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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wednesday History Lesson - UM vs. OSU - 1991

We continue today with Matthew Stout's rivalry week series on The Game.

1991...Howard's Heisman Pose Haunts the Buckeyes...

The year was 1991. Where were you? George Bush was your President and riding an approval rating in excess of 80 percent after watching his military juggernaut topple Iraq in the first Gulf War the previous spring. How quickly things can change when you are the leader of the free world. Clarence Thomas was just one month into his term as a Supreme Court Justice after surviving, in his words, a "high-tech lynching" during the confirmation process, while Magic Johnson had shocked the nation just days earlier by announcing that he was HIV positive. Quincy Jones was taking home a Grammy for Album of the Year with "Back on the Block" while "Silence of the Lambs" was cleaning up at the Academy Awards with five Oscars. Matt Stout was redshirt freshman student-athlete at the University of Michigan but in Columbus wrestling in the Ohio Open, and turning in a less than sub par performance at 118 pounds for the Wrestling Wolverines. And the Wolverines were about to rout the Buckeyes while a star player delivered a signature moment in The Game.

Michigan entered the game with a 9-1 record and ranked 4th in the nation. Led by 2nd year coach Gary Moeller, the Wolverines had begun the season ranked 2nd in the nation, and remained in the top five in the national polls all year with only a loss to top-ranked Florida State blemishing their record. The Wolverines featured a potent offense that had scored more than 40 points in half of their games, and had raced through the Big Ten slate without being tested. The Wolverine offensive juggernaut was paced by the Cleveland St. Joseph High School, Ohio connection of quarterback Elvis Grbac to wide-out Desmond Howard, and a solid running game led by Ohio native Ricky Powers. On defense, Butkus Award winner Erick Anderson led the Maize and Blue charges.

Ohio State came to Ann Arbor with an 8-2 mark and ranked 17th in the country. The Buckeyes were led by 4th year coach John Cooper who was still seeking his first win over "the team up North" in his young tenure in Columbus. Ohio had stumbled to Wisconsin and Iowa in Big Ten play but boasted a solid defense behind All American linebacker Steve Tovar and Alonzo Spellman. Quarterback Kent Graham and tailback Carlos Snow paced the Ohio offense as the Buckeyes hoped to prevent the first four-game Michigan winning streak in the series since 1945-48 when Fritz Crisler had roamed the sidelines as Michigan's field general.

As the two rivals teed it up for the 88th edition of The Game, a third outright Big Ten title in four years was on the line for Michigan while pride was the motivation for the Buckeyes, whose two losses in Big Ten play had knocked them out of the championship race.

Michigan took the opening kick-off and marched straight down the field against the Buckeye defense, dominating the line of scrimmage and using a fake field goal attempt to set up a one-yard touchdown run by fullback Bernie Leggett. Leggett's score gave the Wolverines a 7-0 lead they would never relinquish.

Ohio closed the score to 7-3 on a 50-yard field goal by Tim Williams but Michigan capitalized on two Buckeye turnovers in the second quarter to set up a one-yard scoring run by Jesse Johnson and a 38-yard field goal by J.D. Carlson. Midway through the second quarter, the Wolverines had seized complete control of The Game.

But one final first half blow was still waiting to be delivered by the Boys in Blue. With Michigan out in front 17-3 and the first half winding down, Howard settled in at his own 10-yard line and prepared to field an Ohio punt on fourth down. The Heisman Trophy candidate also prepared to deliver history.

After backpedaling to his own seven, Howard snagged the Buckeye punt, stepped sharply to the right, and raced down the eastern sideline for a Michigan record 93-yard punt return touchdown. As Howard crossed the goal line with one finger extended in the air, ABC Sports broadcaster Keith Jackson bellowed out a simple message that still remains among the most famous two-worded calls of his 54-year career.

"Hellooooo Heisman!” proclaimed Jackson in his legendary folksy drawl.

If almost on cue from Jackson above, Howard responded. With the pigskin tucked under his right arm, the Wolverine held out his left arm, lifted his left leg, and struck the Heisman Trophy pose. Seventeen years later, Howard's Heisman pose stands as one of the most iconic images in the modern media ambush era of college football. And it clearly represents one of the signature moments in the 104 years of The Game.

Howard's spectacular touchdown return gave Michigan a commanding 24-3 at the half. It also confirmed what Howard, Jackson, and the Michigan Stadium crowd of 106,138 already knew - that the trophy awarded annually to the nation's best collegiate football player was all but wrapped for the young man nicknamed "Magic."

Freshman Tyrone Wheatley added a five-yard touchdown run in the second half to close out the scoring and a 31-3 Michigan victory. The 28-point Michigan rout marked the Wolverines' most lopsided victory in The Game since a 58-6 Michigan walloping in 1946.

Two weeks later, Howard accepted The Heisman Trophy as the nation's best player, winning by the second largest margin of victory in the 56-year history of the award and with a Heisman record 640 first place votes. On the year, Howard would become the first wide receiver in Big Ten history to lead the conference in scoring (90 points), and set or tie five NCAA records and 12 single-season Michigan records, including most points scored (138) and touchdowns (23).

Michigan would travel to Pasadena on January 1st of the New Year where they would fall to national champion Washington 34-13 in the Rose Bowl. The 1991 Wolverines finished 6th in the final national polls.

Coming tomorrow...1989…Bo’s Final Ride...


Crabapple Buck said...

These history lessons all have the same ending, "Michigan lost the bowl game". I guess those that don't know their history are bound to repeat it.

srudoff said...

of course desmond fucked up the heisman pose

if you listen to him talk, it's easy to see that he has his job on name recognition alone - he's ummmmm not smart

who's playing Cal Desmond??? brilliant

Mikoyan said...

Wow, talk about sour grapes....

You beat us...but you couldn't win the bowl game...You guys must suck. Which would mean the team that lost to the team that lost the bowl game must really suck.

Katie said...

Oh snap! Mikoyan, good one!

Matt, great posts! I am enjoying them all. I particularly love this one, as I loved Grbac and Howard and that game was great.

I am getting more excited every single day....


CRACK THE NUTS!!!!!!!!!!

Crock said...

Matt - your writing is fantastic!!!

I love how you set it up, "where were you in..." - it takes me back to exactly where I was at that time and adds so much to your storytelling.

thanks for the effort.

beast in 'bama said...

I noticed in the pic that Desmond has several of the maize "football" stickers on the back of his helmet. As most of you know, I'm not a Michigan fan, so please indulge my ignorance of the following:

1. What did those "football" stickers actually represent? I use the word footballs, but they really just resemble solid maize ovals and nothing more (to me).

2. When did Michigan begin the practice of distributing these stickers (whatever they were) for outstanding plays/performances on the field?

3. When did Michigan stop distributing helmet stickers?

4. Why was this practice halted?

surrounded in columbus said...

Matt is a former pres of the local alumni chapter & has been emailing these to the faithful for a few years. they're very entertaining & it's nice to see them available to a much wider audience (as they deserve).

surrounded in columbus said...


i take it you are recovering from saturday's loss?

Andy said...

The "stickers" are wolverine decals. I know they were awarded for "great plays" by both Bo and Moeller, not sure if they started before Bo.

Carr stopped the wolverine decal distribution when he took the job in 1995.

I prefer the classic look of our helmets without stickers.

Mikoyan said...

doesn't Ohio State put wacky tabaccy leaf stickers on their helmets?

srudoff said...


still mourning the losses of both teams but howard brings out the real hate in me.