Sharpley: This is absolutely a rivalry game
It is no surprise that I grew up a Michigan fan.
After all, I was born in Pontiac, Mich., lived in Marshall, Mich., for more than 20 years, went to countless games at the "Big House," had a replica winged helmet, and knew how to play the "Victors" on the piano.
Conversely, it should be no surprise that I chose to play football collegiately at the University of Notre Dame. I fell in love with the Golden Dome, was inspired by the "volley cheers on high," light up seeing the shine off the gold helmets, and cherished the aura of being independent.
I, more than most, should know what the Notre Dame vs. Michigan rivalry means to both sides.
Growing up as a Michigan fan my distaste was for Michigan State and "The" Ohio State University. Notre Dame was never on that same level.
Conversely, as an Irish player, I never had the same hatred for the University of Michigan as I did for the University of Southern California. At Notre Dame, perhaps unlike any other university in the nation, there are so many games that are considered to be rivalries.
Is Michigan a rivalry game? It absolutely is, perhaps largely because of the individual success that both programs have had and a mutual respect for the other.
The storied tradition and rich history of each program makes the possible ending of the Michigan series all the more saddening. Any time two teams with a rich rivalry do not play each other, it is a sad day for college football.
Perhaps the best way to end the rivalry is by creating controversy: one coach making comments about the validity of the rivalry and one coach calling the other "chicken." This, like most similar situations, becomes a much bigger issue than it should be, yet adds even more intrigue to the matchup.
Although it is understandable what Irish coach Brian Kelly was trying to say, it not only came out the wrong way, but it was something that did not need to be said publicly. However, Michigan coach Brady Hoke called Notre Dame "chicken" this offseason, which creates a flame on both sides. The rivalry plot thickened!
When I played and it came to talking about the rivalry, everyone was a little different. I did my best to avoid that all together. I did not need any extra motivation to play well. Simply putting on the uniform, playing for those that came before me, for my family, my teammates, and myself was enough to get my mind ready.
I was always taught to watch what I said, because there are players and coaches that will use it as motivation, and there isn't a need to give someone extra incentive to beat you. Beyond being called "chicken," the Irish will have all the motivation they need when they walk into the "Big House."
Teams going into enemy territory must utilize a survival kit, as it were, that emphasizes thick skin and short memories, and a willingness to embrace the atmosphere. There is nothing that matches the experience of traveling as a team, or a fan for that matter, into a hostile environment and being the underdogs. The stage for Saturday has been set.
The 41st meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan will showcase two programs that have a combined 20 consensus national championships, 1,770 all-time wins, and the all-time winning percentages of .7341 (Michigan at 904-315-36 with nine consensus titles) and Notre Dame with 11 consensus titles, and the second all-time winning percentage of .7339 (866-301-42).
Throw consensus national championships out the window, forget about all-time wins and winning percentage, because this game will not be decided by these historical facts. Rather, as ND coach Brian Kelly stated, the game "will be decided by the players on the field and the preparation that goes along with it."
In addition to his weekly column, former Notre Dame quarterback Evan Sharpley previews upcoming games each Friday at 7:50 a.m. on WSBT’s JT In The Morning Show (960 AM and 96.1 FM). On Mondays, Sharpley co-hosts WSBT’s Notre Dame Football Final, which airs from 9-10 a.m. He’ll also be an occasional contributor to WSBT’s Weekday SportsBeat and Gameday SportsBeat radio programs. He serves as the director of fitness at the Eastlake Athletic Club in Elkhart.