The point became moot when Chip Lohmiller's field goal fluttered through the uprights from 30 yards away last Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor and crack went the final gun, and Michigan's hopes of a national title drifted off with the smoke. A small patch of maroon-and-gold Minnesota fans bobbed up and down in the stilled and silent sea of 104,864 Michigan supporters. The Golden Gophers had knocked off the unbeaten, untied, No. 3-ranked Wolverines 20-17 in a game that Bo-watchers won't soon forget.
The man played for a tie.
Michigan coach Bo Schembechler had looked at the clock with 2:26 left, with fans screaming and his team trailing 17-16, and boldly called for...his extra-point kicker, Mike Gillette. Fullback Gerald White had just plunged across from the one for a TD. The Wolverines were rolling. A loss wouldn't have cost them a shot at the Rose Bowl—they would still go if they beat Ohio State this Saturday—so why not try a two-point conversion? Was Bo reluctant to see his team's 13-game winning streak snapped? Unsure of his offense? Afraid of losing—gasp, don't say it—the Little Brown Jug?
Nope. He just wanted to leave his team a chance to finish the season unbeaten and in sole possession of the Big Ten title. "There were still 2½ minutes left," said Bo. "Even if we tied, we could still win the [Big Ten] championship outright. I did debate going for two points. As it turned out, it didn't matter."
November 24, 1986
Maybe it did, maybe it didn't. Michigan's play had been sloppy all day—four turnovers, three of which set up Gopher scores—but when the vaunted Wolverine defense took the field for the last time, it seemed deflated. Minnesota wasn't ready for this. "We were just thinking of running the ball out," Gopher quarterback Rickey Foggie said later.
All of a sudden Minnesota turned into a Little Brown Juggernaut. Foggie, the flashy but sometimes erratic junior, drove his team from its own 28 to the Wolverine 48 with 47 seconds to go. Foggie had missed spring practice with stress fractures in both legs, but who could tell? Sprinting left to pass, he glanced back, hit the brakes and took off toward the right sideline. "I saw daylight all the way across the field," he said.
Michigan safety Tony Gant finally knocked Foggie out of bounds at the Wolverine 17. Three plays later, as time expired, Lohmiller put a perfect soccer-style kick through the uprights. Minnesota, a 25½-point underdog, had pulled off the upset of the year.
Understandably, the Gophers were jubilant. They hadn't beaten Michigan since 1977, when their 16-0 triumph was the Wolverines' only defeat in the regular season. They hadn't won in Ann Arbor since 1962, a year before any of the current Minnesota players were born. "Minnesota has a great [football] tradition that these kids don't know much about," said first-year Gopher coach John Gutekunst.
That tradition dates back to five national championship teams in the 1930s and '40s and another in 1960. But former coach Joe Salem took the team down a gopher hole in the late '70s, and Lou Holtz, who had been rebuilding the program, went to Notre Dame last November. Holtz's departure left Minnesota in the lurch. Rape accusations leveled at three Gopher basketball players last winter darkened the school's image, and even though the players were acquitted, the cloud remained.
In stepped Gutekunst, Holtz's defensive coordinator. He is a composed, patient man with a B.A. in religion from Duke. Even as he watched his team lose 63-0 to Oklahoma in September, he didn't abandon his belief that Minnesota would again find its place among the heavyweights of college football. The Gophers are now 6-4 overall and 5-2 in the conference, in which it is likely to finish third. A bowl bid is within reach.
Gutekunst's players were charged up for Michigan. The night before the game they watched films of their school's 1977 victory over the Wolverines. Volunteer assistant coach George (Butch) Nash, an end on the Gophers' 1936 national championship team, then gave the squad an inspirational talk. "He told us they left their blood and skin on the field trying to win that one in 1977," said split end Mel Anderson. Added defensive tackle Anthony Burke, "We were ready to play the game right then."
Minnesota pressured Wolverine quarterback Jim Harbaugh with blitzes early in the game and forced him into a fumble and an interception. "How did we get to Harbaugh so often?" said Gopher linebacker Mark Dusbabek. "It was desire, that's all. It's really hard to explain. We were here today, and they weren't."
"I feel sick to my stomach," said Harbaugh. He called the defeat "crushing."
Gutekunst was carried off the field on his players' shoulders. The Jug was close behind, cradled in the arms of none other than Nash. He passed it among young Gopher players, who had never earned the privilege. They would not soon forget this day.
Nor will Bo, who someday may win a national championship.