The era of the late ‘90s was arguably the most recent golden era of Michigan football. The Wolverines were winning big, the national economy was roaring, and in North Jersey, a young couple had a baby girl who may someday study at the University of Michigan. Maybe.
What is certain is that the girl’s father was in Michigan Stadium for the 1999 game against Ohio State, the fifth and final installment of the series. Over the course of the season, senior Tom Brady had won a quarterback duel with local legend Drew Henson, fueled largely by his ability to lead the team to dramatic comeback victories. Brady led the Maize & Bleu to comeback wins over Notre Dame, Indiana, Penn State, Ohio State and Alabama that season. Against Ohio State, the Wolverines started out very slowly on a cold, rainy day in Ann Arbor. The Bucks took the early lead when Steve Bellisari threw a short touchdown pass to Kevin Houser. In the second quarter, Brady found Anthony Thomas on a screen pass, and Thomas rumbled 30 yard. A few plays later, Thomas followed the offensive line into the end zone for the tying score, but Ohio State recaptured the lead quickly when Bellisari threw a short scoring pass to Jamar Martin. The Michigan defense came out strong in the second half and DeWayne Patmon intercepted a Bellisari pass to put the Wolverines in scoring position. Still, the Michigan offense sputtered, and Hayden Epstein salvaged the drive with a field goal. Shortly thereafter, Ohio State extended the lead to 17-10. Then Jonathan Wells spun out of a tackle and took off for a 76-yard run to the Michigan 5 yard line, and only a Todd Howard tackle prevented a touchdown. On the surface, Michigan appeared to be in serious trouble, but this proved to the turning point of the game. The Wolverines stopped Ohio State three times, and when the snap was high on an field goal attempt, the kick sailed wide of the goal posts, taking Ohio State’s momentum with it. Suddenly, Michigan started to wake up.
Ian Gold then intercepted a Bellisari pass and Michigan was threatening. On first down, Brady found Shawn Thompson with a short pass, and Thompson stretched the ball across the goal line for the tying score. On Ohio State’s ensuing possession, defensive back James Whitley hit Vaness Provitt right in the gut, sending the ball high into the air. Once the ball came down, Michigan defensive back Cato June landed on the ball, and now things were all going Michigan’s way. Brady began to mix the run and pass perfectly, and the Michigan offensive line started to wear down the beleaguered Buckeyes. With 5:01 left, Brady connected with wide receiver Marquise Walker along the Michigan sideline, and Walker stuck the ball in the end zone for the go-ahead score, giving Michigan a 24-17 lead. The scoring was done, but Ohio State got one more chance. On third down and 2 yards to go, linebacker Dhani Jones wrapped up Bellisari’s legs and the Buckeye quarterback went down. Now it was fourth down. One more play for Ohio State. Bellisari threw an incomplete pass over the middle, and Jones waved his arms, indicating an incomplete pass. After a tremendous struggle, Michigan took possession of the ball, gained a first down and ran out the clock.
The win sent Michigan to the Orange Bowl, where the Wolverines came from back from a pair of 14-point deficits to beat Alabama in overtime, 35-34. Michigan finished 10-2, and ranked No. 5 in the national polls. Brady’s performance in his final year caught the eyes of the NFL, and he went on to lead the New England Patriots to three Super Bowl
championships. Few historians mention the 1999 season in Michigan history, but this was undoubtedly one of the most underrated teams of the past 50 years. Many historians even wonder if Michigan would have beaten Michigan State had Lloyd Carr replaced Drew Henson with Brady sooner than he did. If Michigan had won the Michigan State game, there’s a good chance the Wolverines would have won the next game against Illinois, and Michigan might just have won its second national championship in three years.
Thanks to ABC and youtube poster WolverineHistorian for the footage of the game. As always, I own nothing related to the game.