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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Question of the (Bye) Week

In its 127 years of participating in college football, Michigan is the winningest program in all the land, compiling a record of 848-278-36 (remember ties?). And since I started following the Wolverines as a youngster during Bo's years as head coach, many of those 848 wins have been dandies. I still can hear Ufer's call for the the last play of the '79 game against Indiana, when John Wangler found Anthony Carter for a 45 yard TD pass. I was in Columbus for the game in 1986 when Jim Harbaugh guaranteed victory and delivered to send Meeechigan to the Rose Bowl. And I still remember my initial surprise when Michigan took to the air on 4th and 1 leading to Desmond Howard making "The Catch" against ND in '91 to name just a few.

So why is it, with all those 848 to chose from, some of the 278 seem to stick with me more? Why do I often dread ESPN Classic in the fall, fearful I'll stumble across a game that will bring back more painful memories than running into the school bully at a high school reunion? Sure I remember all the great victories over the years, but it's some of the losses that stay with me, and many Michigan fans, more. It's Mike Lantry, "Super Toe," missing those kicks against the Buckeyes in the 70s. It's Rocket Ismail streaking past our kick team for his second - SECOND! - of two TDs against the Maize and Blue in '89 (why did we keep kicking to him, again?). It's "Clockgate" against MSU in 2001.

That leads to today's question: What is the worst Michigan loss you've ever experienced? You can define that any way you like but which Michigan loss still haunts your Maize and Blue nightmares? Which defeat keeps you saying "Coulda, shoulda, woulda, " even years later? For me, it's easy:

Michigan-Notre Dame, 1980.

Ah, 1980. Disco was barely dead. The Cold War was very much alive. And Michigan was coming off its worst year ever under Bo.

The Wolverines had finished with 3 consecutive losses to close out 1979 and then started the 1980 campaign with an ugly 17-10 victory over a Northwestern team that would go 0-11 that year. The following week, they traveled to Notre Dame to face the 8th ranked Irish. Things looked bleak. And as the game got underway, it didn't look much better as Michigan quickly found itself down 14-0. But, U-M fortunes began to turn around after John Wangler, who had been injured in the '79 Gator Bowl, came off the bench to lead Michigan to a 21-14 lead in the second half...until his interception was turned into a 49 yard Irish TD. But when ND placekicker Harry Oliver trotted onto the field to tie it up...he missed the PAT! (Bet you had forgotten that). Michigan 21, ND 20.

However, ND fought back to take a 26-21 lead after a TD and failed two point conversion. That is, until John Wangler marched the Wolverines down the field in this hostile stadium to score the go ahead TD with only :41 seconds left. Michigan also tried for two to make the lead three but their conversion attempt was also stopped. Even still, ND had the ball on its own 20 and no timeouts left. It looked...good.

Actually, it "sounded" good. Keep in mind, this was 1980, when each team, for some silly reason, was only allowed to have its games televised twice a year. So unlike today where Ball State-Louisiana Tech is an ABC game of the week, this M-ND showdown was only available for me on the "Great Voice of the Great Lakes," WJR, with Bob Ufer doing play-by-play. So maybe that's why this game is seared in my memory. Maybe Ufe is the reason that why I remember it so vividly. Whatever the case, I was at my grandmother's house in suburban Detroit, so nervous that I walked outside with a handheld radio to hear the game's conclusion, leaving the rest of the family huddled around the stereo inside, like Londoners waiting for updates after a bombing raid in WWII.

Somehow, some way, ND made it down to the Michigan 34 with only :04 seconds left and in came Harry Oliver to attempt a 51 yarder -- into the wind! Harry Oliver who had missed an extra point. Harry Oliver who had only made one -- yes, ONE! -- field goal IN HIS CAREER before this!

But as fate would have it that day, Harry Oliver drilled a 51 yarder that somehow, some way cleared the crossbar giving Notre Dame a 29-27 victory as I listened, heartbroken in my grandmother's driveway.

I lost my innocence that afternoon, like the kid in Summer of '42 who lost his by sleeping with the hot older chick whose husband was off fighting the Germans. Unfortunately, I had no war, no Germans or no hot older chick who wanted to sleep with me. Thus, I was forced to learn how cruel the world could be as I listened to Bob Ufer's vivid play-by-play that September Saturday in 1980 when "Good" was kicked in the teeth by "Evil"...and Harry Oliver's left foot.

As you probably know, Michigan lost again the following weekend when South Carolina beat the Wolverines at home, 17-14. All the newspapers were filled with talk of Michigan's impending demise...until Bo's boys (and McCartney's Monsters) rattled off 9 straight wins, including Bo's first Rose Bowl victory, to finish ranked 4th in the country. That 1980 squad also didn't allow a single touchdown the last 5 1/2 games of the year.

So that's it. My most heartbreaking Michigan loss. The rest of my "top" 5 (in no particular order) are:

* 1985 - #2 ranked Michigan 10, #1 ranked Iowa 12. They drove down the field on us in the final minutes (after one of our DBs dropped an easy interception) and kicked the winning FG as time expired.
* Michigan's '88 loss to top ranked Miami in A2, when they came back from 16 down in the fourth quarter to stun the Wolverines.
* The 1990 loss to MSU when Desmond Howard was tripped on Michigan's attempt at a go-ahead two-point conversion with seconds left (Yes, Sparty folks, he was tripped).
* Kordell Stewart's Hail Mary as time expired in '94, giving the Buffs an improbable victory over the Wolverines (I was at that game and I still remember thinking, after he first let go of the pass, "Wow. That might actually get close to the endzone").

Well, those are mine. What about you? What is your most painful, heartbreaking, "coulda, shoulda, woulda" Michigan loss?


The King said...

I'm the youngster of the crew, so I missed a lot of these. I didn't see the Hail Mary live, so I can't say that it affected me in the same way that it would have had I been present or even watching on TV.

Some of them have been pretty bad, but in my fairly short period of time as a Wolverine, the three that stick with me most were all to Northwestern.

In 95, I was physically ill for twoo days after the game. That one I chalk up primarily to the faact that it was Northwestern, the Big Ten door mat for the prvious 800 years. Keep in mind that was the season that they rose from the ashes, but it was early in the season, so we didn't know they were going to end up in the Rose Bowl. At the time, it was like we had just lost to Temple. It was sickening.

In 96, I punched a hole through a wall. I had been very anxious to get much needed revenge on Northwestern after they gave me the plague the year before, and the fact of the matter is that they weren't as good in 96 without all Big Ten RB/thespian Darnell Autry. We had a 16 point lead going into the 4th quarter, and we lost. It was like we had just lost to Temple for two straight years. It still angers me much more than an OSU or ND loss ever could, because at least those guys are recruiting players who are over 5'6".

The last one, I don't even remember the year. You know the one. I had accepted by this point that Northwestern was a decent program, and we played this absurd game with them in which we both had several thousand yards of offense. Long story short, on a fourth down play with little time left, their RB Damien Anderson dropped the most wide open touchdown pass in the history of Northwestern football. We had won! All we had to do was run the ball a few times and run out the clock. Here, we'll just hand it to our trusted running back Anthony Thomas and...


Ali Haji-Sheikh said...

1. '90 Rose Bowl ('89 season)to USC, BS holding call on fake punt and subsequent BS unsportsmanlike conduct call on Bo that cost him a win in final game.
2. '94 Colorado
3. '88 Miami--the worst part was certain fans not schooled in the fickle finger of football fate chanting "Na Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye" with 7+ minutes left in the game.
4. '79 Rose Bowl-Phantom Touchdown
5. '90 MSU (not only was Desmond tripped, he caught the ball and then hit the ground on his back causing him the ball to be jarred loose and the officials ruled incomplete....and admitted the mistake on the following Monday.)

Top 5 Wins:

1. '98 Rose Bowl--NATIONAL CHAMPS
3. '81 Rose Bowl--BO'S Rose Bowl Win (FINALLY!)
4. Any win over OSU
5 (tie) '03 & '05 MSU--Sorry Sparty another season ruined (and again).

Yost said...

Loef, love the Temple ref. LOL! And you pointed out something that might be good for a future post topic: How a win over Michigan in a team's season often propels them to greatness out of nowhere. Like NW '95.

And I forgot that we were up 16 in '96. Aarrrghhh! Amazing how talking about old M losses can so easily open old wounds.

As for your final NW ref, I believe that was 2001. Remember it well. Yes, he dropped the sure TD and, you're right! We had "won." Just had to run out the clock...AARRRGHH!

Yost said...

Mr. Sheikh,

Yes, remember that Rose Bowl all too well. And I agree, total bs holding call. I think the refs were just so stunned that Bo ran a fake punt that they felt they had to call something.

As for Miami, couldn't agree with you more re: the chants. Have they never followed Michigan football? I hate when any fans do that, especially ours who should know better.

And in that '90 M/MSU game, if you recall, we had lost to ND two weeks previous, but had moved back up to be #1 in the polls going into that game, even w/ one loss so early in the season.

Yost said...

PS Ali...

For some reason, totally didn't see bottom of your comment. Can't argue w/ any of those wins.

Good stuff.

LAGuy said...

Good subject.

First, unless you got some octogenarian readers with Bennie Oosterban pennants, I think this is pretty much gonna be Bo and post-Bo games.

Second, I'm not even gonna talk about Bowl losses. I got so used to lost bowl games they couldn't get to me any more.

Finally, these losses are bad losses, but just as much they're about where I was and what I was doing at the time.

So, from 5 to 1:

5. A tie between '74 (10-12) and '75 (14-21), Ohio State. Watched both games at a friend's house. '75 was probably worse (come from behind) but in both cases, Michigan was unbeaten, only to be ground up by OSU. In '74, untied as well.

4. '78, loss to MSU AT HOME (15-24)! I was a first-year and actually hosting two high school friends attending MSU. The whole weekend was a nightmare.

3. '88 Miami (30-31). I was driving in from Chicago that day. I didn't have tickets, but was listening on the radio, expecting to enter a town in the midst of wild celebration, rather than shock at seeing a team coming back in the last seconds (16 pts!).

2. '80, Notre Dame (27-29). I was in a dorm and we were all listening on the radio. (An away game, obviously, and, as Yost notes, not on TV.) It was almost time to eat, and when we got the lead with less than a minute left, we figured it was over. We started walking to the cafeteria and on the way heard about the loss. We weren't so hungry after that.

1. I'm sorry, but it's got to be '94 Colorado (26-27). I was in The Mirage in Vegas, having a great time. But that final pass felt like slow motion, where it was obvious what was gonna happen but no one could do anything to stop it.

Extra--best and worst tie.

Worst tie: '73 OSU--we finish out unbeaten season 10-10 against Ohio, sending THEM to the Rose Bowl.

Best tie: '85 Illinois. I drove down to Champaign with a friend to watch a lackluster Michigan tie 3-3. The Illini got a final chance to beat us with a field goal, which bounced our way of the crossbar. After the whole lousy game, that felt like a victory.

M82 said...

I was a Junior the year of the 1980 Notre Dame disaster. I was also in the Marching Band, and we had been bitching about being left home (whereas we had traveled to Notre Dame two years earlier, to see Rick Leach beat Joe Montana). In retrospect, it saved us a long, miserable bus ride home.

Which brings me to a personal favorite in terms of misery:

1979. The one and only time the band ever traveled to Purdue (which had, at the time, what we liked to call "the largest high school marching band in the country"). It was a cold, wet, windy day, and you weren't allowed to wear a coat over your uniform ("These kids today have it easy...!"). We were seated in the endzone and Purdue was still ahead late into the 4th quarter. [Note: These are my personal recollections, which may have been rendered somewhat inaccurate by lingering bitterness.] Michigan had driven to the Purdue - let's call it the one - yard line. First and goal. We score and we win. Three pitch backs in a row. Option, option, option. Or something like that. But dumb, dumb, dumb. [Reference bitterness disclaimer above.] To make a long story short:

Michigan 21
Purdue 24

It was a long, miserable bus ride back to Ann Arbor.


DanDierdorf said...

1) Kordell Stewart's Hail Mary as time expired in '94. I had to listen to the game on the cook's radio in the kitchen of the KofC in Lincoln Park because some idiot friend of the chick I was dating decided to get married on that day. Michigan, once again, blew a lead. When you lose or win on the last play, that is either the best or worst you will ever feel.

2) The Charles White phantom touchdown in the Rose Bowl. That one still hurts and I can not watch that game on ESPN Classic. Can't do it. If there was replay back then, we would have won.

The King said...

I was just thinking about Syracuse in '98. In terms of shock and awe, that was the most brutal dismantling of a Michigan team I have ever seen, live or otherwise. It sure didn't help that it put as at 0-2 to begin our defense of our National Title. But that game wasn't really that painful, and I think it's for two reasons: One, it's really hard to care as much about a loss after the first one of the season has already happened. As a UM fan, you seriously think about the National Title every year until that first loss, which makes it so devastating. After that first one, you're all of a sudden talking about whether we're playing in Orlando or Tampa...hard to be as passionate. The second reason it didn't hurt that bad was because it was so fast and so surgical. I'd imagine that game was a lot like what it feels like to get shot. You actually don't FEEL anything, you just know something weird happened very quickly, and then you go into shock. Years later, you probably think to yourself, "I still can't believe I got shot. It all happened so fast."

Yost said...


Very true re: bowl losses. Got to a point where you go, why even bother getting upset. Like being mad at the sun for setting.

As for the best/worst ties, I was a little young for the '73 M/OSU game. But I remember Ufer's quote after following the infamous AD vote: "Elephants, Schembechler and Ufer never forget."

And I remember the Illinois game very well. Are guys were dancing around like we won b/c it felt that way. Only bad thing about that tie is, it might have kept us from a National Title that year ('85). If you recall, our only loss was on road at #1 Iowa and after beating Neb in Fiesta, we ended up #2 in the polls.

Some of my least favorite ties were in 1992 when we went "undefeated" at 9-0-3 but with 3 ties, it didn't feel like it.

Yost said...


Didn't realize we had the ball down near the goalline in that '79 PU game. But not surprised that our playcalling has remained the same for all these years.

Yost said...


True about replay re: Phantom TD. If only...


The whole beginning to that '98 season was surreal. Like you said, we were coming off the Nat Title and I believed we were going to be in contention for another that year. Thought we had jumped the hurdle in terms of usually only playing for Big 10 titles. If I recall, we were top 4 in both pre-season polls. But then to get smacked like that in the first two games was a real eye opener.

Benny Friedman said...

Over the course of my 30-plus years of being a sports fan, I've had a number of defeats that were real heartbreakers at the time. As I grow older, some of these losses are easier to take, particularly if my team has won a championship. It's like women, gentlemen. When I was younger I may have held grudges or harbored anger toward women who dumped me or - more likely - completely ignored me. But once I got married all those demons subsided. Not to say I wouldn't want still want the wind to knock down that Harry Oliver kick, but so many years later, I just can't lose any more sleep over it.
A little over a year ago I put together a list of my worst defeats as a sports fan. These focused on Michigan and the Detroit teams. Interestingly, Michigan football was the most common offender of the heartbreaking defeat. Why? Because they're always good; they're always playing in important games. The Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings have had their championship days - and their heart-wrenching losses - but to truly hurt, a defeat has to be in an important game. That's why, even though the Lions lose in incredible fashion most every week, they barely appeared on my list. So what if they had another mind-boggling loss - so they'll be 5-11 instead of 6-10. Every week of every season is important in Michigan football. That's how it is when you haven't had a losing season in, now, 37 years.

That being said, here are my five worst Michigan football losses:

5. Spartan Bob - loss at Michigan State, 26-24, 2001 - not only did they screw us over with the extra second on the clock, but on Sparty's final drive, there was a late, though correctly called penalty on 4th down. It was right out of a bad dream: you think the game is over, the announcer says it's over, then they say, wait, flag on the field.
4. Desmond being tackled - loss vs. Michigan State, 28-27, 1990 - one of the worst ref calls in history, plus he should have caught the ball despite the trip. I remember running around my apartment thinking that we'd won. Plus, we got the onside kick following the bad call and still had a chance to win. We also lost by 1 - at home - the following week against Iowa. That team lost three games by a combined 6 points. It must have been the coaching.
3. Harry Oliver - this has to rank among the worst of the many bad losses to Notre Dame because it was such a long kick. I wasn't even listening at the time - when we fell behind by 5 I got so frustrated that I went to watch the Sparty-Oregon game on the local PBS station. We rallied while I was watching - getting updates from my little brother - and so I stayed away from the radio thinking that it was good luck. When he told me they made the FG I didn't believe him. I went into my bedroom to hear Ufer try to get the correct score (he misread the scoreboard several times before getting it right). I was in shock. I can still see my brother's crying face as he walked past my window outside as he let off some steam.
2. Lantry #1 - tie vs. Ohio State, 10-10, 1973 - technically not a loss, but might as well have been. This is about as far back as I can remember a Michigan game, though I vaguely remember the '72 Rose Bowl. I remember thinking that we'd still go to the Rose Bowl since the Buckeyes had gone the year before. What a lot of people don't recall is that he missed TWO makeable FGs, both with plenty of distance, but wide. One of my older brothers had just received a tape recorder for his birthday and was recording the game. After the second miss you can hear that week's "TV Guide" rip after my oldest brother threw it in anger and then my dad, who wasn't much of a sports fan at the time say, "Why do we have a kicker like this?" I still think of that line whenever Rivas misses one.
1. Lantry #2 - loss at Ohio State, 12-10, 1974 - It was like a recurring nightmare. Same opponent, same stakes, same kicker, same miss. Since this was the beginning of my fandom, I was starting to think we'd never beat tOSU and Woody Hayes. I don't think I've ever hated an opponent more. Incredibly, this missed kick led to the last time we haven't been to a bowl.

Despite the tears that were shed over these games - and others - none of these approaches the anger and heartbreak of the 1992 NCAA Basketball Final when Michigan lost to North Carolina. I have a harder time dealing with bad ref calls (see #4 and #5) or incredible stupidity on the part of my team than honest-effort failure (#1 and #2) or stupendous feats by the opponent (#3). Plus, that was in the championship game.
Also, for all of you older bloggers out there, is it just me, or do the difficult losses (Wisconsin and Minnesota from this year) stick with you less than when you were younger? Is it just the passage of time? Is it having different priorities (e.g, kids)? Is it that once you suffer a few of these, a new one isn't that big of a deal? Or is it that life is, essentially, over and we're all just waiting to die?

Yost said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Yost said...

Great stuff, Benny. As for why the losses don't sting as much? I think it's the whole family thing. Hard to hold on to it too much when the little guy or girl is looking at you afterwards saying, "Daddy, take me to the park" or something like that.

Having said that, don't think I've gone soft, just gained (a small amount of) perspective.

Benny Friedman said...

Dan, and everyone else, you have to do yourself a favor and watch the "Phantom Touchdown" game the next time it comes on ESPN Classic. Why should you relive the torture of another bad Rose Bowl loss? For humor's sake. That game's analyst was none other than SC alum O. J. Simpson. When they show the replay and it's obvious that Charles White fumbled before scoring, it's hilarious to hear The Juice try to explain how it was a good call. You can hear in his voice that he doesn't believe what he's saying. Kind of like when he said " Absolutely 100% percent not guilty."

Yost said...


Didn't realize that re: OJ. Yeah, we know he always tells the truth.

Ali Haji-Sheikh said...

A few follow up thoughts after reading some of the comments above:

1. The losses sting less because you have other priorites/sources of enjoyment when you are older (kids). Plus, I want my kids to love Michigan so if I act like an ass because of a Michigan football game, I fear they will start to resent the Maize and Blue.

2. Thinking about where we stand right now in the season made me realize that this year's Minnesota loss (caused by two missed field goals and our defense's inability to stop a run by an opponent on third and long who was content to run out the clock and go to overtime b/c their quarterback was injured) might go down in history as one of those losses. That's because, as it stands now, if we win out, that loss will have cost us a third straigh Big Ten title and a BCS birth (despite the Wisconsin and ND losses). I realize we can still get a shared title and an auto BCS bid if we win out AND PSU loses to MSU AND Wisc loses to Iows, but had we not GIVEN AWAY that Minnesota game, our fate would be in our own hands now. (OK Yost, before you say it, I realize that every thing that happens impacts other teams and other games and that had we beat Minn. we may have lost a game that we subsequently won, but I don't buy it for that one.)

3. Thinking about this year's Minnesota game reminded me of another painful loss that I'm shocked noone else named...the 1986 20-17 loss to Minnesota. We were undefeated (having defeated both ND and FSU non-conference) and #2 in the nation (our highest ranking that late in the season prior to the 1997 Nat'l Champ season) headed into that game only to have our national title hopes ruined AT HOME by an unranked Gopher squad led by Rickie Foggie. We rebounded the next week to beat Ohio State in Columbus and then won at Hawaii to go 11-1 in the regular season, before losing to ASU in the Rose Bowl.

Yost said...


I actually agree w/ you re: this year's Minnie game. If we win that, I think we'd be playing for even more (or at least controlling our destiny). That's the one, of the three, that no way should we have lost.

And I remember the '86 Minnie game well. In fact, I was there. That loss just seemed to come out of nowhere.