Like something out of a dream, a tidal wave of orange and blue came sweeping over Zuppke Field in Champaign, Ill. Saturday afternoon. It toppled two sets of metal goalposts as if they were built of pickup sticks, and its force will probably prove great enough to carry thousands upon thousands of people from the prairies all the way to Pasadena.
The wave was generated by an eruption of joy. Illinois, down so long, had defeated Michigan, up so long, by a score of 16-6, giving the Fighting Illini their first clear shot at the Big Ten championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl since 1964. Illinois—now 6-0 in the conference, while Michigan is 5-1—has only to win its next three games, against the Teeny Three of Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern, and unless it stops to smell the Rose Bowl along the way, it will.
It wasn't just the prospect of a Pasadena trip that had Illinois people excited. Their team hadn't beaten Michigan since 1966, and in the intervening 17 years the Wolverines had outscored the Illini 542-122, or about 32-7 per game. Almost every citizen in greater Champaign-Urbana wore a NOMOBO button last week, expressing their opinion of Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler, and various items emblazoned with the slogan WISHIGAN MICHIGAN sold like hotcakes.
Of course, the crowd of 76,127, the largest in the stadium's 60-year history, was in a frenzy by kickoff time. The Wolverines calmed things down soon enough, though, with a 38-yard field goal by Bob Bergeron. As Jack Trudeau, Illinois' sophomore quarterback paced the sidelines, concerned with his six incompletions in his first 11 pass attempts, he bumped into Dan Smith, a psychologist who works with the Illini athletic teams. "He just told me to relax," said Trudeau. "He's told us to think of a light blue color when we want to relax, so I went over to the bench, sat down and thought light blue."
In the second quarter, Trudeau completed all six of his passes. A fumbled snap at the Michigan 26 cost Illinois one scoring opportunity, but it was soon back in business after Luke Sewall partially blocked a Michigan punt. On fourth-and-one from the Wolverine 25, Illini Fullback Thomas Rooks powered through the middle for a first down. Then, on first-and-goal from the nine, Rooks caught a Trudeau pass in the right flat, ran down the sideline and dove into the end zone.
Aside from Illinois' 7-3 lead, the most surprising thing about the first half was that Michigan—ranked fourth in the nation in rushing—hadn't used its option offense, which senior Quarterback Steve Smith, a runner more than a passer, is best equipped to operate. One could have described the Wolverine offense as SLOMOBO.
Michigan did remember to go to the option in the second half, and Smith got his troops as far as the Illinois 11 before the Illini defense, led by Safety Craig Swoope, swooped in and stopped them. The Wolverines had to settle for another Bergeron field goal—this one 28 yards—to make it 7-6.
Illinois lost another fumble, this time at the Michigan one-yard line, after Trudeau's handoff caromed off Running Back Dwight Beverly's elbow. "We could have self-destructed right there," said White. In the old days Michigan would have risen up and stomped the Illini. But these are different times indeed.
The Wolverines ran three feeble plays and punted, after which Trudeau, thinking light blue, came back blazing. On first down from the Michigan 46, he called a 77 Y Shallow Cross. But instead of hitting the tight end short, Trudeau found Williams cutting right to left underneath a deep zone at about the 30. Williams got around Defensive Back Brad Cochran, outran Safety Evan Cooper along the left sideline and made a swan dive into the end zone from three yards out.
Trudeau ended up completing 21 of 31 passes for 271 yards against the nation's No. 2 defense. The Illini defense, meanwhile, got the better of the Wolverine offensive line; Tackle Don Thorp was especially effective against Michigan's outstanding guard, Stefan Humphries. In all, the Wolverines got only 135 yards on the ground. And Michigan never got past its own 36 after Illinois' second TD.
The other anchor up front for the Illini defense was Tackle Mark Butkus, whose Uncle Dick was a linebacker on the last Illinois Rose Bowl team before his nine-year stint with the Chicago Bears. Young Butkus, who's as tough as you'd expect, limped through the afternoon with cartilage damage in his left knee.
The Illini put the game away with a last-minute safety: Cooper inexplicably tried to run a Chris Sigourney punt out of the Michigan end zone and was tackled there by Joe Miles.
Illinois has come a long way in the four years since White, 47, was hired to replace Gary Moeller, then a former Schembechler assistant who has since rejoined the Michigan staff. White inherited a team that had had but one winning season in 14 years; still, he made enemies at Illinois and elsewhere in the conference when, in his first three years, he imported more than 30 junior college transfers, mostly from California, to fortify the team. That simply wasn't done in the provincial and, supposedly, highly principled Big Ten. White is still not the most popular man in the conference. For one thing, Illinois has been undergoing an NCAA preliminary inquiry stemming from a three-day visit to the school by two J.C. transfers in January 1982. For another, the Illini have developed a reputation for, shall we say, dirty play. The 6'4", 250-pound Thorp, one of the accused, says, "Well, I may have gnawed on someone's ankle, but no, no, nothing dirty." Maybe not, but Illinois has become known as the "Biting Illini."
Last Friday, while White addressed an overflow Quarterback Club luncheon at the Rec-Arena in nearby Savoy, a man done up to resemble Schembechler—he had on Michigan sweats and BO was printed on his right cheek—interrupted him. "I just want to say we're pretty nice people in Michigan," said the ersatz Bo, actually a local banker named Jim Fink. "We love our mothers, we love our dogs, and, in fact, we've even developed a fondness for J.C. transfers." White plopped a cream pie on "Schembechler's" head.
On Saturday, Michigan figuratively got a pie in its collective face. In nearby Urbana, the Rose Bowl Package House & Tavern was humming late into the night. The Rose Bowl was so named in 1946, just before the Illini, led by Buddy Young, went to Pasadena and beat UCLA 45-14. The Drifting Playboys were holding sway, and Sonny Norman, lead singer and proprietor of the bar, had to turn people away. Into Sunday morning the patrons chanted, "Rose Bowl, Rose Bowl, Rose Bowl...."