Looking Back — Michigan Football Season Openers – 1990 Notre Dame

Looking Back is a Special Feature by Jeff Cummins

The second installment of this week’s series looking back at season opening games takes us to 1990.

Gary Moeller was the new head coach, but he wasn’t new to the Michigan coaching staff. Moeller had served two stints as an assistant coach at Michigan with a three-season stint as Illinois head coach in between. He brought both head coaching experience and continuity with the existing Michigan staff. On the surface, it looked like a win-win.

Unfortunately, Moeller’s tenure as Michigan head coach started with a loss. Michigan started the 1990 season at Notre Dame, always a tough opponent. Then again, so is Michigan. After Notre Dame grabbed a 14-3 lead, the Wolverines gradually fought their way back, bit by bit, and by the end of the third quarter Michigan had taken a 24-14 lead, and maize and blue hearts everywhere were smiling.

Trailing by 11 points, Elvis Grbac connected with Desmond Howard for a 44-yard touchdown on a play action pass to pull the Wolverines within four points by halftime. Things continued in the same vein as the third quarter began. Grbac used the play action pass several times to freeze the Notre Dame linebackers in their tracks and give Howard time to get open. Later in the game, Grbac connected with Howard, and the receiver scooted 25 yards down the sideline to give Michigan a 24-14 lead. At that point, things were looking pretty good for the Wolverines.

But if there’s one truth about the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry, it’s that many games in the series go down to the wire. Notre Dame got some momentum back on a tipped pass that ended in a completion that could certainly be deemed lucky. Still, Michigan came back and was driving when Grbac threw a pass that was intercepted in the end zone by Michael Stonebreaker.

Michigan continued to battle, but by this point, it certainly seemed like fate was on Notre Dame’s side. Finally, with 1:40 left in the game, Rick Mirer connected with Adrian Jarrell for an 18-yard touchdown pass, and Notre Dame topped Michigan, 28-24. The shame is that the game easily could have gone Michigan’s way, had one or two plays gone differently.

Michigan went on to finish with a record of nine wins and three losses, routing Ole Miss in the Gator Bowl, 35-3. Moeller’s teams had their moments during his tenure, notably a win at Notre Dame in the closing seconds in 1994, but the 1990 opener ended with Notre Dame on top.

Thanks to Michigan Replay and YouTube poster Rxwolverine for the highlight video from Michigan Replay. As always, neither I nor anyone associated with this website own anything, and we do not profit in any way from this blog post.

About Jeff Cummins

Jeff Cummins has written about football since 1998, including nine years with The Record of Hackensack, N.J. He frequently contributes feature stories to Touchdown Illustrated, an insert in the national college football game program, published by University Sports Publications, and he has also written the official pregame stories for the game programs of the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Gator Bowl, and the BCS National Championship game. He has written the preview story for the official program for the NHL Winter Classic at MIchigan Stadium, and numerous college basketball feature stories for College Hoops Illustrated, another game program insert published by University Sports Publications. In addition, he has written stories about theater, music, physical therapy, and newsletter marketing. He’s an avid Michigan football fan and long-time New York Jets season ticket holder, and he can be reached at