Archives: Michigan rivalry heats up at Notre Dame's first night game

John Fineran
Tribune Sports Writer

It will be remembered as the first night game in Notre Dame Stadium history, but Michigan will remember it as the night it got mugged by Notre Dame free safety Dave Duerson.

Before a national television audience and a capacity crowd of 59,075 that was bathed in the bright portable lights of Musco Mobile Lighting, Inc., the Irish opened their season with a heart-stopping 23-17 victory over the Wolverines.

Notre Dame, a team with many questions after its first losing season (5-6) since 1963, answered many of them with an unrelenting pass rush and an almost perfect offensive display highlighted by junior quarterback Blair Kiel, the running of tailback Greg Bell and fullback Larry Moriarty and the perfect placements of senior Mike Johnston, who was kicking in his first game.

But two big plays by the Wolverines — a 72-yard punt return by injured Heisman Trophy candidate Anthony Carter early in the third quarter and a 39-yard touchdown reception by "Johnny-on-the-spot" sophomore tailback Rick Rogers midway through the fourth — turned what appeared to be a first-half Irish rout and 13-0 lead into a nail-biter for the second-year Irish coach.

"We overcame a lot of bad breaks and had a lot go against us." said Irish coach Gerry Faust. "But when you come back like that, you prove you are a great team. I can be proud of the effort of this team, and we will use this as a stepping stone to bigger and better things this season."

Next for the Irish is a Saturday afternoon clash here against Purdue, a 36-10 loser to Minnesota Saturday, while Michigan hosts UCLA at home.

Rogers' touchdown, which came with 7:38 left to play, made it 23-17. The play started with Michigan quarterback Steve Smith hitting Gilvanni Johnson, who was replacing Carter, at the Irish 25. Duerson shook the ball loose and it momentarily dangled on the back of Irish cornerback Stacey Toran before Rogers alertly picked it out of the air and raced untouched to the end zone.

Michigan got the ball back again at its own 20 with 4:12 remaining and Smith marched the Wolverines to the Irish 37. On second-and-11, he stepped back and hurled a pass into the middle to split end Vincent Bean.

But as Bean turned to go upfield, he was met by Duerson, the senior captain from Muncie, Ind., who stole the ball out of Bean's hands with 2:06 remaining, and with it, most of the fight out of the Wolverines' hearts.

"We beat them in the trenches," said senior Moriarty, who rushed for a gamehigh 116 yards on 16 carries and gave the Irish a 10-0 lead early in the second period with his 24-yard touchdown run.

On both sides of the line. So dominant was Notre Dame's line play defensively that Michigan was held to just 41 yards rushing — the first time since a 24-21 Purdue victory on Nov. 10, 1979 that a Schembechler-coached team was held to less than 100 yards rushing in a game.

For the game, the Irish forced three turnovers and held Michigan to 227 yards in total offense. Despite the Duerson interception, Smith completed 12 of 21 passes for 186 yards, but he was sacked eight times by the rebuilt Irish front line led by Griffith, who had three, and sophomore Mike Gann.

Offensively, Notre Dame's line gave Kiel enough time to throw for 141 yards on 15-of-22 passes. The backs totaled 278 yards, with junior Bell adding 95 yards on 20 carries and senior Phil Carter 58 more on 14. It all totaled out to 419 yards.

After the punt return by Michigan's Carter made it 13-7, the Irish drove 49 yards after the kickoff and scored on Johnston's third field goal of the night, a 41-yarder. The next time the Irish got the ball, they drove 62 yards in eight plays, Bell going the final 11 yards to make it 23-7.

Ali Haji-Sheikh 42-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter set the stage for the final tense moments.

In the first 30 minutes, it was all Irish, who wasted little time getting started. Gann, the quick sophomore starting his first game at tackle, got to the Michigan quarterback on the third play after the opening kickoff and flushed him from the pocket into the waiting arms of senior tackle Bob Clasby.

Junior middle guard Jon Autry, a converted defensive end from Fort Wayne, pounced on Smith's fumble at the Michigan 22 just 1:21 into the game.

The Michigan defense stiffened, however, and Johnston, a senior from Rochester, N.Y., came on to boot a 35-yard field goal.

The Wolverines finally got moving late in the quarter after stopping a fourth-and-one Irish try at their Michigan 34. Ricks picked up 19 on a draw to get the drive going and Michigan reached the Irish 38 where an illegal procedure on third-and-two stalled the drive.

The next time the Wolverines got the ball, they didn't keep it long. On the third play at midfield, Smith and Ricks collided on a handoff and Zavagnin recovered at the Michigan 46 with 33 seconds left in the quarter.

Four plays later, the Irish were in the end zone. Bell ran for seven on a reverse, Moriarty picked up five up the middle and Bell slashed for 10 more and a first down at the Michigan 24.

On the snap, Kiel faked a handoff to Bell and gave it to Moriarty, who broke the tackle of linebacker Mike Boren at the line of scrimmage and cut outside. Wide receiver Joe Howard made a key downfield block on linebacker Carlton Rose, freeing Moriarty for his romp to the end zone. Johnston's kick made it 10-0 with just 1:32 gone in the second period.

The next time the Irish got the ball, Kiel was sacked by Robert Thompson on first down. So on third-and-17 from the 24, the Irish set up in the shotgun, only Kiel fielded a low snap from Tom Thayer and quick-kicked it 59 yards out of danger.

The strategy nearly paid dividends. When the Irish defense stiffened, Michigan punted it back to the Notre Dame 45.

From there, Notre Dame put together its first sustained drive of the game, eating away more than four minutes of the clock with a mixture of Bell and Moriarty running plays.

But on the 11th play of the drive, on first-and-goal from the Michigan four, Bell smashed up the middle but fumbled, Keith Bostic recovering at the Michigan one.

Smith got Michigan out of trouble with an 18-yard completion to Carter, who followed the play with an 11-yard gain on a reverse and another 15 yards when he was hit late. However, Carter came up limping with a groin injury on the play and three plays later Michigan punted to the Irish 16.

With 2:31 remaining, Kiel directed the Irish 65 yards on nine plays, completing 3-of-4 passes, the last two — a 22-yarder to Howard and a nine-yarder to freshman Milt Jackson — setting up Johnston's 37-yard field goal with two seconds remaining.

Back in 1982, Notre Dame Stadium was ablaze with the electricity that surrounded its first night game and a battle with Michigan. (SBT File Photo)
The first night Notre Dame football game against Michigan on September 18, 1982. (SBT File Photo)
The first night Notre Dame football game against Michigan on September 18, 1982. (SBT File Photo)

The first night game in Notre Dame Stadium history took place on Sept. 18, 1982 against Michigan. Below is the story that ran in the South Bend Tribune the next day, by sports writer John Fineran.