Tuesday, November 01, 2005
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?
Posted by Yost at 5:24 PM