Michigan vs Michigan State Football — Looking Back – 1997

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 jeffcummins@optonline.net.

Michigan vs Michigan State Football — Looking Back – 1990

The Gary Moeller era is probably one of the most underappreciated times in Michigan football history. Moeller succeeded his former boss, Bo Schembechler, but unlike most people who take over for living legends, Moeller produced teams that were pretty strong, and despite his exit in 1994, his era set many of the building blocks that would be in place when Michigan won the national championship in 1997 season.

Still, Wolverine fans will remember the 1990 season for one game, and particularly just one play: The failed 2-point conversion against Michigan State.

Elvis Grbac had just completed a fade to Derrick Alexander in the near corner of the north end zone to bring Michigan within one point. Moeller chose to go for two points, a move that Brady Hoke duplicated more than two decades later. As Grbac took the snap from center, receiver Desmond Howard cut inside on a slant pattern, where Michigan State defensive back Eddie Brown appeared to grab Howard’s waist with his left hand, and as Howard moved past Brown, the Spartan defensive reached with his right and appeared to trip Howard. Still, Howard got the ball, and appeared to land with the ball in his possession, but once he hit the ground, it squirted away.

At first glance, it appeared that 1) Howard caught the pass for a 2-point conversion, 2) Brown had committed a holding infraction against Howard, and 3) Brown had interfered with Howard on the play. Yet, none of those results were called. Instead, the officials ruled the play an incomplete pass. Twenty-four years later, this remains one of the most controversial and surreal plays in the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, and in Michigan football history. Despite only taking a few seconds, the play almost seemed to unfold in slow motion. And the result seemed to proceed against all logic, with virtually every observer waiting for some sort of justice…that never occurred.

With six seconds left in the game, Michigan attempted an onsides kick, which worked when Vada Murray recovered in Michigan State territory, giving the Wolverines one final shot at victory. Rather than throwing a pass to the sideline to set up a field goal attempt, Grbac rolled out and launched pass toward the end zone, having narrowly escaped the clutches of the Michigan State defensive line. With a log jam in the end zone, Grbac’s pass was intercepted, and the Wolverines’ chances for victory were finished as well. Despite clearly coming down with the ball after having been held and interfered with, Howard’s catch was ruled incomplete, and the Spartans held on for a 28-27 victory.

Michigan finished the season 9-3, with a win over Ole Miss in the Gator Bowl. Still, few were smiling in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines lost to Iowa by one point just a week after they lost to Michigan State by one point, and any hopes for a Big Ten championship were finished.

As the years went by, Howard went on to become a Michigan Legend, having his jersey dedicated in a ceremony in 2011 in the first night game at Michigan Stadium. After leaving Michigan, Howard won a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers, adding a Super Bowl MVP trophy to his Heisman Trophy. Since retiring, he’s made a name for himself as part of the CollegeDay crew with ESPN. Derrick Alexander played nine years in the NFL before retiring. Elvis Grbac played nine years in the NFL as well, and has since returned to his alma mater, St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio, where he serves as an assistant quarterbacks coach.

Thanks to ABC Sports and youtube poster Stephen Barnett for the footage of the game. As always, I own nothing.Jeff Cummins can be reached at jeffcummins@optonline.net.



Michigan vs Michigan State Football — Looking Back – 1970

The ‘60s were a brutal time for Michigan football. With the political and social turbulence of the era, students often turned their attention to events other than football. Everyone liked the guy who coached the team, but the Wolverines played before a lot of empty seats in Michigan Stadium. Yes, I know that sounds familiar, but it all changed once Bo Schembechler was hired.

Sadly, while Bo conquered the enemy to the south in his first year, he didn’t conquer the enemy further up the road off I-96 West. Michigan State had fielded powerful teams for the better part of two decades, and the Spartans didn’t feel like welcoming Schembechler to the Big Ten with open arms. Being a resilient man, Bo made sure his Wolverines changed that in 1970.

Year 2 of the Bo era found the Wolverines hungry to beat a Spartan team that had been a thorn in their sides for nearly two decades. The Wolverines’ balanced offense kept State off balance all day, gaining a total of 460 yards in a 34-20 Michigan win. Billy Taylor carried 29 times for 152 yards and three touchdowns, while Don Moorhead completed 12 0f 19 passes for 156 yards and one touchdown. After spotting Michigan State a 7-0 lead, Michigan went on an 80-yard scoring drive, resulting in a touchdown when Taylor broke a tackle and went 26 yards down the left sideline for the tying score. With score tied 13-13 at halftime, Michigan broke the deadlock by giving the Michigan State defense a healthy dose of Taylor, who carried nine times on the first series of the second half, scoring from four yards out over right tackle to give the Wolverines a 20-13 lead. The drive was classic Bo, who let the offensive line impose its will on the Spartans. Defensive back Thom Darden intercepted a pass on State’s ensuing possession, giving Michigan the ball at the State 31. With the run firmly established, the offense returned to its balanced attack, and Moorhead connected with Fritz Seyferth on an 8-yard touchdown pass that put the Wolverines ahead by a comfortable margin.

Unlike many games between the Wolverines and the Spartans, the 1970 game was not controversial, and it wasn’t all that exciting, either. It was methodical, which was exactly what Bo had planned, and it marked the first of eight consecutive Michigan victories in the series, leaving no doubt that the Maize and Blue were in charge again.

Thanks to youtube poster Wolverine Historian, who posted the coaches’ film of this game. As always, I own nothing. Jeff Cummins may be reached at jeffcummins@optonline.net.