Rivalry Renewed!

Rick Leach | bigbluefootballhistory.com
Rick Leach in action against Texas A & M in 1977 led the Wolverines to victory against Notre Dame in 1978. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

Today’s blog celebrates the renewal of one of college football’s greatest rivalries – Michigan vs Notre Dame. After a thirty-five-year hiatus, this infrequent contest between two of college football’s greatest teams was renewed in South Bend, Indiana on Saturday, September 23, 1978.

When Don Canham took over as athletic director at Michigan in 1968, the Michigan vs Notre Dame rivalry had not been played out on the field since 1943. Canham knew that this natural rivalry would be a great draw at Michigan Stadium, so he negotiated with Irish athletic director Moose Krause to get both teams on the field. Even though Canham and Krause came to an agreement in 1970, scheduling commitments prevented an immediate resumption of the series. Finally, Michigan and Notre Dame made room on their schedules for a game on this date in 1978.

This game was supposed to a match-up of two great programs and two college teammates and great friends – Bo Schembechler and Ara Parseghean. Ara spoiled some of the drama when he retired from Notre Dame following the 1974 season. However, there would still be some great match-up drama as both teams had star-power quarterbacks. Michigan had Rick Leach and Notre Dame had a guy named Joe Montana – these guys could play!

Michigan and Notre Dame were literally at the top of their games when they finally met in South Bend on September 23, 1978. The Fighting Irish, under Dan Devine, were defending National Champions – having defeated Texas in the 1978 Cotton Bowl by a score of 38-10. Notre Dame’s final record for the 1977 season was 11-1-0. Bo’s Wolverines finished 1977 with a record of 10-2-0 and a share of the Big Ten Championship. Finally, after thirty-five years, Michigan and Notre Dame would again do battle on the football field. Game on!

The Irish, who had been upset in the first game of the season by Missouri, started well against the Wolverines. Notre Dame led by a score of 14-7 at the end of the first half. Bo must have said all the right things during the mid-game break because the Wolverines dominated the second half. Rick “Guts and Glue” Leach threw three touchdown passes (Doug Marsh (2) and Ralph Clayton) and the defense shut down Joe Montana and the Notre Dame offense.

Here is the box score and scoring summary from this famous game:

Team 1 2 3 4 Total
Michigan 0 7 7 14 28
Notre Dame 7 7 0 0 14

 

Scoring Summary

Quarter Team Scoring Play Description Score
1st ND Grindinger 6-yard pass from Montana (Unis kick) ND 7-0
2nd UM Leach 4-yard run (Willner kick) Tied 7-7
2nd ND Ferguson 4-yard run (Unis kick) ND 14-7
3rd UM Marsh 5-yard pass from Leach (kick failed) Tied 14-14
4th UM Marsh 17-yard pass from Leach (run failed) UM 20-14
4th UM Clayton 40-yard pass from Leach (run failed) UM 26-14
4th UM UM Safety, Montana tackled in the end zone by Greer UM 28-14
Final UM   28-14

 

Both teams would go on to have successful seasons. The Wolverines ended the season with a record of 10-2-0 and won a share of another Big Ten championship. Despite losing the Rose Bowl game against Southern California, Michigan finished as the fifth-ranked team in the country in both the AP and UPI polls.

Notre Dame went on to win eight straight games after the Michigan loss before losing a close one (25-27) at Southern California. Thanks to Joe Montana’s big game, the Irish won their second straight Cotton Bowl game (35-34 over Houston) and ended the season with a final record of 9-3-0. They finished as the sixth ranked team in the UPI poll and seventh in the final AP poll.

Check out the video below from the Michigan Historian if you want to relive this magical Michigan moment! Go Blue!

 

Barry Gallagher

Barry Gallagher

Barry Gallagher is a self-proclaimed Michigan Football Archeologist. He spends a considerable amount of his time digging into the 137 year history of Wolverine Football. He is on a mission to share his findings with Maize and Blue football fans everywhere. He is the author of one book about Michigan Football titled "21-194-13 Michigan Football's Greatest Era". You can learn something about Michigan Football everyday by going to his website at: bigbluefootballhistory.com. You can also follow him on Social Media.
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