This Day in History: Game of the Decade

On October 9, 1943, the #1 Fighting Irish traveled to Ann Arbor for a game against the second-ranked Michigan Wolverines. In a highly anticipated matchup Notre Dame dominated, winning 35-12 and improving to 3-0 on the young season. Frank Leahy’s squad went on to finish 9-1 overall, securing the head coach’s first of four national championships during his tenure at Notre Dame. Relive the Michigan game in the article below, as originally told by Bill Carey in Scholastic, Notre Dame’s student magazine.

1943 michigan game

All-American halfback Creighton Miller (’44) carries the ball for a big gain against the Wolverines.

Scholastic article:

Sport headlines christened it the ‘game of the decade,’ and a record crowd of 90,000 flocked into the Ann Arbor Bowl to eye the fray. In the press box was seated the widest radio and newspaper coverage ever to watch and air an athletic event. On the field, the two top ranking teams in the land stood face to face.

The Michigan powerhouse was a combination of service transfers from Wisconsin, Minnesota and six other smaller pigskin transfers of the Mid-West, plus the backbone of a very strong Wolverine eleven. The starting backfield of Daley (Minn.), White (Mich.), Hirsch (Wisc.) and Weise (Mich.) had been duly dubbed the ‘dream quartet’ and threatened to break out in a rash of touchdowns as they had done as individual stars in 1942.

A determined Irish eleven answered the opening whistle in the battle that promised to be for the National Championship. It was the game of the year. Clear in the memory of every Notre Damer was the Michigan jinx that had seen the Wolverine walk away the victory in ten out of eleven previous encounters. The green and gold were a slight newspaper favorite, but even staunch Irish supporters feared the worst.

Creighton Miller snapped the contest wide open in the sixth minute when he churned through left guard, broke off to the right, and legged it 66 yards for a score. Michigan’s human tractor, Bill Daley, bashed his way to a score in the minutes that followed, but Pregulman failed to equalize Bertelli’s point after, and the Irish were never again threatened.

Four plays after the kickoff, ‘Angelo the Arm’ [Bertelli] faded from his own 30, and threaded the needle-point of Freddie Earley’s arms at midfield. The stubby scatterback galloped the full 50 yards [untouched]. Minutes later, Miller sliced into the open on the ND 43 and cleated a zigzag path for the prettiest tally of the year – only to have the play nullified for offensive holding.

An unsuccessful drive to the nine, a Michigan punt, a Bertelli to Zilly pass and a four-yard plunge by Jim Mello racked up a hard earned six-pointer. The Irish rolled up 172 yards for this single score.

Early in the second half, a 40 yard punt return by Rykovich to the double Blue’s 30 ignited the fuse that exploxed when Bertelli plunged over himself. Accurate Angelo speared big number 35 for the final marker, after runs by Miller, Mello and Rykovich had gobbled up 65 yards. Michigan scored on the last play of the game and attempted the try for placement after the final gun.

Miller floated over 159 yards of green in but ten attempts for his best showing of the year, while the Springfield Rifle [Bertelli] completed five of eight passes for two TD’s and 172 yards, scored one himself, set up another, and pendulumed five attempts through the sticks. The defensive highlight of the afternoon saw the Irish reserves blast back the mighty Daley twice in bucks one yard from the promised land.