Here is the story of
Notre Dame’s first victory over Michigan in 1909. The text
is an excerpt from John Kryk’s excellent book, Natural
Enemies: The Notre Dame - Michigan Feud. In an
Irish Legends exclusive, John has added some trivia and
interesting facts about the rivalry.
Miller of Notre Dame (far left) breaks into open field
in the monumental 1909 game at Ann Arbor. Miller led
the way as Notre Dame beat Michigan for the first time
in nine tries, 11-3.
Enemies: The Notre Dame-Michigan football feud
Red-letter day, '09
Eleven fighting Irishmen wrecked the Yost machine this
afternoon. These sons of Erin, individually and collectively
representing the University of Notre Dame, not only beat the
Michigan team, but they dashed some of Michigan's fondest
hopes and shattered Michigan's fairest dreams.
With that flowery
lead, E.A. Batchelor of the Detroit Free Press popularized a
moniker Notre Dame teams would later come to embrace-and
aptly summed up the greatest athletic achievement to that
point in Notre Dame history.
At long last, the
"Fighting Irish" recorded their first victory over the
Wolverines, by a score of 11-3 on November 6, 1909. The fact
it came against one of Fielding Yost's greatest teams, and
was a ruinous loss for him and Michigan, made it all the
sweeter for Notre Dame.
For what must have
seemed like forever, Notre Dame had the mid- western summit
plainly within view, but eight previous swipes could not
topple the well-perched Wolverines. This year, a direct hit
scored by these 11 fighting Irishmen: linemen Howard (Cap)
Edwards, George Philbrook, Ed Lynch, Sam (Rosey) Dolan, and
Ralph Dimmick; ends Lee Matthews and Joe Collins; halfbacks
Harry (Red) Miller and Billy Ryan; fullback Pete Vaughan;
and quarterback Don Hamilton.
Ironically, it took
a former Wolverine to ensure the victor wasn't Mich-again.
Frank (Shorty) Longman, a fullback on Yost's Point- A-Minute
teams of 1903-05, was Notre Dame's new, roughneck coach. He
knew how to beat the master. And he had the players to do
it, as most of the previous year's squad returned.
For eight weeks
Longman had been carefully preparing his players for this
day. The Irish were 4-0 when they arrived in Ann Arbor,
having defeated Olivet, Rose Poly, and Michigan Agricultural
College before raising a lot of eyebrows back East a week
earlier with a 6-0
win at Pittsburgh.
coach Prentiss Douglass had scouted the Pitt game and came
away impressed with Notre Dame, especially with its offense,
but he still was of the opinion the Wolverines were two
That's exactly what Longman was hoping for. He had tricked
the Michigan scout by not using any of his pet pass
plays-short ones over the line-and by virtually ignoring
halfback Red Miller, upon whom he would depend so much
against Michigan. Longman's deception didn't end there. He
had sent out "bear stories" (ruses) all week about how
battered and listless his players were in their preparations
for Michigan, and he told the South Bend Tribune that Notre
Dame didn't scrimmage once on account of player shortages.
Longman was just
borrowing from the master's playbook here. He wanted to beat
Michigan as badly as did any Notre Dame player, because none
of Yost's Wolverines had ever come back to beat the old man
as coach of another team. Dan McGugin at Vanderbilt and Al
Herrnstein at Ohio State had come close, and many others who
got their jobs at Yost's referral craved the opportunity.
But Longman knew he had a great shot, and he pulled out all
the stops to make history.
The master was not
entirely fooled by the pupil's ruses, however. The Michigan
varsity worked heavily on defensive play all week in
preparation for the vaunted Irish offense. Yost had
originally viewed Notre Dame as just a tough tune-up for
Michigan's final two opponents, mighty Penn and eventual
Western Conference champion Minnesota. But he was now wary
of the Irish threat. "We've got to work as we have never
worked before," he told the Ann Arbor Daily Times News.
"Notre Dame is coming up here Saturday with a bunch of men
that have had more football experience than any of the
players on our team. They are almighty strong. Saturday's
contest will be as hard as either the Pennsylvania or
The Wolverines had
beaten Case, Ohio State, and Marquette before traveling to
Syracuse the day Notre Dame was in Pittsburgh. The Orangemen
were supposed to have presented a stiff challenge, but
Michigan surprised the eastern folk by crushing Syracuse
44-0. That spawned comparisons of these Wolverines to their
Beause of each
team's showing thus far, this was the first Michigan-Notre
Dame game to arouse national interest. Walter Eckersall of
the Chicago Tribune, considered the leading expert on
western football, rated the game as not only the day's most
important in the West, but on equal footing nationally with
the Dartmouth-Princeton clash. The fact legendary Walter
Camp chose to attend-among several other prominent eastern
experts-was proof positive Notre Dame-Michigan had truly
Among the 6,000 fans
at Ferry Field, hundreds were rooting for the
Fighting Irish, even though an official excursion by Notre
Dame students was canceled the day before. Back at Notre
Dame, telegraph returns were read to the mass of pupils that
had gathered on the campus gridiron.
Shortly after two
o'clock, the teams rushed onto-get this-a dry, sun-swept
field. Perhaps that old Ann Arbor jinx Notre Dame used to
grumble about was actually secreted somewhere behind the
rain clouds of autumn, because such was nowhere to be found
on this beautiful day.
Early in the first
half, though, Michigan again was raining on Notre Dame's
After the Irish
marched to the Michigan 20, Billy Ryan's 30-yard field goal
attempt from placement was blocked, and Wolverine end Stan
Borleske fell on the ball. Several possessions later,
Michigan right halfback Dave Allerdice threw up the first of
only two forward passes attempted by the Wolverines this
day, and Ryan intercepted for Notre Dame-but right away he
fumbled and Borieske recovered on the Notre Dame 20. One
play later, Allerdice drilled a field goal from placement
snapped from 20 yards out, and Michigan led 3-0 with 18
minutes having elapsed.
"Notre Dame was
suffering from stage fright," wrote Harold Titus of the
Detroit News-Tribune "But it didn't take long for this scare
to lose itself in the heat of the contest. Edwards, the big
captain-tackle, pleaded. And his team responded."
The speedy halfback
snared momentum for Notre Dame after fielding a Dave
Allerdice punt. "Miller was racing along, right down the
sidelines," wrote Titus. "A Michigan man dove and missed his
flying legs. Another grabbed at his waist and was shaken
off. But Borleske was coming. It was a long, sensational
dive-over five yards-and his right shoulder crashed into the
Notre Dame man's knees." Borleske, Michigan's sensational
left end, made the tackle but did not get up. With the crowd
shouting his name in unison, Borleske was eventually helped
off the field, his collarbone broken and his season
finished. Jamie (Okie) Rogers, a little-used sub, took
Borleske's place at left end. The Irish correctly smelled a
With about 10
minutes left in the first half, it was Miller time again.
The redhead put on one of the most spectacular individual
displays in series history by almost single-handedly
marching the Irish from midfield down to the Michigan
two-yard line. "Quarterback Hamilton had me carry the ball
about 10 succesive times," Miller remembered, "which almost
exhausted me and forced me to beg him not to go it again."
Hamilton obliged and
called on Pete Vaughan to finish off the drive. Two line
smashes bent the Michigan forward wall ever so slightly,
Vaughan bringing the ball to within inches of the Wolverine
goal- with third and final down coming up. (They had three
downs to gain 10 yards at that time.)
"Six thousand people
were silent," Titus wrote. "Up in the bleachers, Hamilton's
voice could be heard, snapping out the signals." Vaughan
again got the call, and he charged toward the right wing
before disappearing under a heap of bodies stacked around
one of the goalposts. Did he make it? No one could
"Then the players
disentangled themselves," Titus continued. "They stood up in
a close circle and none but they could see where the ball
had stopped. Referee Ralph Hoagland elbowed his way through
the panting, padded players.
"A Notre Dame sub
was holding Longman. The Notre Dame coach had thrown aside
his coat. His hat, crumpled and broken, laid somewhere on
"Then the knot of
players gave way. Yelling, dancing like madmen, the Notre
Dame players ran down the field. [Vaughan] laid with his
back on the goal line and hugged the ball to his chest. And
the ball was across the chalk mark."
Legends grow with
time, and for years thereafter, Notre Dame freshmen were
annually regaled with the story of how Pete Vaughan hit the
Michigan line so hard, the goalpost left an imprint on his
jersey. It wasn't long before it was the story of how Pete
Vaughan not only knocked over the goalpost, but did so with
his head. Day-after newspaper accounts mention nothing of
the kind. [check "Shenanigans" for Vaughan's own account of
the famous touchdown plunge. -ed.]
was off the mark, so Notre Dame led 5-3 with a few minutes
left before half.
finally secured possession again, it had time to run only
two plays, the last of which was a lame pass from Allerdice
that Lee Matthews intercepted.
The fired-up Irish
stormed off the field, having completely dominated play. The
short passes were befuddling the Wolverines, and the end
runs were killing them. As near as can be deduced from
newspaper play-by-play accounts, the Irish amassed almost
200 total yards to Michigan's 45. If it hadn't been for two
missed field goals the Irish would have been comfortably
No one need guess
what fiery orations Yost and Longman-perhaps the fieriest
orators in football-peppered their players with at half-
time. Titus's Detroit News-Tribune account provides the
details: Yost hurried his men to the field house and there,
mounted on a bench, roared at them while [trainer] Keene
Fitzpatrick went over their steaming bodies.
"Git 'em low, I tell you. Git 'em low! Fight, fight,
FIGHT!," Yost roared, shouted, emphasizing his words with
extravagant gestures. And out on the field Longman was
talking to his men.
"You've got only 35
minutes more, boys!," the photographers heard him say.
"You've got 'em beat. It's Michigan you're playin'-Michigan.
Yost's team. Now be good boys and hold 'em. Think of it! The
chance of a life- time! Yost-Fielding Yost, the man I played
for. Can you understand?!"
They understood perfectly. According to one treasured tidbit
of Notre Dame folklore, a player stood up and pleaded,
"What's the matter with you guys? You're all Irish and
you're not fighting worth a lick." Some writers
eavesdropping along with the photographers jotted down the
expression, and that's likely how EA. Batchelor of the
Detroit Free Press got the idea for the term "fighting
To be sure, the
Irish would have to fight like hell to hold on to their 5-3
lead in the second half. Longman instructed quarterback
Hamilton to play more conservatively, forgoing the passing
game and limiting the number of end runs.
decided to utilize the great Allerdice to maximum effect.
Throughout Yost's 25 years as Wolverine coach, he loved to
employ his coveted "kicking game"-a strategy of patience,
defense, and opportunism.
The idea was this:
By punting the ball away immediately, and forcing the other
team and its weaker punter to boot it back right away,
Michigan would gradually gain yardage on the exchanges until
the foe was pinned deep in its own end. The Wolverines would
keep trading kicks until the opponent inevitably coughed up
the ball (it was Yost's belief, and experience, that any
team eventually buckles under the pressure of constantly
playing in the shadow of its own goalposts). Then the
Wolverines would discard the ultraconservative approach for
the other extreme, uncorking a wide and wide-open variety of
trick scoring plays. And because the Yostmen would have been
conserving their offensive energy, they'd be fresher than
their opponents and more likely to convert the miscue into
Of course, the Yost strategy would fail if the Michigan
defense could not stop the Irish. But in the second half the
Wolverines, so thoroughly shredded in the first 35 minutes,
stiffened. Notre Dame was able to pick up only the odd first
down before punting. Michigan booted the ball back almost
exclusively on first down, and gained a little better field
position each time-exactly as designed.
appeared to pay off with about six minutes remaining and
Notre Dame still leading 5-3. After Red Miller returned
Allerdice's 11th punt of the half to the Irish 25, Ryan
fumbled a pitchout from quarterback Hamilton. Albert
Benbrook, Michigan's towering All-America guard who played a
magnificent game, recovered at the 15-yard line.
The Yostmen had their break.
On first down, left
halfback Joe Magidsohn crashed off Philbrook for three. Then
Magidsohn slashed for six. That brought up third and one on
the six, the ball directly in front of the goalposts.
What to do: go for
the first down, or attempt the go-ahead field goal now? The
Notre Dame players appeared exhausted, having burned so much
more energy in running off so many more offensive plays than
Michigan-about 60 to Michigan's 20. A gain of one measly
yard would give the Wolverines three cracks at a touchdown
from within the five-yard line.
rooters saw victory," Titus wrote. "The big bleachers shook
as thousands of feet stamped on the heavy planking. Down on
the field, the Michigan men were holding a consultation."
was discussing options with Benbrook, Allerdice, and veteran
tackle Bill Casey. Wasmund suggested they go for it by
crashing Magidsohn into the line again. Benbrook and Casey
were hesitant, not entirely sure they could whip the Irish
linemen on this most crucial play. Allerdice then suggested
they go for the sure field goal (he was accurate up to 45
yards). And that's what quarterback Wasmund called-much to
the outrage of Yost and most of the spectators, as a
converted touchdown would have given Michigan a 9-5 lead,
instead of 6-5 with a field goal, and thereby forced Notre
Dame to come back and score a touchdown to win.
"But Wasmund dropped
back," Titus continued. "Carefully, he patted down the
grass. The men on secondary defense poised themselves
Red Miller picks it
up: "I was near the end of the line next to right tackle
Ralph Dimmick. I glanced along our line. It was a thrilling
tableau. There each man was set, like a tiger about to
spring, his body taut, his face grim, his lips drawn back,
his teeth flashing, a picture of power and determination.
Confidence took possession of me. It was deadly quiet. Then
suddenly it was broken. "We're going through!" someone
called loudly in a hard, harsh voice I hardly recognized. It
was my own."
Watkins, playing in his first and last game at center,
snapped the ball back. It was low. Wasmund scrambled to
place the ball down properly, while Allerdice swung his
mighty right leg into the pigskin.
Thud! Half the Notre Dame line shot through and blocked the
kick. The ball bounded all the way back to the Notre Dame
40, where Rosey Dolan fell on it for the Irish.
Just like that, all
the fumbles, foibles, and follies that had so plagued Notre
Dame in this series were suddenly thrown back in Michigan's
face-with equal collective measure.
The Wolverines were
dumbfounded. The Irish and their fans went berserk, as Notre
Dame not only thwarted what might well have been the
game-winning kick, but instantly had great field position
with only five minutes left. Barring a turnover, there was
little chance Michigan would again get so close to the Irish
The Wolverines' next
possession began at their 40 and, astonishingly, they did
not open up their offensive arsenal. But Wasmund may have
been under instruction not to use any trick pass plays, as
Yost had wanted to save them for Penn and Minnesota, whose
scouts were surely on hand. The one and only gamble Michigan
tried backfired when Allerdice attempted an on-side punt
(punts were live balls then, and this was a common means of
gaining big chunks of yardage), because the ball was caught
by Notre Dame's Billy Ryan, who returned it 18 yards to
exorcized the last of the Wolverine demons, recovering a
bouncing Notre Dame punt at the Michigan 30-yard line with
only a minute or so remaining. On the next play, Ryan broke
free around right end, eluded Joy Miller and two other
Wolverines, and went the distance for a game-icing
touchdown. Converting from placement was-who else?-Ryan.
Final score: Notre
Dame 11, Michigan 3. Kid brother had finally got the best of
disconsolate Michigan faithful sang along with the band as
it played the school alma mater, "The Yellow and Blue," the
Notre Dame partisans screamed with delight as the subs
hoisted the 11 stalwart fighting Irishmen onto their
shoulders and carried them off the field. Longman, Titus
reported, was "bereft of his senses."
So was everybody
back at Notre Dame. The students who gathered
at Cartier Field went crazy when the last cable was
received. They put on a huge bonfire that night, as school
officials and students alike woke up the echoes.
There were plenty of
heroes to honor in Notre Dame's titanic victory, including
backs Billy Ryan and Pete Vaughan-and linemen Rosey Dolan,
George Philbrook, and Ralph Dimmick. But the play of Red
Miller was on another level. His was considered the greatest
one-man performance on a Michigan football field since the
days of Willie Heston. When Miller wasn't shaking off
tacklers around end, or tearing through the line, or dashing
upfield on punt returns, or leveling Michigan defenders with
devastating blocks, he was a demon on defense. "There hardly
was a play in the whole game in which he was not the central
figure," Batchelor wrote.
The Irish certainly
were deserving of victory, even though the Wolverines'
strategy almost paid off. But even had Michigan elected to
go for broke on the biggest down of all, Longman was of the
opinion the Wolverines would not have made it. "I don't
think they could have gained an inch," said the Notre Dame
coach, adding with his best Yost imitation, "if they had
been given 10 downs in which to make a first down, they
couldn't have succeeded. They were outplayed and they should
have little complaint to make."
themselves did not complain-in fact Red Miller said he had
never seen better sportsmen-but Wolverine partisans sure
did. Quarterback Wasmund was not exactly the most popular
man in Ann Arbor afterward. Allerdice, the captain, had to
release a statement the following day in order to explain
that the decision to kick the field goal was ultimately his,
Yost was perplexed
and angered by that decision. "I don't know what Benbrook
and Casey could have meant by advising a placekick when we
had such a short distance to go for a touchdown and we had
just made two good gains."
The Michigan coach
took the defeat hard. His ego hadn't been jolted like this
since Michigan's 2-0 loss to Chicago in 1905, which ended
the Point-A-Minute era.
"What makes me so
daggoned mad is that we might have won the game," Yost
moaned. "Those are the worst kind of games to lose. They
leave a worm in a man's heart to gnaw and gnaw. Oh, I don't
know. I'm sick and tired of the whole business; it certainly
is discouraging. Although we were outplayed we should have
won. I take my hat off to the Irishmen."
No doubt after a
forced gulp, Yost even praised Red Miller in post-game
interviews. "Wish I had one like him and good-bye Penn and
Gophers," he said. "Some of the sting of defeat was
taken away by the pleasure of seeing that Hibernian tear 'em
up and shake 'em off."
The next day, coach Longman and Miller paid the master a
visit. "When Shorty Longman introduced me to Mr. Yost, who
had been my idol for years, I was thrilled beyond measure
and my heart was beating fast," Miller recalled.
But the volcano that
was Yost's wounded pride suddenly erupted. "To my utter
amazement and consternation, he greeted me by saying,
'Miller, you were guilty of the most unsportsmanlike conduct
that I've ever seen in all my days."'
The coach was upset
with the way Miller had waited several times until the last
possible moment before signaling for a fair catch of a
Michigan punt. The Wolverines were penalized 15 yards each
time for interference. The fair catches were perfectly
legal, and Miller said the only reason he called for them
was because the Michigan ends had been creaming him the
instant he had caught Allerdice's high-sailing kicks.
Miller was astounded by Yost's charge.
I couldn't believe
my ears. I was shocked. I don't believe I had ever done an
unsportsmanlike act in my life. I could not speak for a few
minutes.... I finally blurted, 'I really don't know what
you're talking about.'
"'You do, too."'
After arguing to no
avail, Miller simply walked away.
"I was deeply wounded. I often wondered if he could be
right, however illogical it might be. Of every official and
coach I met there- after I made inquiry as to whether or not
it was unsportsmanlike to signal for a fair catch at the
last moment under the circumstances, and invariably the
answer was an emphatic 'no.' . . . Later in the light of
more mature years I know he was absolutely wrong."
But at the time,
Miller was devastated. Yost's accusation "spoiled the
victory for me," he recalled.
Soon the Michigan
coach would go to far greater lengths to spoil the victory
for all Notre Dame people.
from author John Kryk
1) Before 1978, the
two titans of the Midwest Notre Dame and Michigan played
only 11 times. That's amazing considering that the two
schools are situated only 150 miles apart between Chicago
and Detroit. Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish won only two
of those pre-1978 games and both times this was the
A Notre Dame
halfback named Miller was the star player as the Fighting
Irish posted one of their greatest wins of the era, at Ann
Arbor no less. In 1909, Harry "Red" Miller repeatedly tore
through, over, and especially around the Wolverines as Notre
Dame finally got the best of Michigan, 11-3, at Ferry Field.
In 1943, Creighton
Miller, Red Miller's son, repeatedly tore through, over, and
especially around the Wolverines as No. 1 Notre Dame crushed
the second-ranked Wolverines 35-12 at Michigan Stadium. Red
Miller watched the game in the press box, only a few hundred
yards from Ferry Field.
2) Harry Oliver had
never kicked a field goal longer than 38 yards in a football
game in his life when he strode forward on Sept. 13, 1980 to
nail a 51-yarder into a suddenly dying wind to give the
Fighting Irish one of their most celebrated victories in
history, 29-27 over Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium.
3) TRIVIA QUESTION:
How many Notre Dame runners under Lou Holtz rushed for 100
yards in a game against Michigan? ANSWER: Zero. Amazingly,
the last Fighting Irish player to pull of the feat was
fullback Larry Moriarty in 1982.
4) Notre Dame's
record against Michigan in green jerseys (or green trim if
on the road): 3-2. (1942 L, 1943 W, 1978 L, 1979 W, 1980 W).
5) Notre Dame's
record in day games against Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium:
1-4-1. (1942 L, 1978 L, 1980 W, 1986 L, 1992 T, 1994 L).
6) Number of times
the Irish have led or tied Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium at
halftime: 8 out of nine.
Number of times the Irish have led Michigan at Notre Dame
Stadium with 2:00 remaining: 2 out of nine.
Number of times the Irish have defeated Michigan at Notre
Dame Stadium: 4 out of nine. (They came back to win in both
'88 and '90.)