Weis' friendly wager aside, rivalry is just another game

The first-year coach is trying to downplay the hype over the Michigan game.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Charlie Weis tried to pass off this week's matchup with No. 3 Michigan as just another game.
"Not to downplay it, but it's no different to me this week than it was last week," the first-year Notre Dame coach said Tuesday at his weekly news conference, "and I'm going to give the same answer next week. That's just how I view it. I have no emotions at all about Notre Dame-Michigan. None."
But he does have a friendly wager on the game.
Weis, don't forget, spent the last five years as New England's offensive coordinator, helping the Patriots win three of the last four Super Bowls and quarterback Tom Brady establish himself as one of the NFL's best clutch performers.
Of course, Brady is a Michigan alum. So it's only natural that he and his old coach made a friendly bet -- or "an agreement," as Weis called it -- on the outcome of Saturday's game.
"If he loses, he's going to be wearing a Notre Dame football hat to his next press conference," Weis said.
And if the Fighting Irish lose? Weis wasn't saying what he will have to do.
Strong traditions
No matter how Weis tried to downplay it, though, the Notre Dame-Michigan game is never just another game.
The schools are the two winningest football teams in college football history. They both have great fight songs. They both recruit students who do well in the classroom, many of them from the Midwest. They love to hate each other.
The Fighting Irish have many rivals, but none is bigger than Michigan.
Of course, it's tough to blame Weis for not getting caught up with the thought of playing the Wolverines.
The Irish didn't play Michigan for the four years Weis sat in the stands as a student at Notre Dame Stadium. After a 35-year lull, the Irish resumed their rivalry with the Wolverines in 1978, four months after Weis graduated.
Weis is also used to the parity of the NFL, where every game is about as important as the next.
More meaning
He knows, though, for the current Irish players, the Michigan game does have more meaning.
Three years ago, a 25-23 victory over Michigan vaulted the Irish back on to the national college football scene as they started the season 8-0 under Tyrone Willingham. Two years ago, a 38-0 Notre Dame loss -- the most lopsided game in the history of the rivalry -- exposed the then-No. 15 Irish as pretenders.
This year, following an impressive 42-21 opening-game victory over Pitt, the Irish enter the game ranked No. 20, the highest they've been since that embarrassing loss to the Wolverines (1-0) two years ago. Weis welcomed the recognition.
"I think it's great for our players that you get some respect for how you play," he said.
But Weis knows the Irish haven't proven anything yet -- and their win over Pitt will be long forgotten if they fall to the Wolverines.
"It all comes down to how we play this week. We'll see how we're rated after we play Michigan," he said. "We know that Michigan is going to be quite a challenge and we know we're going to have to play a lot better than we did last week if we're going to have an opportunity to win this game."

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