Clash of Titans
Games featuring a future Hall of Fame coach on each sideline.
September 18, 1988: Michigan @ Notre Dame
Bo Schembechler vs Lou Holtz
Lou Holtz was not happy with the way the 1987 season ended for his Fighting Irish. He wrote this in his book on the 1988 season.
As I walked off the field at the 1988 Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the biting, bitter wind matched the taste in my mouth.
I caught a brief glimpse of the scoreboard as I headed for the tunnel. It read 35-10 in favor of Texas A&M. I couldn't imagine a more disappointing loss in a bowl game.
We had been 8-1 at one point in 1987, but losing our last three games ruined the entire year. Even after eighteen years as a head coach, I do not handle losing well. I absolutely hate to lose, and I couldn't remember when I had felt worse. …
When things go wrong, there's always a tendency to point a finger at everybody else. I felt the first person I had to look at was myself, and I had to think about some of the changes I needed to make.
When classes resumed for the new semester in January, Holtz held a team meet­ing with the returning players for 1988. Senior FL Pat Eilers recalled:
Coach Holtz gave us a big speech on how our new mission was to strive for perfection, that we would accept nothing less, and that Notre Dame deserved nothing less than perfection. …
I think that set the tone for the entire road to the national championship, be­cause we worked our butts off that winter during conditioning.
Holtz would not let the squad forget the mission. Eilers:
He would talk about it after practice – "Remember how we said in January that our goal was going to be perfection? I'm still not going to accept anything less." I remember another thing he did in that meeting. He said, "Who in here wants to be great? If you want to be great, stand up." The entire room stood up. So for the remainder of the year, he would bring that up. He would say, "You guys told me you wanted to be great. I'm only doing what you guys wanted to do."
Holtz brought in an entire new defensive staff led by future Wisconsin Hall of Fame Coach Barry Alvarez. He had an experienced group led by a number of fifth-year players.
On the other side of the ball, the talented but young offensive unit could use several "rent-a-win" breathers to get their feet wet to start the season. Instead, they would be thrown into the fire right away against Michigan. At least the night game televised by CBS would be at home.
The game "featured gruesome blocking, wicked tackling, and outstanding athleti­cism, as both Notre Dame and Michigan were loaded with college superstars and future NFLers. So, of course, the game came down to the field-goal kickers. In fact, all the scoring was produced either directly or indirectly by special teams." (Kryk, Natural Enemies)

L-R: Lou Holtz, Ricky Watters, Tony Rice, Bo Schembechler
Holtz, Rice (University of Notre Dame Dome Yearbook, Class of 1989)
Watters (University of Notre Dame Dome Yearbook, Class of 1990)
Schembechler (University of Michigan Michiganensian Yearbook Class of 1989)
Watters Electrifies Stadium
After receiving the opening kickoff, Notre Dame gained one first down before having to punt. Michigan did even worse, going three-and-out. So Mike Gillette came on to punt.
He unleashed a 53y line drive boot that was fielded at the ND 19 by Ricky Wat­ters, the heir apparent to the great Tim Brown as the Irish kick returner. Watters burst up the middle, got a key block from freshman Raghib "Rocket" Ismail, and turned on the after burners down the left sideline untouched to the end zone. It was only the third punt return for the sophomore and Notre Dame's longest in 30 years. Schembechler had tried to sign the Parade All-American from Harrisburg PA. Notre Dame 7 Michigan 0 (10:11)
The teams traded possessions until Watters returned a punt 16y to the ND 42.
With the "young and inexperienced" Notre Dame offensive line holding its own, sophomore TB Tony Brooks zipped for 19y on second down. Two plays later, QB Tony Rice kept the ball on an option and scampered 16y to the Michigan 22. But the Wolverines held the Irish to 7y on three downs. So 5'5" 135-pound junior walk-on K Reggie Ho from Hawaii kicked a 31y field goal early in the second quar­ter. Notre Dame 10 Michigan 0 (14:47)
Ho Ho
On the kickoff, D'Juan Francisco hit Leroy Hoard with "a brutal tackle" that caused a fumble that ND's Arnold Ale fell on at the Michigan 22. A holding penalty forced the Irish to settle for another Ho field goal, this one carrying 31y. Notre Dame 13 Michigan 0 (0:35)
The Wolverines had much better luck on the next kickoff. Tony Boles caught the ball near the sideline at his 3, appeared hemmed in, but weaved his way through for 59y before he was caught from behind by Francisco at the ND 38. It was the first time Michigan had crossed midfield.
Michigan Finally Scores
What came next was vintage Schembechler. After getting no first downs in the first period, Michigan gained three on this possession by using two tight ends with a full-house backfield. The Wolverines faced fourth-and-inches on the five. Schem­bechler said go for it, and QB Steve Taylor gained 2y on a quarterback sneak. Hoard then dove into the end zone for the final yard. Notre Dame 13 Michigan 7 (8:29)
Notre Dame threatened later in the period, but the drive ended when Rice's pass hit the receiver in the numbers and bounced into the air into the arms of a Wolverine.
The halftime statistics revealed that Notre Dame outrushed Michigan by 141-54y in the first 30 minutes of action. However, Holtz was disappointed in the pass­ing game. Rice was 0-for-8 with an interception

L: Steve Taylor (University of Michigan Michiganensian Yearbook Class of 1989)
R: Reggie Ho keeps his head down as he boots field goal.
Wolverines Forge in Front
The Wolverines took the lead in the third quarter thanks to a turnover. Watters went from hero to possible goat when he fumbled a punt, and Michigan recovered at the ND 14.
Soon it was third-and-seven from the 11. Working at the end of the stadium where the Notre Dame students sat, Taylor stepped away from the center twice, claiming his team could not hear the signals. Finally, Taylor lobbed a pass into the end zone that sailed over the receiver's head. However, Notre Dame was flagged for pass interference, giving the Wolverines first-and-goal at the five.
Holtz didn't agree with the call. "I didn't think the ball was catchable, and I thought the flag was a little late," he explained. "Even though I have glasses, and I wear bifocals, I thought that there was no way he could catch the ball unless he had a ticket in section 18."
After Michigan gained a yard on the next play, the Notre Dame defense urged the student section to get even louder. After a few minutes of uninterrupted noise, Notre Dame was called for delay of game and loss of a time-out. Holtz was furious and went on the field.
"I simply wanted to voice my opinion to the officials," he said. "I think that was the only time I lost my poise. I'm proud of that."
Notre Dame got back the timeout when the penalty was rescinded.
LB Ned Bolcar said, "We played at Alabama, we played at Miami, and it was twice as loud as that. Michigan was looking for some cheap yards. I kept telling the official that a lot of these people were Michigan fans."
The Wolverines finally got the touchdown when Taylor faked to wishbone back Tracy Williams up the middle, then pivoted and sprinted around right end into the end zone. Gillette converted to make it Michigan 14 Notre Dame 13.
Ho Ho Ho
Once again, the lead didn't last long. Ho kicked a 26y field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter to cap a 12-play, 78y drive. Rice completed his first pass on the drive and also connected on a 23-yarder to Steve Alaniz. Notre Dame 16 Michigan 14
The Wolverines drove into ND territory, but a holding penalty stalled the drive. So they settled for Gillette's 49y field goal. Michigan 17 Notre Dame 16 (5:39)
Schembechler: "We were going down to win the game, and the 10-yard holding penalty made us settle for a field goal. That was tough. We go in to score there, and it looks good. But instead we only led by a point."
Ho Ho Ho Ho
Ismail returned the kickoff to his 20. CB David Key was charged with pass inter­ference to move the ball 15y. Rice, who would finish two-for-11 for the evening, ran 21y around left end to the Michigan 44. But after a 1y gain by Tony Brooks, he passed to Brooks over the middle for 18.
Two rushes by Mark Green and one by Rice gave Notre Dame a first down at the 15 with 2:42 on the clock. When three plays gained only 6y, Ho came out to try another 26y field goal. Michigan called a timeout to ice him – a timeout they would want back minutes later. But the pre-med student made it four-for-four and leaped into the arms of holder Pete Graham. Notre Dame 19 Michigan 17 (1:13)
Holtz recalled: "When Reggie Ho got ready to kick the last field goal, I really wasn't worried. We chart field goals every day. Every time we look, Reggie is 24 of 24 or 22 of 22 or 23 of 24 and from both hashes. When we ran the draw to Antho­ny Johnson on the third down, I said, ‘Stay in the middle of the field.' But he tried to break it, and we ended up on the hash."
Michigan Almost Pulls It Out
But the Wolverines would not succumb easily. Tony Boles dropped the kickoff at the 7, then picked it up and carried all the way to the 37. From there, Taylor launched what Holtz called "a great display of passing." First he hit Chris Calloway for 11. After a sack, his next pass went through two sets of Irish hands before fall­ing incomplete with 36 seconds left. Taylor, getting plenty of time to pick out a re­ceiver, hit Calloway with a 19y pass to the sideline to reach Gillette's range. Boles picked up one before the Wolverines let the clock wind down to three seconds, then called timeout.
Gillette, Michigan's all-time field goal leader with 40 who had hit 13 of his last 14 attempts from less than 50y, lined up for a 48-yarder to win the game with three seconds left. "I just wanted to hit it like an extra point," he said. "Everything felt good, but I probably kicked it a little short. It's a shame when you come back like that on the road, and you lose it on a field goal."
The kick appeared to have enough steam, but the students in the end zone ex­ploded with joy as it missed to the right.
Ho: "I did this only for Notre Dame and the privilege of being here is all that I want. I wasn't too nervous after I made the first kick. I had the best snapper in Tim Grunhard and the best holder. And with those 290-pound guys on the line, there was no way anyone was going to hit me."
Holtz: "I thought our defense played exceptionally well. I think they were as physical as I thought they'd be, and I thought our offense did a nice job for the first time."
Holtz had compared Watters to Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown, but Schem­bechler went a step further. "In Watters, they've got a guy who is probably better than Tim Brown."
Schembechler: "We played poorly, and in my judgement Notre Dame deserved to win. They outplayed us."
The Fighting Spirit: A Championship Season at Notre Dame, Lou Holtz with John Heisler (1989)
Natural Enemies: The Notre Dame-Michigan Football Feud
, John Kryk (1994)