Michigan vs Ohio State Football – Looking Back – 1999

Looking Back is a Special Feature Highlighting
Key Rivalry Games by Jeff Cummins

The fifth installment of this year’s series looking back at the football series between Michigan and Ohio State takes us back to 1999. The economy was roaring, and on the football front, the Wolverines were maddeningly close. So close, but yet so far.

Much of that distance was due to an embarrassment of riches at the quarterback position. Michigan had two excellent quarterbacks. Tom Brady was a fifth-year senior who had a tremendous final season, while sophomore Drew Henson was the top quarterback recruit in the nation in the 1998 recruiting class. In the beginning of the 1998 season, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr let the two players split time at quarterback, which contributed to losses against Michigan State and Illinois. In hindsight, had Tom Brady played the entire way in both of those games, the Wolverines would likely have won both, and there’s a very good chance the Wolverines would have finished with their second perfect season in three years, and their second national championship in three years.

Brady nearly led Michigan back against Michigan State, which led Carr to pick Brady as the starter for the rest of the season. Suddenly, Michigan’s offense became one of the most clutch units in the nation down the stretch. Brady developed a knack for making big plays at big times, and his performance in the final three games of his Michigan career was arguably the most impressive three-game stretch by any quarterback in Michigan history. Against Ohio State, the Wolverines started slowly, and on several occasions, they appeared to be in serious trouble. With fewer than five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Ohio State running back Jonathan Well broke a tackle and ran from the Buckeyes’ 18-yard line to the Michigan 5-yard line, where cornerback Todd Howard saved the day, tackling Wells from behind. Michigan trailed by seven points at the time, and it appeared that Ohio State was on the verge of taking a commanding lead. That’s when the Michigan defense rose up and produced a series for the ages. On third down, Michigan safety Tommy Hendricks sacked Ohio State quarterback Steve Bellisari, who fumbled the ball. Still, Ohio State recovered, and had a shot at a field goal that would a comeback very difficult for Michigan. Following a bad snap, Dan Stultz missed the field goal, and Michigan had dodged a bullet. Suddenly, the Wolverines had new life, and a little momentum.

In the final minute of the third quarter, Michigan linebacker Ian Gold intercepted Bellisari, and returned the ball to the Ohio State 8-yard line. Brady wasted no time; connecting with tight end Shawn Thompson on a play action pass for the tying touchdown. With one quarter to go, the game had the feel of a classic contest between the two arch rivals.

On the ensuing possession, Michigan cornerback James Whitley tackled the football on an Ohio State pass, forcing a fumble that was recovered by safety Cato June. Once the Wolverines took possession, Brady was masterful; deftly mixing the pass and the run. On second down and nine yards to go, Brady connected with sophomore wide receiver Marquise Walker, who dove into the end zone for a touchdown, giving Michigan its first lead of the game. Finally, Michigan had given its defense a lead to protect, and the defense wasn’t about to let this game slip away. On Ohio State’s next possession, Michigan linebacker Dhani Jones sacked Bellisari, grabbing one leg and holding on until his teammates swarmed over Bellisari. On fourth down, Bellisari threw a pass for receiver Reggie Germany, but it fell harmlessly incomplete, as Dhani Jones waved his arms like a referee to signal the incomplete pass. Now, with just over two minutes remaining, the Michigan offense had the chance to put the game away, and the Wolverines delivered, with Brady sneaking for a first down on 3rd and 1 to cement the victory.

In the final moments of the game, several reporters in the press box remarked that this had started slowly, but wound up being a very good game. In essence, the 1999 Wolverines were much the same, finishing the season with five consecutive wins, including three consecutive comeback victories to end the season. Many players went on to prominent careers in the NFL, but this team will always be remembered for being so close to winning so much more. Yet, on the other hand, Michigan fans over the past 20 years would crave that kind of ending to their season. Ultimately, I think most historians will consider the 1999 Wolverines to be successful. On a personal note, this was the second time I attended a game at Michigan Stadium, and the only time I’ve attended a Michigan-Ohio State game. I flew in the day before with a press pass, and arrived at the Pioneer High School parking lot shortly before 9 a.m. I walked on the field before pre-game warmups had even started, and saw a couple of Ohio State players in their sweats, casually throwing a ball around. The day was in the low 40s, with a constant dampness in the air, and a morning dew on the stadium grass. After the game, I was in the postgame press conference in the then Crisler Arena (now the Crisler Center). I stood within a few feet of Brady while he was being interviewed, and I was next to massive guard Steve Hutchinson while he asked an assistant coach how Michigan State had done that day. For obvious reasons, the 1999 game was one of the most memorable in my opinion.

Thanks to ABC Sports, YouTube, and YouTube poster WolverineHistorian. As always, I own nothing, I do not profit in any way from this blog post.

Michigan Football vs Michigan State — Looking Back — 1998

The fourth installment of this year’s series looking back at the football rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State takes us back to 1998. The offseason preceding the 1998 football season was arguably the most enjoyable of the modern era of Michigan football. The previous season, Michigan finished with a perfect record, a Big Ten championship, a Rose Bowl championship, and even a share of the national championship. Michigan Stadium had been expanded by 5,000 seats to reclaim its status as the nation’s largest on-campus stadium, and the Wolverines had landed the top overall player in the 1998 recruiting class, quarterback Drew Henson, and a very explosive running back, Justin Fargas. The offseason party lasted a long time in Ann Arbor. Unfortunately, a little too long.

The Wolverines started the season with losses to Notre Dame and Syracuse. Charles Woodson had left early for the NFL, and Marcus Ray had been suspended for dealing with an agent. By the time the Wolverines finally woke up from their offseason party, it was clear the Wolverines still had lampshades from the party on their heads, when they should have been wearing the winged helmet.

By the fourth game of the season, those helmets were on, and they buckled tightly. Michigan State roared into The Big House, and following a Bill Burke touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress, the Spartans led, 10-3. After a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Michigan State got the ball back, but Paul Edinger missed a field goal, giving the ball back to Michigan. Tom Brady then put the ball in the very capable hands of Anthony Thomas, who rumbled 69 yards to tie the score. The Wolverines led by three at the half, but Michigan State had the momentum, and the ball starting the second half. That’s when the Wolverines regained their identity. The defense shut out Sparty in the second half, Jay Feely kicked his third field goal of the day, and 49-yard pass from Brady to Marcus Knight set up a Brady sneak, and Michigan went on to beat Michigan State, 29-17, highlighting all the usual strengths of a Lloyd Carr team.

The Wolverines finished 10-3 in 1998, losing to Ohio State, but topping Arkansas in a bowl game. The shame is that if the Wolverines had started the season with the same focus they had the previous year, things might have turned out much better.

Thanks to YouTube, ABC Sports, and YouTube poster CMB 7686 for the video. As always, I own nothing, and I do not profit in any way from this blog post.

Michigan vs Ohio State Football – Looking Back – 1997

The fifth and final installment of the series looking back at the football rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State takes us back 20 years, to 1997. The economy was roaring, the world was starting to take an interest in this new thing called the Internet, and Michigan entered the season facing arguably the toughest schedule in the country, while critics snickered not so quietly that the Block M stood for mediocrity.

The good news is that everyone in Maize and Blue heard that criticism, and by the beginning of the season, they were seething with anger, and they were absolutely determined to prove their critics wrong. Lloyd Carr, who proved to the best master motivator in 1997, had just finished reading “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, a book about a harrowing ascent of Mount Everest in the most dangerous storm in the history of Mount Everest climbs. Carr found out that Lou Kasischke, a member of the climbing party, lived nearby, and he persuaded Kasischke to talk to the Michigan team about the challenges he faced while climbing Everest.

Michigan entered the game with a perfect record, while Ohio State entered with the perfect opportunity for revenge. The last two seasons, Michigan had ruined perfect seasons for the Buckeyes by upsetting Ohio State. Throw in the fact that Ohio State wide receiver David Boston had taken a potshot at Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in the media, and it’s easy to see why there was so much tension in the pre-game build-up.

Midway through the second quarter, the game was locked in a scoreless tie when Michigan quarterback Brian Griese found Woodson on a post-pattern for a 37-yard gain. Two plays later, freshman Anthony Thomas crossed the goal line to give Michigan the lead. By the middle of the third quarter, the Wolverines had extended that lead to 20-0. That’s when things got a little bit nerve-wracking. Boston finally beat Woodson for a touchdown, and then OSU linebacker Jerry Rudzinski forced a fumble from Griese, and all of a sudden, Michigan’s lead was down to 20-14. That’s when every Michigan fans started to sweat during a game in which the temperature was in the low 20s.

Fortunately for Michigan, the defense stood tall at the most critical moments, and a huge hit by Marcus Ray on Boston changed the momentum. Just a few minutes later, Michigan’s defense had held, and Griese took the snap and ran out the clock.  The final score was Michigan 20, Ohio State 14. The win gave Michigan the Big Ten championship with an 11-0 record, and Michigan went to the Rose Bowl, where the Wolverines topped Washington State to finish the perfect season and capture the Associated Press National Championship.

In my 54 years, that was the biggest Michigan-Ohio State game of them all, and I doubt I’ll see any victory bigger than that one in my lifetime. That win serves as the bar for every Michigan win over Ohio State.

Thanks to ABC Sports and YouTube posters Stephen Barnett and Dr. Sap. As always, we own nothing, and this blog and video are posted strictly for the enjoyment of readers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuJs0Cohmjg