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Early History (1887-1917)

American football did not have an auspicious beginning at the University of Notre Dame. In their inaugural game on November 23, 1887 the Irish lost to Michigan by a score of 8–0. Their first win came in the final game of the 1888 season when the Irish defeated Harvard Prep by a score of 20–0. At the end of the 1888 season they had a record of 1–3 with all three losses being at the hands of Michigan by a combined score of 43–9. Between 1887 and 1899 Notre Dame compiled a record of 31 wins, 15 losses, and four ties against a diverse variety of opponents ranging from local high school teams to other universities. Notre Dame continued its success near the turn of the century and achieved their first victory over Michigan in 1909 by the score of 11–3 after which Michigan refused to play Notre Dame again for 33 years. By the end of the 1912 season they had amassed a record of 108 wins, 31 losses, and 13 ties. Jesse Harper became head coach in 1913 and remained so until he retired in 1917. During his tenure the Irish began playing only intercollegiate games and posted a record of 34 wins, five losses, and one tie. This period would also mark the beginning of the rivalry with Army and the continuation of rivalries with Michigan State. In 1913, Notre Dame burst into the national consciousness and helped to transform the collegiate game in a single contest. In an effort to gain respect for a regionally successful but small-time Midwestern football program, Harper scheduled games in his first season with national powerhouses Texas, Penn State, and Army. On November 1, 1913, the Notre Dame squad stunned the Black Knights of the Hudson 35–13 in a game played at West Point. Led by quarterback Charles "Gus" Dorais and end (soon to be legendary coach) Knute Rockne, the Notre Dame team attacked the Cadets with an offense that featured both the expected powerful running game but also long and accurate downfield forward passes from Dorais to Rockne. This game has been miscredited as the "invention" of the forward pass but is considered the first major contest in which a team used the forward pass regularly throughout the game.

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