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History Lessons: Teaching a Rival

One of Michigan’s storied football rivalries had humble beginnings, as a pair of U-M players served to bridge a gap and teach the game to Notre Dame.
Read time: 2 minutes
U-M and Notre Dame Face Off
U-M and Notre Dame face off on Ann Arbor’s Ferry Field in 1908. Photo courtesy of the U-M Bentley Historical Library

A storied Wolverine football rivalry kicked off 135 years ago with a literal lesson in the game.

In anticipation of U-M’s 1887 Thanksgiving game versus the Harvard Club in Chicago (before the University of Chicago Maroons had formally founded their squad), two U-M players and former Notre Dame students—left end George Winthrop DeHaven Jr. and center William Warren Harless—reached out to their former school with an offer to teach the game and play. The institutions coordinated to make it happen.

Once in South Bend, Indiana, on Nov. 23, the Wolverines were treated as guests and toured Notre Dame. Later that morning, a scrimmage was held to teach the rules and techniques of football to Notre Dame. The practice squads were made up of U-M and Notre Dame players.

Immediately after the scrimmage, the two schools properly squared off for an abbreviated half-hour game, which saw the experienced Wolverines win 8-0.

Notre Dame’s student news magazine, Scholastic, wrote of that premiere game:

“Owing to the recent thaw, the field was damp and muddy; but nothing daunted, the boys ‘went in’ […] The game was interesting, and, notwithstanding the slippery condition of the ground, the Ann Arbor boys gave a fine exhibition of skillful playing. This occasion has started an enthusiastic football boom, and it is hoped that coming years will witness a series of these contests.”

An estimated audience of 400 people were in attendance to watch the beginning of the Wolverines vs. Fighting Irish rivalry.

Currently, U-M holds the series lead with 25 victories to Notre Dame’s 17; the two played to a tie in 1992. Michigan won the most recent game in 2019. The football rivals are not scheduled to meet again until 2033.

Gregory Lucas-Myers, ’10, is senior assistant editor of Michigan Alum.

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