic college football teams in the country traditionally and the rivalry’s going away. I can understand if they put a pause on it for a couple of years, then got it going again, I would be happy with that, and maybe a couple years off, but without that possibility, really right now, I’m in the camp that I don’t like it. Not only that, as far as the rivalry’s concerned, the way recruiting goes, you’re most likely recruiting kids from Ohio or wherever who are considering both, so it comes down to Michigan or Notre Dame. Now we’re watching that go away, so I don’t like that at all.