It’s Notre Dame week for Michigan State, as the Spartans get set to host the Irish in East Lansing for the first time since 2012. It is also the last time the two schools are scheduled to meet on the gridiron until 2026.
For many Michigan State fans, the Notre Dame rivalry pales only in comparison to the Michigan rivalry, and for good reason. The two schools have played 78 times, dating all the way back to 1897. The rivalry has featured many memorable games, including the fabled “Game of the Century” in 1966 that resulted in a 10-10 tie, the only one in the series.
For this piece, we are going to look back at some of the memorable moments since the turn of the century, so 2000 and beyond. The series has been one of the most even around, with MSU holding a slight 8-7 lead in the 15 matchups so far in the 2000’s. So let’s take a look at some of the most memorable games and moments in the last 15 installments of the Battle for the Megaphone.
2000 - Herb Haygood takes it the distance
The first matchup of the new millennium between these two schools saw the 16th ranked Irish come to East Lansing to face the 23rd seeded Spartans. MSU was off to a 2-0 start under new Coach Bobby Williams with freshman Jeff Smoker under center.
It was a back and forth game with neither team pulling away from the other. With just under two minutes left in the game, the Spartans faced 4th and 10 from their own 32 yard line. That’s when Smoker found junior Herb Haygood over the middle on a slant, and Haygood did the rest.
It was an incredible play that really came out of nowhere as an impending sense of doom was settling over Spartan Stadium. Also, for me, attending my second ever MSU football game as a student, it was my first taste of the MSU/ND rivalry, and it tasted sweet.
The win put MSU at 3-0 and moved them up to 18th in the polls. Unfortunately that was pretty much the high water mark of the Bobby Williams era, as it was basically all downhill from there.
2001- First game post 9/11
The 2001 contest was the first game for Michigan State following the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001. The game was played 11 days after the attacks on the 22nd, after all games were cancelled the previous weekend. The actual play-by-play of the game itself was really secondary to the fact that the game was being played at all, in what really felt like an attempt to return to some level of normalcy.
The halftime performance featured both the Notre Dame and Michigan State bands joining forces for a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
As for the game, well it was tied 10-10 (again?!) mid way through the fourth quarter when Ryan Van Dyke connected with freshman Charles Rogers for a 47 yard touchdown to put the Spartans up 17-10. That’s how it would end as Michigan State wins their fifth straight over the Irish, their longest winning streak in the rivalry since the 1960’s.
2002 - Rogers’ incredible catch not enough
For many people, this game is the one they think of when they think of Charles Rogers at MSU, despite the fact that the Spartans lost the game. Rogers had seven catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns in the contest, including one of the greatest catches I have ever seen to this day.
I still have no idea how he got that one foot down in the back of the end zone, but he did, and it gave the Spartans a 17-14 lead with less than two minutes to go in the game. Alas, it would not be enough. In some sort of cosmic payback for Herb Haygood, it would be Notre Dame getting a 60 yard touchdown on a quick throw and long run by Arnez Battle. This was only the first of several crushing home defeats to the Irish.
Here’s a highlight package of the game featuring both the incredible Rogers catch and the Battle TD.
2005 - Spartans plant flag in South Bend
The road team dominance held in 2003 and 2004, which meant that the Spartans had a chance in 2005 to win for the fifth straight time in South Bend, something that had only been done by one other school when Purdue did it back in the 50’s and 60’s.
The Spartans jumped out to a 38-17 lead early in the third quarter behind quarterback Drew Stanton and wideout Matt Trannon. However, Brady Quinn and the Irish would come storming back and tie the game with about two and a half minutes to play when Quinn hooked up with Jeff Samardzija for his third touchdown of the game.
But in overtime the MSU defense would hold the Irish to a field goal, and that would set up Jason Teague’s heroics, as he scampers 19 yards for a touchdown to win it. The Spartans stormed the field and planted a flag at mid-field of Notre Dame Stadium. Surely a most audacious act that no one would ever think of replicating.
2006 – The meltdown in the rain
One of the most infamous Michigan State games of the last 20 years has to be the 2006 loss to Notre Dame at home. And no single game more epitomizes the John L. Smith era than this one. The Spartans came into the game 3-0 and were looking to pad their resume with a win over the 12th ranked Irish.
It was a night game, played in miserable rainy conditions. But the Spartans jumped out to a 17-0 lead, and led 37-21 after three quarters. Then it all came crashing down.
Two Brady Quinn TD passes made it 37-33 with a little under five minutes to play. The Spartans fate was then sealed when Terrail Lambert picked off Drew Stanton and took it to the house with 2:53 left.
The following Monday, the feelings of all Spartans were expressed by Mike Valenti on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit.
2009 – Golden Tate goes into the band
After the 2006 meltdown, Michigan State won the next two matchups fairly easily under new coach Mark Dantonio and were looking to make it three straight over the Irish and seven straight in South Bend. Notre Dame got out to a 13-3 start, but MSU came back to take a 17-16 lead into the half.
The Irish led 26-23 after three quarters, but the Spartans took a 30-26 lead early in the fourth quarter when Kirk Cousins found Blair White from 17 yards out.
However, the Irish would not go quietly and would end up victorious when Jimmy Clausen hooked up with Golden Tate with about five minutes left in the game. Tate would swan dive into the Spartan Marching Band after the score, achieving permanent villain status amongst Spartan fans…at least until he became a member of the Lions years later.
2010 – Little Giants
In many ways the 2010 game against Notre Dame marks the beginning of the Spartans run that would result in three Big Ten titles, a Rose Bowl win, and an appearance in the College Football Playoff.
It was another night game in East Lansing between the two schools that was back and forth the entire game. Sixty minutes would not be enough to decide this one. In overtime the Irish would settle for a field goal, but after a sack on third down, the Spartans were facing 4th and 14 from the ND 29 yard line. It appeared that they would need Dan Conroy to convert a lengthy 46 yard field goal to keep the game going.
And then Mark Dantonio called for the first of what would become a series of memorable fakes from his special teams unit.
It remains one of the ballsiest calls I have ever seen.
The game was so intense that Dantonio suffered a mild heart attack after the game and would miss the next couple games. But the legacy of “Little Giants” lives on as the beginning of a new golden age for MSU football under Dantonio.
2013 – All the pass interference calls
After “Little Giants” the Spartans would lose the next two to Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame squad without putting up much of a fight. When Michigan State rolled into South Bend in September of 2013, no one could have imagined that the Spartans would finish the season in Pasadena.
At the time MSU was 3-0 but had struggled in wins over Western Michigan and UAB before beating up on FCS Youngstown State. After an unsure quarterback situation to start the year, it appeared that Dantonio and company had settled on sophomore Connor Cook to run the show for the Spartans.
But the offense couldn’t find itself for most of the day, managing only one touchdown on four trips to the red zone.
Meanwhile, a slew of questionable pass interference calls helped Notre Dame keep drives alive and set up both of their touchdowns.
MSU had opportunities late but couldn’t get the job done. Even more confusing, they sent Andrew Maxwell in for the final series, ending with the senior running out of bounds on fourth down well short of the sticks.
The loss would end up to be the only one for Michigan State on the year as they would go on to run the table in the Big Ten, knock off Ohio State in Indy, and beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl. But many can’t help but look back and wonder if the Spartans would have been playing for the National Title had there been a little less laundry on the field in South Bend that day.
Oh, and Notre Dame has since had to vacate the win because of NCAA violations.
2016 – MSU snaps losing streak to Irish
After a two year hiatus, the teams rekindled the rivalry last season in South Bend. It looked to be a big time early season matchup between two top teams as MSU came in ranked 12th and ND ranked 18th. However, both teams would end up having very disappointing seasons before it was all said and done.
After going down 7-0 early, Michigan State would run off 36 straight points to take a big lead late into the 3rd quarter. A furious Notre Dame comeback would come up eight points short and the Spartans hung on to win 36-28 and get to 2-0 on the season and move into the top-10 in the polls.
I’m not sure what happened after that as I’ve had that part of my memory permanently removed.
Once again, the Spartans will be using the Notre Dame game as an early season measuring stick. A win would move MSU to 3-0 headed into conference play and go a long way towards a bowl appearance. While wins over ND haven’t always been a sign of future success, it would certainly be nice to keep the Megaphone in East Lansing for the next decade.