[Ed. IMHO one more must read prior to the final game with the Irish. Originally posted Sep 4, 2013.]
With all the talk on the historical significance of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry, I’d thought I’d share a little bit on the original meeting in 1887. Women, prepare to swoon.
So you’ve heard that Michigan taught Notre Dame how to play this game. This is true of course, and the details of that meeting are chronicled up front in John Kryk outstanding book Natural Enemies.
Kryk explains that the origins of the fateful meeting in South Bend over 125 years ago can be attributed to three men: students George DeHaven, Billy Harless and Notre Dame’s prefect Patrick ‘Brother Paul’ Connors.
In a nutshell, DeHaven and Harless were former Notre Dame students in the mid-1880s who, in 1886, enrolled at Michigan. Both were exceptional athletes and suited up for the U-M 1887 varsity football squad…aka Team 8 (official logo, inset). While at ND DeHaven had become friendly with Brother Paul, who was a popular administrator on campus and helped run the intramural athletics program.
In South Bend they did have an IM sport which was something like football…but not really. Kryk described it this way: “A hundred boys to a side, all scrambling to get a round ball over the opponent’s fence by any means. Kick it, toss it, slap it – whatever. If you want to get technical it was part soccer and part rugby, but mostly it was pure pandemonium.”
Michigan didn’t play many actual games against opponents back in those days, but they had an appointment for a Thanksgiving Day trip to Chicago to face against Northwestern (FWIW before the game NW would cancel; U-M ended up playing a Chicago-area prep school). In mid-October DeHaven wrote to Connors, shared a few details about this awesome new game and let him know they’d be heading his direction in late November. The missive caught the attention of the sports-loving Brother Paul. Kryk explains what happened next:
Brother Paul wrote back to his friend at Michigan and asked if DeHaven and Harless could convince the Wolverines to make a stop at Notre Dame, on their way to Chicago, and teach some seniors this rugby brand of football. DeHaven said he’d try, and this morsel of hope thrilled the Notre Dame campus. “If matters can be properly adjusted,” the student newspaper, The Scholastic, announced on Oct. 29, “a match game of football will take place on the senior campus about the 27th of next month… The Ann Arbor boys hold the championship of the West, and are such fine players that they will probably contend with the leading Eastern teams next spring for the college championship of the United States. However, there is good material here for a fine team, and the boys will undoubtedly give the Michigan players a hard ‘tussle.’ ”
Eventually a date was set for a meeting and a game. Brother Paul snagged a copy of a football rule book a shared it with a group of seniors who tried, for the most part unsuccessfully, to get a handle on the new sport. Making a stop on their way to Chicago, Michigan arrived at Notre Dame on Wednesday November 23rd at around 9am. After a 2 hour campus tour the Michigan men tossed on their lily white uniforms and readied for battle. Here’s what happened next, as described in Natural Enemies:
At about 11 o’clock the elevens trotted onto the slop, which we can only assume was somehow marked to proper proportions. Before the players were set to have at it, Brother Paul informed DeHaven that the Notre Dame boys – several of them former classmates of DeHaven’s and Harless’s – had had trouble playing by the book. Brother Paul then suggested the teams at first be mixed for a brief period of hands-on instruction. The Wolverines agreed.
“So we played gently with them that day,” DeHaven recalled, “…and carefully taught Notre Dame how to play modern football.”
When the Notre Dame players learned just how physical this brand was, they took to it with reckless abandon. Too reckless, actually. One student in attendance recalled DeHaven and company having to caution their eager pupils against playing too violently.
After this brief tutorial, the players segregated into their proper squads and played a 30-minute game. When both sides finished slipping, rolling, and tumbling in the mud, Michigan tallied two touchdowns (worth four points each) to win 8-0. It was said the Notre Dame players, as well as the students in attendance, appreciated the fact the Wolverines did not try to run it up on their disadvantaged hosts.
So there you have it. Want this and more? Put Natural Enemies on your shelf.
Now, go impress your friends at your respective tailgates/viewing parties on Saturday night.
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