Notre Dame-Michigan series leaves impact on former Irish players

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Brady Quinn could have ended up in either uniform.

It’s difficult to imagine now, 11,762 passing yards and 95 touchdowns later. But back in the spring of 2002, Quinn was contemplating attending Michigan. The 6-foot-4 quarterback and Dublin, Ohio, native was being only sporadically recruited by Notre Dame, and meanwhile, 180 miles north of his hometown, the Wolverines had developed a reputation for producing NFL quarterbacks.

He took a visit to Notre Dame, and proceeded to rewrite the record books.

But each game against Michigan provided a peek at what could have been.

“It had a little something special for me because I was really close with (former Michigan quarterbacks coach) Scott Loeffler and some of the coaches on that coaching staff,” Quinn said on Thursday. “I wanted to prove to them every single year, ‘Hey, I made the right decision. I went to the right place.’ I think there’s a lot of kids in the Midwest that are in a similar spot.”

Especially now. The Notre Dame-Michigan series, which took an involuntary hiatus following the 2014 season, will resume in 2018 and 2019, both schools announced on Thursday.

That means more bitter stand-offs between the two winningest programs in college football history. More memorable moments in a series that began in 1887 and has been played 41 more times since.

More physical Saturdays that yield sore, wounded Sundays in Ann Arbor and South Bend.

“People can talk about the USC rivalry or an in-state rivalry like Purdue, but when it comes down to it, Michigan was always the most physical game every single year when I was there,” said Quinn, who won two of his four career meetings against Michigan.

“It was one of those games where it had a lingering effect on both teams the week after. When Wednesday and Thursday are rolling around, you’re still kind of working out some of the bumps and bruises and battle scars you had from the week before playing against them.”

For linebacker Darius Fleming, who played at Notre Dame from 2008 to 2011 and lost three games to Michigan by four points apiece, the rivalry produced no shortage of animosity.

But not towards the opposing players.

“The team that I didn’t like the most would probably be a tie between Michigan and USC,” said Fleming, who won a Super Bowl as a member of the New England Patriots in 2015. “The fans at Michigan … I’ve heard a lot of bad things about my family and friends, visiting that stadium. I really just don’t like Michigan fans.

“I always enjoyed playing the team and I respect them, but the stadium and the fans…I just really don’t respect them much.”

Kapron Lewis-Moore, currently a fourth-year defensive end for the Baltimore Ravens, still remembers the feeling of playing under the lights for the first night game inside Michigan Stadium in 2011.

He wishes he doesn’t, but some scars never fade.

“There was so many emotions going around,” Lewis-Moore recalled on Thursday, prior to a workout with Fleming in Chicago. “That was one of the most electric games I played in in my Notre Dame career.”

It also may have been the most gutting. Notre Dame barged into the fourth quarter with a commanding 24-7 lead, but Michigan responded with 28 fourth quarter points and escaped with a narrow 35-31 win in front of 114,804 fans.

“You never get over that game,” Lewis-Moore said. “That’s one of those games you’ll never forget.”

Notre Dame-Michigan games stick with you, regardless of the sideline you’re standing on or the colors you represent.

And for the record, Quinn’s more than happy with the colors that he chose.

“I think people just love seeing the helmets: the gold up against that maize and ... whatever that crappy-looking helmet they wear is,” Quinn said. “It’s just fun to see the helmets and the uniforms and the history that comes with them.

"I think it is good for college football. I’m biased when I say that, but whether you love or hate Notre Dame, you’d have to agree with that sentiment.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Brady Quinn is pursued by Michigan's Shawn Crable (2) that resulted in a sack in the second half against Michigan Saturday, September 16, at Notre Dame Stadium.