Some of greatest untold stories from Michigan’s football program are shared in this book based on intimate interviews with former players and coaches. Due to his long history covering Michigan football, author Steve Kornacki was given open-door access to Lloyd Carr, Bo Schembelcher, and Gary Moeller, all of whom provided hours of their time sharing their personal accounts and of occurrences during their coaching tenures; the stuff that legends are made of. Stories include being in the Michigan locker room after Bo Schembechler’s last game in the Big House and hearing his rousing speech leading the team in “The Victors” as they punctuated each verse by thrusting red roses toward the ceiling. Coach Carr tells about riding in a limousine through New York on the eve of the Heisman Trophy presentation with Desmond Howard en route to a meeting at NBC Studios with Tom Brokaw and a night in the green room at Late Night with David Letterman. A more heartfelt yarn is the “American Dream” tale of quarterback Elvis Grbac’s Croatian family and the story of center Steve Everitt’s family surviving Hurricane Andrew in a bathtub with the family dog and his 1990 Gator Bowl MVP trophy. Go Blue! reaches back to those special places in time in the program’s history in addition to sharing heartwarming anecdotes. This collection is something no Michigan football fan will want to be without.
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About the Author
Steve Kornacki has covered the University of Michigan Wolverines football team for the last five decades as a beat writer for the Ann Arbor News and later the Detroit Free Press. His byline has appeared on features and columns on the Wolverines during each of the last five decades for those newspapers and other media agencies, most recently at FOXSportsDetroit.com. He lives in Plymouth, Michigan. Lloyd Carr is a College Football Hall of Fame coach who led the University of Michigan Wolverines to five Big Ten Conference titles and a National Championship win. He served as head football coach for 12 years and is a retired assistant athletic director. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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Michigan's Greatest Football Stories
By Steve Kornacki
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Steve Kornacki
All rights reserved.
Beating Ohio State in 1969
What began as an upset snowballed into a dynasty. They had no idea what had been started that day in Ann Arbor. All the Wolverines knew at the time was that the goalposts were coming down, and they were going to the Rose Bowl.
No. 1 Ohio State — the defending national champions, 8–0 on the season, winner of 22 straight, bully of the first magnitude, and a 17-point favorite — was upset by Michigan 24–12 on November 22, 1969.
Michigan offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf would play in six Pro Bowls for the St. Louis Cardinals. Tight end Jim Mandich would play in four Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers. They, like every other teammate interviewed for a 20th anniversary story I wrote for the Detroit Free Press, agreed that "The Game" was their highest plateau of achievement and emotion.
It remains one of the most famous upsets in college football history.
"If I could re-create any one day," Dierdorf said then, "it would be that one. It just didn't get any better than that."
Dierdorf rose through the broadcast ranks after concluding his playing career, doing the highly popular ABC-TV Monday Night Football games for 12 years beginning in 1987, and he now serves as an analyst of NFL games for CBS-TV.
Mandich, who died of cancer at the age of 62 in 2011, also found his niche in broadcasting and was the co-owner of a construction company. He broadcast Miami (Florida) football and basketball games and Dolphins games, had popular sports talk radio shows, and became a South Florida institution.
"It was very pure and real," Mandich said of that game in 1969. "I had a lot of emotional games in the pros, but what I always come back to in the meanderings of my mind is that game."
The victory became the cornerstone of something lasting. That was also the year of the Miracle Mets and Joe Willie's Jets. But where those surprise teams differed from the Wolverines was on the turn of the page.
The Mets and the Jets would again hit hard times. But the Wolverines were headed to four consecutive decades of excellence. Bo Schembechler, the first-year head coach, went on to win 13 Big Ten titles in 21 seasons. Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr picked up the baton, and between all three coaches, the Wolverines claimed 19 conference crowns in a36-year stretch beginning in 1969.
The greatest rivalry in sports was never more memorable or primal than in the decade when Bo took on his mentor, Ohio State's Woody Hayes, the reigning ogre of college football. The final score after their tug-of-war for Big Ten supremacy was 5–4–1 in Bo's favor. Either the Wolverines or Buckeyes won the Big Ten championship in those seasons. They shared it six times. The only other conference team to factor into it was Michigan State, which shared the 1978 title with Michigan in what would be Hayes' last season.
But what if the Wolverines had lost that game in 1969?
What if Hayes had again let the air out of their hopes?
"I think about that sometimes," said Don Moorhead, the quarterback who outplayed All-American Rex Kern that day. "It may have taken longer if Ohio State had won. It may have been years before Bo could've gotten kids excited about coming here. But after that, Bo was known to everyone."
Schembechler the anonymous is hard to recall. But before that game, he was simply the spunky student flailing at his respected teacher, hoping to land a punch. No. 12 Michigan was 7–2 and about ready to back into the Rose Bowl; a Big Ten rule barred Ohio State from making back-to-back visits.
"I was just a young whippersnapper then," said Schembechler, who was only 40 at the time of that game. "I was struggling with that team. But when we won, I knew it was big — real big."
His eyes lit up with the memory of his signature victory. He retired with 234 wins, ranking fifth in all-time victories among major college coaches, but he never had one victory that meant more. It was the seed from which a sequoia of a football program grew.
"What all of us on that team feel great about is being on Bo's first team and setting the tone for his program," said Glenn Doughty, who shared the tailback position with Billy Taylor.
Fullback Garvie Craw, who scored two touchdowns against Ohio State, worked for a government securities firm in Manhattan 20 years later. He died of cancer in 2007 at the age of 59.
"Bo says he was closer to that first group because he put us through a lot," Craw said on that anniversary. "We had to listen to all his B.S. But, you know, he was right. Everything he said was right. I still get goosebumps talking about him and that game."
Barry Pierson, the cornerback who intercepted three passes against Ohio State and returned a punt 60 yards, said, "Bo is an awfully good friend. I would do anything for him."
Pierson was the last player I contacted for the anniversary story. He had gone deer hunting in Michigan's Upper Peninsula near his home in St. Ignace. His mother checked his answering machine periodically and called me to say she would pass along the interview request when he called her. She noted that he would love talking to me about the game. And upon receiving the message from Mom, he left the deer camp to find a pay phone. It was freezing outside and inside the phone booth, but I sensed Pierson would have talked to me forever about this.
"The key to football is emotion," Pierson said. "Everyone played 150 percent for four quarters that day. Bo had us ready to do anything. I never experienced anything else like that day."
The adrenaline began flowing after the 51–6 victory at Iowa the week before. "I remember us chanting, 'We want Ohio State!' over and over again after that game," Jim Mandich said.
It continued that Monday when Bo read the scouting report and dared each player to be better than the Ohio State player at the same position.
The Wolverines scrimmaged that Tuesday for nearly two hours.
"Guys had to be dragged off the field after that one," said Dick Caldarazzo, a starting offensive guard who became an attorney in Chicago. "They worked us hard because they thought we were too high, too fast. But we said, 'Don't worry, we'll get higher.'"
The Buckeyes had beaten fourth-ranked Michigan 50–14 in 1968 with Hayes sending in his starters to score a two-point conversion at the end. The move was at the root of Michigan's motivation for the 1969 game.
"Bo didn't let us forget that," Caldarazzo said. "There were 50s everywhere, on our lockers, the jerseys, and helmets of the demo team. You couldn't get in the shower without passing a sheet with a 50.
"I can still see Woody Hayes sending in Jim Otis to score those last two points. I'll never forgive that S.O.B. for that, no matter how much Bo loved him."
Bo shoveled snow off the practice field with the freshmen that week. He detailed the tendencies of Kern and safety Jack Tatum, which would prove critical in the game. He did it all but saved the best for his pregame speech.
"Bo got up on a chair," said Doughty, who played eight seasons for the Baltimore Colts and was then the owner of an instructional video company in St. Louis. "He started like a symphony conductor, real smooth, then built to the high point. He said, 'Fellas, we've worked hard for this ...' and the next thing you knew he was off.
"Bo said, 'How dare they say this is the Team of the Century? We're the Team of the Century!' Before he could finish, someone shouted, 'Let's go, Bo!' and the place went wild. Guys were throwing chairs and beating lockers down. It was like an earthquake, and we had to leave for our own safety. We were David going after Goliath, but not with a rock. We had a nuclear bomb. We were on a mission to kick ass. We were like piranhas, and Ohio State was the little fish. We could not wait to eat those little suckers alive. Psychologists would say we couldn't play on that emotion all day, but it lasted through the entire game and into the parties that night."
Kern ran 25 yards on the first play, and the Buckeyes got past the piranhas like sharks. They drove to the Michigan 10 on their first possession, but on fourth-and-1, Otis was stopped cold in the middle of the line. Middle guard Henry Hill was given the tackle, but safety Tom Curtis, who made two of his school-record 25 interceptions for the season in the game, said history should be corrected.
"I stuck him pretty good," said Curtis, who founded Curtis Publishing Co. in Miami after an NFL career that included winning a Super Bowl with the Colts. "Hill gets the credit, but I made the tackle."
Curtis was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005 — six years prior to the Hall of Fame induction of his in-law, Lloyd Carr. Tammi, the daughter of Curtis and his wife, Debbie, is married to Jason Carr, a former Wolverines quarterback whose father coached the 1997 national championship team.
Michigan and Ohio State traded touchdowns twice before the Wolverines took a 24–12 lead at the half with 17 points in the second quarter. Nobody scored after the half.
The final touchdown run by Moorhead was set up by Pierson's 60-yard punt return. He stiff-armed and danced his way to the Ohio State 3-yard line.
"People still bring up that game all the time," said Pierson, who coached St. Ignace to the 1983 Class D state championship and later coached Whitmore Lake High near Ann Arbor. He also owned several businesses near the Mackinac Bridge. "I'm not sure why it was my best day. It was quite a one-day deal, but I wasn't a one-game man. I was completely exhausted when it was over and wanted to lie down on the field and rest. But I didn't come down off that high for three or four weeks."
The fans chanted, "Good-bye, Woody!" and Doughty said a celebration of Mardi Gras proportions carried on into the wee hours of the morning.
Woody met Bo walking off the field and said, "Congratulations." Bo was speechless. "I didn't say anything," he said. "I just shook his hand."
Things would never be the same.CHAPTER 2
Bo Schembechler Tried to Fire Me
Bo Schembechler tried to get me fired.
There I was — 28 years old and covering the Wolverines at the Ann Arbor News — and the legend himself called my boss and told him he wanted me canned.
Bo and I had our share of unsettling moments early on, and I began to feel a bit like those officials Bo chased up and down the sideline when they threw a flag he felt was undeserved. Back in my first two years on the Michigan beat, 1983 and 1984, I had no idea of what vibrancy, warmth, laughs, and triumphs I would experience with Bo in the years that followed.
How could I after that call he placed to Ann Arbor News editor Brian Malone?
When Malone retired in 2011 as publisher of The Times of Trenton, New Jersey, I called to congratulate him and wish him well on a life without deadlines. And guess what he brought up?
"You know," Malone said, "I'll never forget that phone call from Bo, wanting me to take you off the Michigan beat. He wanted me to get rid of you!"
Malone asked Bo why he wanted me removed, and he told my editor that I was ruining his recruiting efforts by publicizing their every move with the country's top players. Malone asked him if my reports were accurate, and Bo said they were. Bo noted a few other stories that I wrote that he didn't care for, and again Malone asked the same question. "Yes," Bo told him, "they were accurate."
"Steve will be covering your football team as long as I am the editor of the Ann Arbor News," Malone told Bo, who harrumphed and hung up the phone.
Had I been working for a spineless editor, I would have been covering Washtenaw Community College soccer or checking the want ads the next day. Bo was the supreme dictator of almost anything he chose to claim in Ann Arbor, so this was not as easy as an editor citing journalistic ethics and wishing some civic leader "good day" after stating his case. There were politics involved, for sure. But Malone stood by me.
Thirty years ago, there were no websites devoted entirely to the recruitment of high school athletes such as www.Rivals.com. For the most part, player commitments were reported when players announced them at their high schools. Many of the recruits received no publicity at all in the college town they selected until the school put out a list of those who signed national letters of intent on signing day each February.
But that approach was changing in the early 1980s, and Malone wanted me to aggressively report on who the Wolverines were pursuing, getting, and losing. Bo told me that he was at a recruit's house one night when I called. That irritated Bo because I interrupted his time with the player, and made him feel as if he was being followed. But the timing was purely coincidental.
Bo's anger with my "intrusions" reached a boiling point in regard to the recruitment of Andre Rison, the Flint Northwestern star who would go on to set Michigan State's career receiving yardage record that stood for nearly a quarter-century. He became an All-American and the first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts before tearing up the NFL.
And Bo wanted him. Boy, did he want him.
But Bo wasn't going to get Rison away from Spartans coach George Perles, and Bo had a theory as to one significant contributing factor.
"You cost me Andre Rison, damn it!" Bo shouted at me.
There was no, "Is this Kornacki?" There was no hello. Nothing. That's how the phone call began.
I took the call while sitting at my desk in the sports department and could not believe what I was hearing. Bo was talking and shouting so loudly, and he had such a recognizable voice, that a number of my colleagues were attracted to the conversation and gathered around my desk to eavesdrop.
Bo said my story, in which Ann Arbor Pioneer High receiver Cedric Gordon said he would commit to Michigan if he met academic requirements, had caused problems with Rison. Bo said Rison was upset because Bo had promised that he would not recruit another receiver in the state, and Bo then told me on the phone that there was no way he was going to sign Gordon.
I told Bo that after Gordon and his coach, Chuck Lori, confirmed for me that his intentions were Michigan if his grades and test scores were in line, I called him and Wolverines recruiting coordinator Fritz Seyferth to ask if Gordon was being recruited in light of his questionable academic situation. This can be a slippery slope for reporters and coaches because NCAA rules don't allow them to discuss recruits with the media. But I wanted to do my due diligence and provide both sides of the story.
Neither Bo nor Seyferth would comment about Gordon, either on or off the record.
"Bo," I said, "it has to be a two-way street between us if you want stories to include your point of view."
He shot back, "It's not going to be any damned two-way street. Got it?"
Bo liked to punctuate statements with "Got it?" when he was on a roll.
"Hey," Bo continued, "I've got to know one thing from you."
He paused for effect.
"I've got to know if you're for me or against me!"
I told Bo that I could be neither.
"I can't be your public relations man," I said. "And I won't be a hatchet man, looking to cut you down. All I can be is fair."
It was odd that Bo had no response to my explanation. Unless you can count muttering whatever he said under his breath as a response.
"Good-bye," he said before hanging up the phone.
I hung up my phone and turned to discover that I was encircled by my fellow reporters, jaws collectively dropped. None of them knew quite what to say, and so they just quietly walked away.
I sat there for a minute or two, trying to figure out what had just happened. What would the ramifications be with Bo and my pursuit of covering his team? Couldn't be good, right?
But that's where I was wrong. Something struck a chord with Bo after that strange conversation, and he began to warm up to having me around. Then he actually began to like having me on the beat. Bo started letting me into occasional practices, was critical in helping me break a few stories, and showed me another side that I never figured I would see.
I guess he just wanted to put me up against the wall and see how I would respond.
Everything was a test with Bo. He challenged everybody because he was that confident in who he was and what he demanded.
Bo once walked up to an oft-injured lineman sitting on the practice sideline with a bag of ice on his ankle. He looked the player in the eye and said, "How are you ever going to be anything here if you are always hurt?"
There was no time allowed for the player to respond. Bo quickly walked past him because he knew what the answer was. He always had things figured out.
Excerpted from Go Blue! by Steve Kornacki. Copyright © 2013 Steve Kornacki. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Lloyd Carr ix
Chapter 1 Beating Ohio State in 1969 1
Chapter 2 Bo Schembechler Tried to Fire Me 7
Chapter 3 Bo Schembechler Behind Closed Doors 11
Chapter 4 Ufer, Brandstatter, Beckmann, and Hemingway: Voices in Blue 27
Chapter 5 Jim Harbaugh Guaranteed 43
Chapter 6 South Carolina Frenzy 61
Chapter 7 John Kolesar, Buckeye Killer 65
Chapter 8 Adventures with Mark Messner 73
Chapter 9 Twenty-Four Hours to Kickoff with Mark Messner 81
Chapter 10 Desmond Howard: From Stockbridge Avenue to Greatness 85
Chapter 11 Desmond Howard: David Letterman and the Heisman Trophy Weekend 93
Chapter 12 Forty Hours Recruiting with Lloyd Carr 99
Chapter 13 Gary Moeller: Just Like a Good Neighbor 113
Chapter 14 Steve Everitt: Surviving a Shattered Jaw and Hurricane Andrew 125
Chapter 15 Elvis Grbac: The American Dream 137
Chapter 16 Tyrone Wheatley: From Superman to Family Man 145
Chapter 17 Bill McCartney and Biggie Munn 153
Chapter 18 Lloyd Carr: Staying the Course 157
Chapter 19 Friday Night Lights in the Big House 169
Chapter 20 Tshimanga Biakabutuka: The All-Time Diamond in the Rough 173
Chapter 21 Brian Griese and Growing Up 179
Chapter 22 A Coach Savors the 1997 National Championship 185
Chapter 23 Charles Woodson: No Luck Required 189
Chapter 24 Why Quarterback Scot Loeffler Became More Than a Friend for Life to Brian Griese and Tom Brady 197
Chapter 25 Tom Brady: From Fifth String to Superstar 201
Chapter 26 Hart, Henne, Long, and Eight Miles of Total Offense 207
Chapter 27 Three Bitter Defeats: The Texas Rose Bowl Shoot-Out, Losing to No. 1 in Columbus, and Colorado's Miracle 219
Chapter 28 Denard Robinson: Bringing Joy Back to the Big House 227
Chapter 29 Greg Mattison: Repairing a Defense and a Granddaughter's Heart 233
Chapter 30 Brady Hoke: Leading with Love 239
About the Author 259
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