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MSU-Notre Dame Rivalry: Remarkable History, Stunning Wins

MSU-Notre Dame rivalry
© Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Michigan State and Notre Dame officially announced a brief renewal of their historic rivalry, agreeing to a home-and-home series in 2026 and 2027. The first game will be played in South Bend, Ind., and Notre Dame will make a return trip to East Lansing, Mich., the following season.

While it may have flown under the radar to many college football fans, this series is actually one of the great rivalries across college football and college sports as a whole.

"The Michigan State-Notre Dame rivalry is not only one of the oldest rivalries in all of college football, it's a series that is meaningful to Spartan players and fans alike," Michigan State Vice President and Director of Athletics Alan Haller said in an announcement on the MSU website. "It's fitting that the battle for the Megaphone Trophy renews in the 60th anniversary season of the 1966 Game of the Century."

History of MSU-Notre Dame Rivalry

The rivalry between the Fighting Irish and the Spartans began in South Bend in 1897. The programs faced off intermittently in the early 1900s and met annually from 1948 through 2017, with a couple of two-year breaks thrown in and the winner claiming the Megaphone Trophy.

Michigan State and Notre Dame have not played since 2017, as the ever-changing landscape of college football and conference realignment forced scheduling shifts and sacrifices. But at one point, this rivalry was a premier annual event.

Championships, Glory Days

MSU was a national powerhouse in the 1950s, winning four national titles. As the next decade arrived, the Spartans continued to assert their prowess, winning two more championships.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, had not claimed a championship in the 50s and was in the middle of a rebirth of its championship traditions.

Then came the "Game of the Century."

On Nov. 19, 1966, 1964 National Champion and No. 1-ranked Notre Dame visited East Lansing and the defending National Champion and No. 2-ranked Spartans in a highly-touted, heavyweight match for all the marbles. The game was not televised nationally due to the nature of national television contracts at the time.

Michigan State took an early 10-0 lead, but Notre Dame scored a touchdown to cut it to 10-7 at the half. As the teams struggled to do anything offensively in the second half, the Irish were able to tie the game with a short field goal to start the fourth quarter.

The Irish had multiple chances to take the lead, but Joe Mazzaro's 41-yard field goal attempt sailed wide, and they inexplicably ran out the clock on their final drive.

As there was no overtime, the game ended in a 10-10 tie and gave both teams a share of the 1966 National Championship.

Notre Dame Dominance

After the "Game of the Century," Notre Dame took full control of the rivalry, winning 24 of the next 28 meetings. Included in that run were separate six, seven and eight-year winning streaks, and a 1987 Heisman Trophy-winning performance by Tim Brown, who returned two punts for touchdowns in a 31-8 blowout for the No. 9 Fighting Irish against No. 17 Michigan State.

That Michigan State team won the Rose Bowl while Notre Dame took home another national title. Michigan State would not beat the Irish again until 1997, snapping an eight-game losing streak over a 10-year span.

Return of the Rivalry

The Megaphone Trophy game returned from a brief hiatus in 1997, as Nick Saban and the Spartans left Notre Dame Stadium with a 23-7 win. It was the first of five consecutive wins for MSU over Notre Dame. Over the next decade-plus, the Spartans and the Fighting Irish would play some closely contested classics.

2000: Michigan State 27, Notre Dame 21

No. 23 Michigan State and No. 21 Notre Dame played another game down to the wire in East Lansing. TJ Duckett and Jeff Smoker led the Spartans to a 20-7 lead, but Julius Jones added 2 touchdown runs to put the Irish up by a point late. Facing a fourth-and-10 with 1:48 remaining, Smoker connected with wide receiver Herb Haygood for the game-winning 68-yard touchdown.

2001: Michigan State 17, Notre Dame 10

The Spartans won their fifth in a row over Notre Dame. In a back-and-forth contest, Michigan State had the ball and faced a third-and-6 with just under eight minutes remaining. Quarterback Ryan Van Dyke threw a quick Pass to Charles Rogers, who eluded Notre Dame defenders for a 47-yard touchdown.

The MSU defense held the Irish on a fourth-and-6 six from the Spartans' 17-yard line, and Broderick Nelson's interception allowed Michigan State to kill the clock.

2002: Notre Dame 21, Michigan State 17

No. 12 Notre Dame traveled to East Lansing to face the Spartans and led 14-3 entering the fourth quarter. However, the Spartans scored two late touchdowns, including a phenomenal TD catch from Rogers with 1:45 left to take a 17-14 lead. Yet, the Irish came away with a 21-17 victory as Arnaz Battle scored a 60-yard touchdown just 30 seconds later.

2005: Michigan State 44, Notre Dame 41

Michigan State held a 38-17 lead with 1:23 left in the third quarter before Charlie Weis's Notre Dame team rallied to push the game into overtime. The Spartans held the Irish to a field goal in overtime, and running back Jason Teague took a first-and-15 pitch from Drew Stanton 20 yards for the touchdown to give MSU a 44-41 win.

2006: Notre Dame 40, Michigan State 37

Michigan State dominated this game initially, jumping out to a 17-0 lead and building a 31-14 halftime margin as they retired the legendary Bubba Smith's No. 95. However, the Spartans imploded in the second half. Brady Quinn and future MLB pitcher Jeff Samardzija connected on two touchdown passes for the Irish, and defensive back Tyrell Lambert sealed a 40-37 comeback win with a late pick-6 off MSU's Drew Stanton.

2009: Notre Dame 33, Michigan State 31

The Spartans rallied from a nine-point deficit in the third quarter to take a 30-26 lead. Yet, it would not hold. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen found wide receiver Golden Tate for the go-ahead touchdown, and MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins was picked off by Kyle McCarthy deep in Notre Dame territory as time wound down. The interception came just a play after running back Larry Caper dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the endzone.

2010: Michigan State 34, Notre Dame 31 (OT)

This one wasn't for the faint of heart. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, in his first season in South Bend, took the Irish to East Lansing for a nationally televised primetime matchup. Dane Crist threw for 369 yards and 4 touchdowns, and Theo Riddick tormented the Spartans as a receiver. However, Michigan State battled, and the game went to overtime tied at 28.

After a Notre Dame field goal, the Spartans trotted freshman Dan Conroy out for what appeared to be a 46-yard field goal attempt to keep the game going. Yet, the Spartans shocked everyone by running a fake. Tight end Charlie Gantt was wide open down the field, and punter/holder Aaron Bates delivered a strike to give the Spartans the win on a play now known as "Little Giants."

2013: Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 13

Michigan State fans lament this game as a missed opportunity to play for the national championship. While it was early in the season, it was the Spartans' only loss of the season as they finished the year ranked No. 3 in the country in the final season before the College Football Playoff.

Tied at 10 entering the fourth quarter, Michigan State attempted to run a trick play that resulted in an interception, setting up Notre Dame for the go-ahead touchdown. The Spartans were able to manage a field goal but did not reach the end zone for the rest of the game as questionable pass interference calls kept Notre Dame drives going. Andrew Maxwell's questionable-at-best decision to scramble and flip the ball out of bounds while trailing 17-13 on a fourth-and-20 sealed the Notre Dame win.

Bottom Line

The MSU-Notre Dame rivalry was one of the greatest annual traditions in college football. Aside from championship aspirations, it has produced some iconic and memorable moments and given rise to some amazing players. Bringing it back for two years is a good start, but this game needs to return to being an annual occurrence, especially with Notre Dame's ties to the new-look Big Ten.


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