In 1887, Michigan and Notre Dame met on the gridiron for the first time in Notre Dame’s first ever football game. Reports at the time credit the Michigan team for teaching the Irish the rules of the game. Both Midwest schools would go on to become football powerhouses and two of the winningest college football programs of all time.
After the mid 1940’s, however, they would go 35 years in between meetings. Notre Dame would attain more success during that time, but Michigan experienced a resurgence in the 1970’s under head coach Bo Schembechler. In 1969, they agreed to renew the rivalry, but that meeting would not occur for nearly 10 years. Michigan would prevail in that 1978 “reunion game”, with each team featuring mythical quarterbacks with the names of Montana and Leach.
The Michigan offensive philosophy of the early Schembechler era was “three yards and a cloud of dust.” The playbook began to open up in the 1980’s with the arrival of Anthony Carter. By the end of the decade, Schembechler had retired, and his successor, Gary Moeller, kept the play book open as the passing game became a bigger focus of the offense. One prominent running back recruit, Desmond Howard, switched to wide receiver as the role of the passing game expanded.
As the 1990’s started, the Michigan-Notre Dame series had become somewhat one-sided with Notre Dame on a four game winning streak. The Michigan faithful had become snakebit with the luck of the Irish. Losses were punctuated with missed field goals, pass deflections for touchdowns, and touchdown kick-off returns. Thus, the stage was set for the 1991 meeting at The Big House in Ann Arbor, and Michigan needed a victory.
The Wolverines jumped out to a 17-0 lead, but the Irish would close the gap to 17-14. Clinging to a three point lead in the fourth quarter, Michigan faced fourth down and a foot from the Irish 25 yard line. Fans in the Big House were ready for a simple power running play. Gary Moeller had a different idea. Elvis Grbac faked the handoff and dropped back to pass. 100,000 plus watched in stunned silence as the ball sailed high towards the back of the endzone. “He went for it all!” exclaimed Brent Musburger to the national television audience. Desmond Howard laid out and cradled it in for a touchdown, a catch we all dream of making. Michigan would go on to win 24-14, as “The Catch” would become a signature moment in Michigan football lore and officially launch Howard’s Heisman campaign.
Wear Desmond Howard's The Catch moment