The third installment of the Michigan-Michigan State series takes us back to 1997. Most of us were just getting used to the Internet at that time, and many of us were enjoying the robust late 1990s national economy. For those of us in the Maize & Blue, it was the best of times, and, well…THE BEST OF TIMES! Sure, every Michigan fan and alum knew about the glorious teams of coach Fielding H. Yost and the “Mad Magicians” of coach Harry Kipke, but for many of us, this was the first time that we actually saw a Michigan team go the distance, finishing 12-0 with a Big Ten championship, a Rose Bowl victory, and a share of the national championship.
That’s not to say the season was all easy sailing. There were some challenges along the way, and as we all know, any time the Wolverines are strong, it’s extra motivation for the Spartans, so nobody was overlooking that game when the Wolverines traveled to East Lansing on a gray in the middle of the season.
Sure, enough, the Spartans started off by giving the Wolverines fits. Late in the first quarter, Michigan State faked a field goal and holder Bill Burke jumped up and threw a pass to a wide-open Sedrick Irvin, giving the Spartans a 7-3 lead. Undaunted, Michigan went right back to work and made it pretty obvious that they were going to physically manhandle the Spartans all day. The Michigan defense harassed starting quarterback Todd Schultz relentlessly, forcing six interceptions, including two apiece by Charles Woodson and Marcus Ray. Woodson’s first interception was arguably the most amazing pick in college football history, as he leaped into the air, grabbed the ball with his right hand and came down with one foot in bounds. That the Michigan offense failed to capitalize on Woodson’s play meant little; the Wolverines had succeeded in demoralizing the Spartans. From that point, there was no doubt which team was in charge. If there was any disappointment for Michigan at all, it was that Tommy Hendricks had dropped an interception. Had Hendricks made the pick, every starting player in Michigan’s secondary would have had at least one interception that day.
Lost amid all the hoopla about Woodson’s electrifying first pick were dominating performances by both the Michigan offensive and defensive lines. The offensive line paved the way for Clarence Williams and Chris Howard to gash the Spartans’ defense, while the Michigan defensive line contested every play the Michigan State offense tried.
Thanks to ESPN and youtube poster WolverineHistorian for the footage. As always, I own nothing.
Jeff Cummins may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.