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 Football vs Michigan State — Looking Back — 1999

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.