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The Climb: Part XI: No Flags

[Ed-Seth: This being the 20th anniversary of the 1997 National Championship, Michigan historian Dr. Sap is taking us game-by-game through it. Previously: Those Who Stayed (Colorado); The Hit (Baylor); The Stop (Notre Dame); The Captain’s Down(Indiana); Vengeance (Northwestern), Gut Check (Iowa), Six Picks (Michigan State), The Trap (Minnesota), Judgment (Penn State), The Crucible (Wisconsin)]


01 LEAD bhl_bl007586_full_5999_4790__0_native

[Robert Kalmbach, via UM Bentley Library]

November 22, 1997: #1 Michigan 20, #4 Ohio State 14

  • also #2 FSU 29, #10 Florida 32 who remembers when we were huge Gator fans?
  • also also not that it should matter but just in case “undefeated” Nebraska tries to stake a bogus claim to a championship that shoulde be Michigan’s and Michigan’s only, a struggle vs unranked team ought to take care of that, and lo and behold: #3 Nebraska 27, Colorado 24

Materials: Box Score. Cumulative stats. Articles. WH Highlights, Part II, Entire broadcast by j bakkar, or if you want to watch this with friends we’ll have it on at the MGoBlog Tailgate before The Game on Saturday.


Back in 1997, there was no B1G Conference Championship Game. That meant THE GAME between Michigan and Ohio State was going to be for all the marbles – sort of.

It was #1 UM (10-0) going against #4 OSU (10-1). It was essentially for the Rose Bowl, with a slight twist. If Michigan won, they would be the outright Big Ten champs and go to the Rose Bowl. If Michigan lost and Penn State defeated Wisconsin and Michigan State -- there would be a three-way tie for the Big Ten title (with OSU & PSU) -- Michigan would still go to the Rose Bowl under the Big Ten tie-breaker rule, unless Ohio State was ranked #1 or #2 in either major poll, in which case the Rose Bowl would be obligated to take OSU.

Got all that?

[Hit THE JUMP to go back to that cold terrifying morning]

The much anticipated game had incredible buildup and hype. Demand for tickets was through the roof, as were media credentials. Typically 400 press passes were issued for big games twenty years ago, but for this epic clash, more than 1,000 media credentials were handed out.

Ohio State and their Head Coach John Cooper had struggled to defeat Michigan since he arrived from Arizona State in 1987. In the previous two seasons OSU entered the game ranked #2, but both times, Michigan pulled off the upset.

"I'm 1-7-1 against Michigan, in case you guys don't know that," Cooper said on the Tuesday before the game, laughing, when the subject of his struggles against arch-rival Michigan was broached.

Quarterback Stanley Jackson was not so jovial when discussing last year’s loss to Michigan: "I've watched that game about six times on videotape. Every time, it hurts."

“Hurt” would soon take on a new definition for the Buckeye signal-caller come Saturday night.

If Michigan needed any more motivation than playing their arch rival for all the marbles, they had it served to them on a silver platter by the Buckeyes. Just two years earlier in 1995, OSU's Terry Glenn suggested that "Michigan is nothing," and no better than anyone else on their schedule.

Well, this time it was David Boston, another Buckeye receiver, that ran his mouth before the game. It can be found at the 2:49 mark on this clip here:

You would have thought the Buckeyes would have learned their lesson and kept their mouths shut, but then again, they ARE hairless nuts. The Michigan players, to their credit, really didn’t run their mouths – they preferred to let their talking be done on the field, but believe me, they all had their sights set on Boston.

More pre-game talk and interviews can be found here:

ABC-TV put their #1 crew of Keith Jackson and Bob Griese on the game for the third week in a row, and of course Jackson’s intro was classic:

Before the game, I can remember thinking that this was going to be the toughest opponent for Michigan. The Wolverines were lucky to win the year before against the Buckeyes and were surprise victors again in 1995. The Bucks were loaded, as they always were, and you just had this feeling that maybe this was the year Ohio State would ruin Michigan’s dream season. The only thought that kept me from veering into the dark side was the fact that I felt Michigan had better athletes and more of them. Talent would win out, but at the same time, I had witnessed too many Michigan games where fluky bounces and breaks went the other way of talent.

I was one of the 106,982 in attendance that day and I gotta tell ya, it was pretty cool to see maize and blue pom-poms on every seat when I walked inside The Big House! That had never happened before and as it turned out, it would be the first of many pleasant surprises that day for the Michigan faithful.

With the crowd roaring in anticipation like I had never heard before in the Hole that Yost dug, Michigan was set to receive the opening kickoff. Right off the bat, Lloyd Carr wanted to show John Cooper that his team was going to pull out all the stops to win this game.

As Anthony Thomas caught the kickoff at his 2-yard line, Charles Woodson ran back toward the goal line. The two players faked the reverse, and Thomas, aided by some excellent blocking, scampered 43 yards to put Michigan in great field position to start the game.

It was a sign of things to come for the Michigan Special Teams unit.

The jubilation was short lived however as the Wolverine offense went three and out against a Buckeye defense that was solid at every position.

Ohio State started the game with quarterback Stanley Jackson. His mobility and the running of Pepe Pearson got the Bucks a first down and showed they could move the ball on the ground against the nation’s #1 defense.

The jaw-jacking between David Boston and Charles Woodson had already started on the first OSU drive. It came to a head on 3rd down when the two started pushing and shoving, to the point where Woodson took his helmet off and demanded a throw down right there in front the entire Michigan Stadium crowd. Cooler heads prevailed, but one thing was clear: the Buckeyes were not going to come into Michigan Stadium and intimidate the Wolverines – not on Charles Woodson’s watch!

The Ohio State drive stalled and the Michigan offense answered with another three and out.

That was pretty much the story of the first quarter – Ohio State moved the ball with scrambles by Jackson and runs up the middle by Pearson, while Michigan went three and out on their first three possessions. It was not a great start to the day for the maize and blue. Meanwhile, the scarlet and gray were executing on offense and had all the momentum.


In the second quarter, John Cooper did what he had done all year – change quarterbacks. As good of a runner as Stanley Jackson was, Joe Germaine was his equal at throwing the ball and, for some reason, that’s what Ohio State wanted to do – throw the ball against this tremendous Michigan secondary.

It would prove to be a costly and fatal mistake for the embattled Buckeye coach. Ohio State went three and out on their first two possessions with Boston dropping balls and Germaine throwing incomplete passes all over the field.

The Michigan offense went back to what it did best – screen passes, runs by Chris Howard and oh ya, a slant pass to #2 that put the ball on the OSU 16-yard line. Woodson had done it again and the crowd came to life. Two plays later Thomas punched it in from the 1-yard line and suddenly, momentum was all maize and blue.

Down, 7-0, Ohio State’s ensuing possession was another three and out. The Bucks were forced to punt and that’s when Woodson and the Wolverine Special Teams unit answered with a 78-yard lightning bolt late in the second quarter.

"I had been asking the coaches to run that wall left all season, and finally he gave it to me," Woodson said. "The whole team did a great job blocking. I was just able to run down the sideline. I ran out of gas. I locked up. It was a great feeling to finally get that punt return."

Keith Jackson’s call was classic: “Touchdown! NO FLAGS!!”

The crowd and the Michigan Band erupted in unison.

While The Victors were being played and the Michigan team was celebrating on the sideline, Ohio State blocked Kraig Baker’s extra point kick. Andy Katzenmoyer picked up the ball and was now rumbling down the sideline on his way to the endzone for two easy points! Rob Swett ended up getting the angle on the Buckeye linebacker and tackled him on the UM 12-yard line.

Even with that frightful scene of the Buckeyes almost getting two free points, the Michigan Stadium crowd was delirious. Michigan was now leading, 13-0, and Woodson had finally showed the entire country what the Wolverine fans had known all season – he was indeed “The-Best-Player-In-The-Country-Standing-Before-You!”

Ohio State’s next drive was another three and out and that’s how the first half ended.

Michigan was up two scores, but it was an uneasy feeling at the break. It was 13 points, and not 14 points. The Wolverine offense struggled to move the ball against the Buckeyes. Woodson was once again called upon to deliver the big play to jump-start the Michigan offense and Ohio State clearly lost momentum when Germaine came in to throw the ball.

Everyone in the stadium knew Stanley Jackson would come back in and quarterback the Buckeyes to start the 3rd quarter and that’s exactly what happened.


After going three and out on their first drive to start the second half, Cooper, now desperate, called for a fake punt. Not only did it work, it gained 20 yards and was a much needed boost of confidence for the Buckeyes.

Sitting in the north endzone, I sensed that this was it – the Buckeyes got back in the game with a fake punt and now the onslaught of ridiculous calls and crazy bounces would all be going Ohio State’s way. I had seen this waay too many times before!!After a long pass completion to Dee Miller, the scarlet and gray were moving right towards me and it looked like a Buckeye touchdown was inevitable. As Jackson dropped back to pass again, Miller was open in the endzone. Everyone could see where the ball was going to go, but that’s when Woodson stepped up, intercepted Jackson’s pass in the endzone, and made another huge statement in his case for the Heisman Trophy.

"I just cut underneath the pass, and Stanley Jackson threw me a great pass," Woodson explained how he baited Jackson into making the tragic throw.

Michigan Stadium was now flat out rocking like I had never heard it before, or since!

When the Michigan offense took the field, I noticed that Chris Howard was nowhere to be found. That’s because he sustained a helmet to helmet hit from Antoine Winfield in the 2nd quarter, and at the break, he was ruled out for the balance of the game. That meant Chris Floyd and Anthony Thomas would have to carry the rushing load in the 2nd half.

A three and out for Michigan gave the ball right back to Ohio State, and no one could have guessed what happened next.

On the first play of the ensuing OSU possession, Jackson went back to pass, got pressured, scrambled around in the pocket, panicked, and tried to throw the ball away, but instead it went right to Andre Weathers. As the crowd erupted, Weathers took the gift pass and darted 43-yards into the endzone for an improbable touchdown.

BOTH teams were now shocked and stunned!

After Jay Feely’s extra point was good, Michigan couldn’t believe they were now up, 20-0, with 10:29 remaining in the 3rd quarter.

Ohio State couldn’t believe that their captain and senior quarterback just threw his first two interceptions of the entire season. To make matters worse, they were daggers to the Buckeyes chances at victory.

As Keith Jackson put it, “Ohhh, that could be a will-breaker…”

Indeed! The Michigan Stadium crowd was now feeling it as well and roared their approval!!

That would be all for Jackson as he would watch the rest of the game from the sideline.

Now, with every tackle that was made by the Michigan defense, the crowd roared louder and louder. It was one of the few times I had ever witnessed a crowd and a defense feed off each other. It was amazing to see and even more thrilling to be a part of!

Later in the 3rd quarter, Germaine finally connected with Boston as Woodson got caught flat-footed and turned around. Not happy with just burning his opponent with a big play, Boston turned around and taunted Woodson with the ball as he ran backwards into the endzone.

The 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct drew the ire of not only Coach Cooper, but also that of Keith Jackson when he commented that Boston’s actions, “Took away the dignity and class of the moment.”

Tru dat!

Now the score was, 20-7, and there was this sense that maybe, just maybe, those crazy bounces were going to start happening and not go Michigan’s way.
When the offense broke the huddle for their ensuing drive, Jeff Backus was out with an ankle injury, and Zach Adami was noticeably fighting a leg issue. The line had to be re-shuffled and wouldn’t you know what happened next? You guessed it, Anthony Thomas, after some solid runs that moved the chains, got hit by three Buckeyes in the backfield and fumbled the ball at midfield.

Here we go again!

But much like they had done all season, the nation’s #1 defense stepped up and prevented Ohio State from gaining any points off the Michigan turnover.


As the 4th quarter began, the Wolverines were not quite out of the woods, just yet.
In an ominous prelude to his future NFL career, Griese, on the next Wolverine possession, escaped the collapsing pocket, rolled right, got hit from behind and fumbled at the Michigan 2-yard line.

Are you kidding me??

Pearson ran around left end on the next play and before you could say, “Great Horny Toads!” it was now a 20-14 nail-biter!

Within 7 minutes this game had completely changed its complexion and now the Michigan Stadium crowd was wondering what was going to happen next?
What happened next was Marcus Ray.

With the Buckeyes driving into Michigan territory, Germaine looked for Boston as he was rolling right. The OSU QB floated a high pass that big mouth went up for. That’s when #29 hit the wideout so violently that Boston landed on his shoulder, almost upside down, gasping for air. As the crowd oohed and ahhed, Ray stood over Boston, much like Muhammad Ali stood over Sonny Liston, and basically told him that’s what he got for running his mouth before the game.

After an exchange of punts, the defenses took over, and now Michigan had the ball with 2:41 left in the game.

All the Wolverines needed was a first down, and they were headed to Pasadena. How many times had this scenario presented itself to the maize and blue? One first down and victory was assured.

After two running plays, Griese dropped back to pass, trying to set up a screen for Thomas. As he was releasing the ball, Katzenmoyer read the play, stepped in front of the pass, got his hands on it, but dropped the ball.

The near pick-six would have been a nightmarish end to a dream season. Instead, the Wolverines averted disaster, and punted the ball back to Ohio State.

With 1:45 remaining, Lloyd was comfortable with putting the game, the championship and the season on the shoulders of the defense.

Starting from their own 16-yard line, Ohio State had visions of driving the length of the field to victory.

Here’s what happened:

On first down, Glen Steele sacked Joe Germaine.

On second down, Woodson almost intercepted a pass intended for Miller.

On 3rd and long, the crowd was on their feet roaring on the Michigan D to make one last stand.

Germaine completed a short pass to Boston, but the clock was running as there was less than one minute remaining in the game.

It was now 4th and 8. Germaine threw over the middle and as the pass was knocked down by Ian Gold, the Michigan Stadium crowd let out a euphoric and championship roar!


The final seconds looked and sounded like this:

As the Wolverines celebrated their victory and championship, they finally headed into the locker room to get their bouquet of roses from the Pasadena Tournament of Roses representative and of course their B1G Trophy from Jim Delaney.

No Michigan fan was leaving the stadium until they got to see their Wolverines come back for an encore. As we all cheered and sang victoriously, the victors valiant did indeed come back onto the field with their B1G Trophy. Injured captain Eric Mayes hugged it like he was never letting it go and Brian Griese held up the game ball in a triumphant salute to what had been an improbable year for him and his teammates.

The scene was this:

And there’s more here:

Afterwards, here’s what everyone said:

"I just don't like this state," Jackson, the Buckeyes' senior quarterback said after another painful Ohio State loss at Michigan Stadium. "This is my third trip here. And I'm 0-3."

Jackson claimed responsibility for loss No. 3 against "That Team Up North." His two interceptions were the crucial blows Saturday. His coach said so. His teammates said so. And even he said so, once the tears had been wiped away.

"I feel terrible right now," said Jackson, whose final numbers were as ugly as the outcome, 4-of-9 for 49 yards. Not only did he get the interception," Jackson said of Weathers, "but he gets the TD too. ... I just felt like throwing up."

Jackson, struggling to come to terms with his third loss in five years against Michigan, said he thought the Buckeyes were "the better football team" Saturday.

And teammate Antoine Winfield agreed.

"They didn't win this game," he said. "We lost it."

Winfield also took a few shots at the Wolverines' offense, one that he said never scared the Buckeyes.

"Look at the rushing yards," he said.

Michigan finished with 42 net yards rushing on 42 carries. And the Michigan receiving corps didn't catch a pass, except for Charles Woodson's 37-yarder in the first half.

"They only threw to their running backs and their tight end," Winfield said. "We knew (their receivers) weren't going to beat us. We knew because, basically, they weren't any good."

"If we can't hold a 20-point lead, we don't deserve to go to Pasadena," linebacker Sam Sword said. "But we fought back when Ohio State made a run at us and we knew they would. But no way did we want to be co-champs. We brought Michigan back on top of the mountain. And we're not just happy to go to Pasadena. We're going there to win."
Woodson, when asked about Boston and his pre-game comments, said this: "Basically, I was the father chastising his son out there," said Woodson, who did allow Boston a 56-yard touchdown catch. "We felt like the game was basically on (the defense's) shoulders. That's how we played all season, taking over at the end."

"I was like the father chastising the son for running his mouth," Woodson said, a rose in his hand and a sinister smile on his face. "He had a lot to say, and he didn't back it up."

"Somebody once told me," Woodson said, "that a foolish person says something any time he has something to say. A wise man talks only when he has to."

Finally Boston (3 catches, 68 yards) ate his words.

"He (Woodson) was all that I expected," Boston said humbly. "Obviously, he is the best corner in the country right now. I don't know if he is the best player."

Defensive co-captain Eric Mayes, who sustained a season-ending knee injury after the Indiana game Oct. 4, was carried on the shoulders of his teammates following the game. Mayes, a senior, held the Big Ten trophy in his hands.

"That was a great honor," Mayes said. "They made sure we stayed a family and they made sure they included me in everything."

Players and coaches credited the noisy, rowdy crowd following the game. That's quite a change for the stadium, which is known by many as one of the quietist in the country.

"This is one of the first times since I've been at Michigan that I can remember a crowd having that kind of impact," Carr said. "I hope it continues."

"We've put Michigan back where it belongs," said quarterback Brian Griese, who completed 14 of 25 passes for 147 yards.

"But I have one game left in a Michigan uniform and I plan on winning it. Our dream is not accomplished yet. My dream is to win the Rose Bowl."

"There's a sign in our defensive meeting room that says, 'Offense wins games, defense wins championships,'" Carr said. "You saw why that's true. The defense won the game. In the fourth quarter I was saying, 'Let's just punt the ball and get back on defense.'"
Carr continued to heap praise on his team, "They had us reeling, but our defense held up. This has truly been a dream season. This team has had an unselfishness about it. That's the beauty of this group. They've bought into the idea that they don't care who gets the credit."

The Lockeroom Show:

This post first appeared on Mgoblog, please read the originial post: here

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The Climb: Part XI: No Flags


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