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Tradition Tuesday: Michigan State

Sep 11, 2012, 4:22 PM EST

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September 17, 2011: George Atkinson III (34) returns a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown in the first half against Michigan State.
Photo by Matt Cashore

Though USC and Michigan are undoubtedly Notre Dame’s biggest rivals, the Fighting Irish also have a longstanding, thrilling and sometimes controversial history with Michigan State.

Notre Dame currently leads the series 46-28-1, with 18 of those wins coming in East Lansing, the site of this Saturday’s game. With 75 meetings between the teams, Michigan State is Notre Dame’s fourth-most frequent opponent behind only Navy, Purdue and USC.

They first met in 1897, an easy 34-6 victory for Notre Dame. Beginning in 1949, the Megaphone Trophy was introduced to the rivalry. The Detroit alumni clubs of both universities sponsored the trophy, which is half blue and half white and includes the results of the previous games.

Throughout the history of the series, Notre Dame and Michigan State have played several memorable games, most notably on Nov. 19, 1966. Dubbed the “Game of the Century,” both the Irish and the Spartans were undefeated and at the top of the rankings. With the game knotted at 10-10 and just over a minute to play, Irish coach Ara Parseghian elected to play conservatively.

Some accused Parseghian of running out the clock and many were left disappointed by the lack of a resolution to the game, but it all paid off for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame wrapped up the season with a 51-0 crushing of USC at the Los Angeles Coliseum, ending the year undefeated at 9-0-1 and securing the programs’s eighth national championship and the first of two for the legendary Coach Parseghian.

Notre Dame-Michigan State games have had their share of excitement in more recent years too, as nine of the last twelve meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. In 2002, Arnaz Battle caught a 60-yard touchdown pass from Pat Dillingham with 1:15 left in the fourth quarter to lift the Irish to a 21-17 victory.

In 2005, the Spartans won in South Bend on Jason Teague’s 19-yard touchdown run in overtime, spoiling a 21-point Irish comeback. Michigan State’s post-game celebration, which included planting their flag/a> in the Notre Dame Stadium field, did not sit well with Irish fans.

The following year, Notre Dame staged a memorable comeback, erasing a 16-point fourth quarter deficit capped by Terrail Lambert’s 27-yard interception return for a touchdown with 2:53 to play.

In 2009, the Irish held on in another thriller, this time back in South Bend. Kyle McCarthy’s interception at the four-yard line with less than a minute remaining helped preserve a 33-30 win.

And of course, it’s tough to forget Notre Dame’s last trip to East Lansing,a game that ended in heartbreak for head coach Brian Kelly‘s team, when the Spartans pulled the “Little Giants” fake field goal play. After lining up for what appeared to be a game-tying field goal attempt, punter Aaron Bates threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to tight end Charlie Gantt, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.

Notre Dame bounced back last season, with a 31-13 victory over the 15th-ranked Spartans at Notre Dame Stadium. Freshman George Atkinson III broke on to the scene with an 89-yard kick return for a touchdown in the first half.

This Saturday, the Irish face their toughest test of the young season, in a matchup that looks to add another intriguing chapter in the emotional rivalry. The battle of top-20 teams will air on ABC at 8 pm ET, and ESPN is sending its top college football announcing team (Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit and Heather Cox) to call the action.

You’ll want to check out 125.nd.edu this week, as several games from the Notre Dame-Michigan State series will be featured in our continuing series of Strong & True moments.

Note: Excerpts from this post were first published on the UNDerground blog last season prior to the Michigan State game.

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