I didn’t see the 1989 game between the two rivals live. My wife and I were on some weekend for engaged Catholic couples, and there were no television sets at the place, which was probably for the best, since people would have watched the game instead of focusing on their relationships, and since I would have likely been the only Michigan fan there. For that matter, let me add a third reason: watching Rocket Ismail return back-to-back kickoffs for touchdowns might have caused a few blood vessels to burst.
Oh yes, Ismail. As individual performances go, his performance in that ’89 game ranks with the greatest individual performances in the history of the series. The shame of it from the Michigan perspective is that the Wolverines had the chance to win that game, but Bo insisted on kicking to Ismail, not once, but twice. Yes, all things considered, it’s probably for the best that I didn’t watch that game.
Still, there were bright spots for Michigan in 1989, such as quarterback Michael Taylor connecting with Chris Calloway on a fade into the corner of the end zone for a touchdown, but even then, Michigan missed the point after, and trailed 7-6. Ismail’s first kickoff return gave the Irish some breathing room as the second half opened, but after Taylor left the game with an injury, freshman quarterback Elvis Grbac led the Wolverines on a touchdown drive, completing six of seven passes, including the scoring pass to Derrick Walker. All of sudden, Michigan was right there.
That’s when Bo made the fateful decision to kick off to Ismail again. Again, Grbac led Michigan on another touchdown drive, but Notre Dame recovered the ensuing onsides kick and ran out the clock.
The ’89 game was the last game Bo coached against the Irish. He retired after the season and turned over the reins to long-time assistant Gary Moeller. It was also the last game the rivals would play on the old artificial turf at Michigan Stadium. By the time the Irish returned in 1991, The Big House returned to real grass. Would a slower, real grass surface have helped on a rainy day against Notre Dame in 1989? Maybe. Would it have helped not to kick to Ismail? Absolutely.
Thanks to youtube poster RocketShark, BlueGoldIllustrated and NBC for the footage. As always, I own nothing.