The college football year is only half spent, and most of the hardware has already been sent to the engravers. You give the Heisman to Miami's Vinny Testaverde. The truth is, the guy is so good maybe you give him last year's, too. You give the Butkus to Oklahoma's Brian (Did I Say That?) Bosworth. You give a Rose Bowl jacket to America's favorite curmudgeon, Bo Schembechler. You give the Coach of the Year plaque to Iowa's hayseed genius, Hayden Fry. Finally, you give a gold '57 Chevy hubcap to the Big Ten, which, just for nostalgia's sake, staged a big game on Saturday without lawyers, expectorations, in-house investigating committees or misplaced handguns.
Proved it can be damned entertaining, too. Just on story line alone, No. 5 Michigan's 20-17 victory over No. 7 Iowa—won by Mike Gillette's close-shave 34-yard field goal as the clock struck midnight—rated at least three bags of popcorn. There was the Rose Bowl race to consider; there was a nip of revenge in the air; and there was even a bit of coaching melodrama.
Stage left was Fry, one of the game's brightest and best, but still playing the Beaver to Michigan's and Ohio State's Wally and Eddie. "Seems like it's awful hard for a newcomer to get any recognition in this league," said Fry before the game. "I guess people think we're doin' it with tricks. They think I'm some kind of magical medicine man." It's a complex that's going around the complex. Said one of Fry's assistants, "Just once I would like to hear Bo say, 'You know, those guys have built a damn good program down there.' "
Even in the face of two Rose Bowl trips inside of five years, two straight wins over Schembechler going into last week's game and the news that the Des Moines Register thinks he would make a fine governor, Fry still seems to crave Schembechler's acceptance. Indeed, from his Photograys to his gum-chewing to his bulldog competitiveness (he once painted the visiting locker room at Kinnick Stadium pink), Fry resembles nobody as much as Schembechler himself. Nobody wants an invitation to light up in the back room with the Big Two more than Fry, just as nobody wanted Woody Hayes's acceptance more than the young Schembechler.
October 27, 1986
Stage right is Schembechler, who mostly just pats Fry on the head. "He does have a good program," Schembechler says. "They can play with anybody in the country. It's just that...well, it's that other stuff that I don't think is necessary." What Schembechler doesn't cotton to is Fry's fondness for mind games, like being overly morose about injury reports. Before the game Fry lamented that 15 players on his two-deep roster were laid up and that, all told, 43 had some kind of ailment. Bo scoffed. "Last year he had some guys in intensive care before the game and then, next thing you know, they're out there making tackles," said Schembechler. Of those 15 mortally wounded Hawkeyes, 14 played in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
Nor did it set too well with Schembechler when, after Iowa beat Michigan State earlier this month, Fry predicted that the Spartans would win the rest of their games. He knew full well that their next date was with Michigan. The Wolverines won 27-6. "He wasn't too accurate there," says Bo. After losing badly to UCLA in last season's Rose Bowl, Fry said that Michigan couldn't hold a candle to UCLA. Says Schembechler, "If I had been run through, passed over and blown out like that, I would have found something to say, too. Besides, at the time he was saying that, we were beating Nebraska."
Still, like it or not, even Schembechler must be coming to appreciate the full value of a large order of Fry. Three of the last four Michigan-Iowa games have been decided by three points or less. That the most recent one was close shows the grandeur of the Xanadu that Fry has built in Iowa City. This is a man who lost 3 first-round 1986 NFL draft picks; 11 '85 starters altogether; 2 quarterbacks to injuries in (honest) the first three games; his all-conference defensive tackle, Jeff Drost, indefinitely; his star fullback, David Hudson, for two games; and nearly his mind, trying to fend off rumors that had him hightailing it to the University of Texas. He's not. Nonetheless, his Hawkeyes were 5-0 going into Saturday, and he gave Bo all he wanted. More than he wanted.
"We shoulda been up 13 to 3 at the half [instead of 10-3]," said Fry. "No, 17-3 it shoulda been." And might have been, too, were he not so loyal to the fourth-string sophomore quarterback, Tom Poholsky, who was overeager and whose receivers were thus mostly overthrown. Poholsky failed to come up with any points in an unheard-of fit of Michigan untidiness—three turnovers in the second quarter. Only the Hawks' first-drive TD and a 29-yard field goal were listed on the scoreboard against Gillette's school-record 53-yarder for Michigan.
At halftime Schembechler largely overlooked his team's good fortune. "Of the 15 minutes in the locker room," said Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who suffered two lost fumbles and an interception in the first half alone, "Bo was probably yelling 10.... He was definitely not a happy camper."
The mood at Camp Winonenow brightened considerably when Harbaugh directed the first two drives after intermission for touchdowns, both of which were punctuated by the theretofore unheralded senior fullback, Gerald White. He scored on a 25-yard pass to make it 10-10 and then on a give up the middle from 10 yards out to put the Wolverines ahead 17-10.
That's when Fry unwrapped his No. 1 quarterback, Mark Vlasic. He's known to his teammates as Pickle, perhaps not so much because of his last name but because, like the Vlasic Stork, he usually delivers. Until Vlasic's shoulder separated against Texas-El Paso on Sept. 27, only one quarterback in the country outranked Harbaugh in passing efficiency, and that was the Pickle himself.
With Vlasic running the show—he completed 4 of 4 passes—Iowa was liquid again. When Harbaugh was intercepted at the Michigan 40 by Dwight Sis-trunk (nephew of Otis Sistrunk) early in the fourth quarter, Vlasic made good, finding Robert Smith on a third-down scramble for a touchdown: 17-17.
Back came Harbaugh, who's nothing if not persistent. He drove the Wolverines nearly 80 yards to the Iowa 2, only to be caught from behind on a third-down rollout by cornerback Ken Sims. On came wedge-shot specialist Pat Moons for a 27-yard attempt. A funny thing happened: Moons missed.
Back came Vlasic, leading Iowa to the Michigan 43 with two minutes remaining. Then, faced with a third-and-one, the Hawkeyes did a strange thing. They called their first option run of the afternoon. Good call, because the play set up perfectly, with Vlasic pitching to fullback Richard Bass, who had acres of artificial turf in his immediate future. Except that a funny thing happened: The ball bounced Bass-akwards off his hands and into Michigan's.
Back came Harbaugh with 1:57 left, screening and flat-passing and generally hoarding the ball until he handed it over to Moons' sudden and probably permanent all-yardages replacement, Gillette. His third field goal attempt of the year would be a 34-yarder with five seconds showing on the clock, precious little wind in the air and even less coming and going out of the lungs of 105,879 fans at Michigan Stadium.
And that's when it started to get eerie. Hadn't we seen this last year: both teams 5-0 and ranked in the Top 10; the Rose Bowl in the ante; the game coming down to a forgotten sort, a kicker unable to hear the screams of thousands for the pounding of his own heart? "I did; I thought of last year," said Gillette. And who couldn't? Iowa's 1 versus Michigan's 2...an endless drizzle...two seconds to go...Iowa's kicker, Rob Houghtlin...the weight of the farm belt on his shoulder pads...the 29-yard try...the referee's raised arms...the locusts descending on him...Iowa, 12-10....
"I wasn't scared," said Gillette, whom Schembechler calls "the cockiest kid who ever lived." "I just wanted to show people that I could go out and do the same thing that Houghtlin did to us."
On the sideline Harbaugh envisioned nirvana. "Just standing there, I was planning my run out onto the field," he said, "how it would feel to jump on that pile, just like we saw Iowa do last year. Hey, man, they took Pasadena away from us."
Gillette: "Last night at the hotel I envisioned how it would happen 15 or 20 times, seeing it go through."
Schembechler: "I knew nothing would ruffle that kid."
The pop...the raised arms...the locusts...Michigan, 20-17.
How 'bout that?