Michigan-Notre Dame Football– Looking Back – 1978

Over the past few years, I’ve reviewed five games between Michigan and Ohio State leading up to “The Game” itself. With the end of the Michigan-Notre Dame series only a week away, Phil agreed with me that it would be a good idea to review five memorable games from this rivalry.

Michigan and Notre Dame first met on the gridiron back in 1887, but for this series, I’m going to start with 1978, the first game in the modern era between the teams. There were several interesting sports stories in 1978. Affirmed won the Triple Crown, an achievement that seems more impressive since no horse has won the Triple Crown since then. The New York Yankees topped the Boston Red Sox 5-4 in a one-game playoff to decide the championship of the American League East. That game was so dramatic that it made the Yankees’ ensuing World Series championship seem almost anticlimactic by comparison.

Of course, in college football, all the talk centered about Michigan and Notre Dame, who were about to play each other for the first time since 1943, so the game was dubbed “the reunion game.” Notre Dame entered the game as the defending national champion, while Michigan enjoying its own renaissance, with Bo Schembechler having led the Wolverines to victories over Ohio State in each of the two previous seasons. Both teams entered the 1978 game with outstanding quarterbacks. Joe Montana was named the starting quarterback several games in the 1977 and promptly led the Fighting Irish to the National Championship, punctuated by a 38-10 win over Texas in the Cotton Bowl. For Michigan, Rick Leach had emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in school history, establishing himself a threat as both a runner and a passer three decades before that became commonplace. With each team boasting a star quarterback, something had to give.

From the Michigan perspective, the game didn’t start well at all. Notre Dame sandwich a pair of touchdowns around a Rick Leach touchdown run to take a 14-7 lead over Michigan into the locker room at halftime. Michigan took charge in the second half, aided by an opportunistic defense. Leach found Doug Marsh in the corner of the end zone to tie the score at 14, and then linebacker Jerry Meter intercepted a Montana pass, giving the Wolverines the ball at the Notre Dame 35-yard line. As the fourth quarter began, Leach connected with Marsh again on an 18-yard touchdown pass to put Michigan ahead to stay. Nursing a 20-14 lead, Michigan’s Michael Harden stepped in front of a receiver to intercept a Montana pass, setting up Michigan at the Notre Dame 40. Leach didn’t waste any time, finding Ralph Clayton for a 40-yard touchdown pass to give the Blue a 26-14 lead. With a little more than a minute left in the game, Michigan defensive lineman Curtis Greer sacked Montana for a safety, and Michigan celebrated the renewal of an old rivalry with a 28-14 win in South Bend. In later years, Montana became the focal point of the San Francisco 49ers’ dynasty, leading the Niners to three Super Bowl championships. The Denver Broncos drafted Leach, but he chose baseball over football, and played 10 seasons in the Major Leagues for four teams, including the Detroit Tigers.

As always, thanks to ABC and youtube member Wolverine Historian for the video clip below. Naturally, we don’t own any rights to this footage. Enjoy!