The second installment of the series looking back at the rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State takes us to 1999. The economy had been roaring for several years, and so had the Wolverines, who had a perfect season and a share of the national title just two years before, and were playing very strong football in ’99. Opponents had few answers for the Michigan offense. In fact, the biggest challenge the Wolverines faced on offense was which quarterback would get the most snaps.
While most teams hope to have just one competent quarterback, the Wolverines had two in, senior Tom Brady and sophomore Drew Henson, who had been one of the top recruits in the nation just a few years earlier. Head coach Lloyd Carr used a platoon system for the two quarterbacks, with each getting playing time each game. The strategy developed depth at quarterback, but it might not have been the best strategy to use for that season.
The game started off with a matchup problem for the Michigan defense. Simply put, the Wolverines didn’t have anyone who could cover 6-foot-5 Michigan State wideout Plaxico Burress. The Wolverines even attempted to use wide receiver David Terrell at cornerback to stop Burress, but that didn’t help. Compounding the Wolverines’ problems was the Michigan State pass rush, which harried and hurried Michigan quarterbacks for most of the day. When Michigan State running back Dawan Moss scored from 14 yards out with 12:19 remaining to give the Spartans a 34-17 lead, things looked bleak for the Wolverines.
On the ensuing possession, Brady began to work his magic, spreading the ball around the field, and throwing downfield to Marcus Knight for 26 yards. When Brady connected with Terrell for a 19-yard touchdown pass with 8:11, the Wolverines were back in the game, albeit with a steep mountain to climb. Brady then found senior Aaron Shea in the end zone with less than three minutes left, and Michigan was within striking distance, needing a stop on defense to get the ball back.
Unfortunately, the Wolverines didn’t get what they needed. When Burress caught a pass on the sideline, the party was over, and Michigan State held on for a 34-31 win.
Through the years, there have been numerous controversial endings in games between Michigan and Michigan State, but this loss hurt the Wolverines as much as any loss in the series. Yes, Burress had a tremendous game, but if Brady had played the entire game, the odds are he would have gotten into his rhythm earlier in the game, and there’s a good chance Michigan would have won. For that matter, had Brady been the primary QB all season, with no platoon system, there’s a good chance that Michigan would have run the table and won its second national championship in three seasons. Instead, the Wolverines finished the season with 10 wins and 2 losses, including comeback victories over Notre Dame, Penn State, Ohio State, and Alabama. Talk to any Michigan fan or alum who watched Brady play his last half dozen games in a Michigan uniform, and you won’t find one of them who would be surprised by his success in the NFL.
Thanks to ABC Sports. As always, we own nothing, and this blog and video are posted strictly for the enjoyment of readers.