What’s amazing about this series is you could make a case for at least five other Irish victories to be in the top 5: Bob Crable’s vault through the air in 1979 to block Michigan’s game-winning field goal attempt, the electric atmosphere in Notre Dame’s first ever home night game in 1982, stunning the defending national co-champs and Tom Brady in 1998, upsetting No. 3 Michigan in Ann Arbor early in 2005 …
However, for sheer excitement and overall impact, here’s our top 5:
5. Sept. 15, 1990: Notre Dame 28, Michigan 24
Wolverines running back Jon Vaughn shreds the Irish defense for 201 yards rushing while No. 4 Michigan builds a 24-14 second half advantage, but an “Immaculate Reception” by freshman Lake Dawson sets up a Notre Dame touchdown, an end zone interception by Michael Stonebreaker thwarts another Michigan score, and with 1:40 left, sophomore Rick Mirer threads the needle on an 18-yard scoring pass to Adrian Jarrell.
In his first career start, Mirer makes the cover of Sports Illustrated as Notre Dame’s “Golden Boy.” Remarkably, the Irish senior class graduates with a 4-0 ledger against Michigan.
4. Sept, 11, 1993: Notre Dame 27, Michigan 23
The “rebuilding” Irish fall from No. 7 to 11 after struggling to defeat Northwestern in the opener, and they are installed as nine-point underdogs at No. 3 Michigan. Furthermore, the recently released book “Under The Tarnished Book” eviscerates Notre Dame and head coach Lou Holtz as a program that sold its soul for football glory.
Notre Dame enters the cauldron and plays with fury, passion and superb execution while taking a 24-10-halftime lead. QB Kevin McDougal sets the tone with a 43-yard TD off the option on the opening series and scrambles for an 11-yard score later. The Irish players give Holtz a victory ride off the field, and the team moves up all the way up to No. 4 en route to a 10-0 start and No. 1 ranking.
3. Sept. 20, 1980: Notre Dame 29, Michigan 27
The Wolverines, who would win the Big 10 and head coach Bo Schembechler’s first Rose Bowl title this season, score the go-ahead TD with 41 seconds left off a tipped pass in the end zone. With the ball at his 20, freshman quarterback Blair Kiel is inserted for the first time in his career to run the shotgun package.
A pass interference penalty and a couple of short incompletions set the stage for junior kicker Harry Oliver’s 51-yard field goal attempt. Oliver had kicked only one field goal in his career and missed an extra point earlier in the contest, but he converts probably the most famous field goal in Notre Dame annals as time elapses.
One year after a 7-4 finish, the victory is a springboard toward a surprising 9-0-1 start and elevation to No. 1 at the start of November.
2. Sept. 16, 1989: Notre Dame 24, Michigan 19
The lone 1 vs. 2 meeting in the series sees the legend of sophomore Raghib “Rocket” Ismail emerge in the rain at Ann Arbor. Michigan had not allowed a kickoff return for a score in 32 years — until Ismail fields the second half opener and returns it 88 yards for a 14-6 Irish lead.
Then in the fourth quarter, after Michigan cuts its deficit to 17-12, Ismail breaks through a wall for a 92-yard touchdown return. The defending national champs hold on to their No. 1 ranking and would later extend their winning streak to a school record 23 games.
1. Sept, 10, 1988: Notre Dame 19, Michigan 17
Without this pulsating fourth quarter triumph in which the lead changes hands four times, the 1988 national title would not have been possible.
After Michigan takes a 17-16 lead with 5:39 left on Mike Gillette’s 49-yard field goal, the Irish drive 71 yards to set up senior walk-on kicker Reggie Ho — all 5-5 and about 135 pounds of him — for the go-ahead 26-yard field goal at the 1:13 mark. It was his fourth field goal conversion of the game in as many attempts.
A dropped interception sets up Gillette for another 49-yard attempt on the final play, but this time it sails left, ending Notre Dame’s three-game losing streak from the previous season and setting the table for what would become an amazing run to the national title.
The win propels Notre Dame from No. 13 to No. 8. Michigan would go on to win the Big Ten and Rose Bowl — and its two losses were by two points to No. 1 Notre Dame (19-17) and one point to No. 2 Miami (31-30).
That 31-30 score versus Miami would also be seen later in the year at Notre Dame, too.