In the belly of Michigan Stadium, Wolverine equipment manager
Jon Falk was retrieving towels from the floor of the visitors'
locker room as Ohio State players and coaches filed out in
stillness until only two young faces remained. Student managers,
maybe, Falk thought. So he let them in on a secret. "We took
what that Terry Glenn kid said, and we ran with it all week,"
Falk said. "We hung our hats on that." Five days earlier in
Columbus, Glenn, the Buckeyes' magnificent junior flanker, had
tried earnestly to put his unbeaten team's final regular-season
game in perspective. He had said that Ohio State wouldn't put
Michigan on a pedestal, that this would be just the last step on
a long trip. But the only words that had reached Ann Arbor were
these: "Michigan's nothing." Now in the aftermath of the
Wolverines' 31-23 upset of the Buckeyes, Falk told his audience
as he kept scooping up dirty laundry, "You can't say that about
One of the kids approached Falk. "I'm Terry Glenn," he said, and
then he tried to explain. "I didn't mean it like that. I was
just trying to say that Michigan is like any other team. That's
all." In the ruins of a terrible loss, Glenn was still not quite
saying it right; he was making the same mistake in different
Ohio State reached Ann Arbor on the wings of a magical season,
unbeaten in 11 games, ranked No. 2 in the nation and pointed
toward the Big Ten title and its first Rose Bowl berth since
1986. A national championship was possible. All of those
achievements, all those hopes were gutted in one afternoon. The
two remaining unbeatens, Nebraska and Florida, will play for No.
1 in the Fiesta Bowl with no attendant controversy--provided that
Florida disposes of overmatched Arkansas in the SEC championship
game this weekend. Northwestern can cherish its Big Ten title
and its Rose Bowl appearance against USC. The season has
distilled itself to a single mammoth game and a single
sentimental one, leaving the Buckeyes on the outside, in
Ohio State's senior quarterback Bobby Hoying had been like Penn
State's Kerry Collins was in 1994, the leader who suddenly
emerged. But on Saturday he went just 22 for 45 and threw two
interceptions while under relentless pressure. This season had
been a joyride for Hoying, with a cadre of his family members at
every game. The loss brought the joy to a crashing halt. "We've
got to live with this, and it's going to be something," he said,
his eyes swollen and red. "I might not get over it." Senior
tailback Eddie George was the rock on which the Buckeyes' season
had been built, the stoic force who would run a set of sprints
in the morning with one group of teammates and another in the
afternoon with another, just to set an example. He was held to
104 yards on 21 brutal carries by Michigan, never finding space,
never seeing grass in front of him. "My life goes on," George
said. "I imagine this loss will always be a part of it."
George approached the Ohio State team bus and embraced his
mother, Donna. "He was very, very quiet," said Donna. "He's
quiet when he's hurting. That's how I can tell he's taking this
Nearby, Ohio State coach John Cooper's wife and two grown
children waited. For Cooper, the loss was cruelly painful. The
Buckeyes' 11 wins and a five-year contract signed after last
season helped to free Cooper from the annual speculation about
his job security that had attended his eight-year term in
Columbus. But now the significant digits for Cooper were not
just 11-1 but also 1-6-1, his record against Michigan. And one
other number: $85,000. That's the amount of bonus money that
Cooper would not be able to earn because of this defeat ($50,000
for reaching the Rose Bowl, $25,000 for winning the national
championship and $10,000 for a nine-win season, provided one of
the wins was against Michigan).
So here is the lesson: In the Nike/Reebok/Adidas/Champion-
outfitted, $50-million-bowl-allianced, ESPN GameDayed,
NCAA-investigated, coach-controlled, Danny Sheridan-handicapped
world of big-time college football, the doddering concept of
rivalry still draws the most magical breath of all. A remarkable
autumn for the Buckeyes was ruined last Saturday because for
Michigan, Ohio State is not just another team.
The Wolverines had sought for three months to wed talent with
success but instead had stuttered to an 8-3 record.
Circumstances had afforded them an excuse. Coach Gary Moeller
had resigned under pressure last April after a vulgar and
embarrassing drunken display at a Detroit-area restaurant, and
15-year assistant Lloyd Carr had been named interim coach but
had not been given the permanent job until 10 games into the
season. Yet Michigan's players knew that coaching turmoil hadn't
been at the root of their problems. They had lacked something
ethereal, something that Ohio State seemed to have had in
"I don't understand it; we've got all the talent in the world,"
said Wolverine center Rod Payne before Saturday's game. "One
week we can beat anybody, the next week we can't beat Wichita
State." Safety Chuck Winters said, "I don't know if it's a
different breed of player or what, but guys are supposed to live
football. We've got to find that."
Ohio State was both the opponent and the solution. On the
Wednesday before taking on the Buckeyes, Carr stood in front of
his Wolverines and repeated Glenn's comments. Then Carr asked,
"If a man calls you out, what are you going to do? I'll tell
you: If a man calls you out, you show up and you put it on the
Late Saturday morning, in the minutes before Michigan took the
field, the Wolverine locker room hummed with emotion. Winters
sat on a bench by himself, softly crying. Senior defensive
tackle Trent Zenkewicz felt tears wetting his cheeks as he
addressed the room. "The seniors have got 60 minutes left to
play here," Zenkewicz said. "I don't care what the scoreboard
says, I want everybody in this room spent when it's over."
Zenkewicz approached freshman cornerback Charles Woodson, a
terrifically skilled player who would be assigned to cover the
dangerous Glenn, one-on-one, for much of the day. "Hey, I know
you're only a freshman, but you better play your ass off for
us," Zenkewicz said. It was hardly soothing talk. "No time to
mince words," Zenkewicz would say later. Glenn caught just four
passes for 72 yards and, for the first time since the Kickoff
Classic, did not score a touchdown. Woodson, meanwhile, had two
The afternoon belonged in small parts to Woodson, to the
Michigan defensive line that hounded Hoying, to Wolverine
quarterback Brian Griese, who threw three interceptions but also
a touchdown and, most important, didn't lose the game, which a
young quarterback can so easily do. But far more than to all of
those, it belonged to the Michigan offensive line and to junior
running back Tshimanga Biakabutuka, who rushed 37 times for 313
yards, the second most in a game by a Wolverine, behind Ron
Johnson's 347 in 1968.
The 6'1", 210-pound Biakabutuka's performance was enthralling
not only for its statistical weight but also for its tenacity.
On Michigan's second possession Biakabutuka broke three tackles
in the secondary and ran 44 yards to the Ohio State six-yard
line. Near the end of the third quarter he went 38 yards to the
Ohio State 25, running the final 15 yards with Buckeye defensive
backs Shawn Springs and Ty Howard hanging from him like steer
wrestlers. Twice he left the game with an injury--he pulled a
calf muscle in the second quarter and had the wind knocked out
of him in the third--and twice he returned.
It has been a strange journey to renown for Biakabutuka, who is
still better known for the number of syllables in his last name
than for the number of yards he has gained. He was born in
Kinsasha, Zaire, and raised from the age of six in Quebec. On
Saturday, Tshimanga's younger brother, Beya, a high school
junior and also a running back, became the first member of his
family to see Tshimanga play college football in person. His
father, Mulenga-Wa, is a teacher on a Cree Indian nation
reservation nine hours by car from the Biakabutuka house in
Longueuil, Que., and makes the trip home only rarely. His
mother, Misenga, who doesn't understand football, left two weeks
ago for Zaire, where she is selling clothing that she designed.
"I did not want her to go," Tshimanga said. "There is a lot of
political unrest, but she will do what she does."
Clearly, Biakabutuka keeps things in perspective, which he did
even as he stood exhausted in the Michigan locker room, even as
he signed fistfuls of autographs for his teammates. "You can say
that Eddie George is still the best running back, because he has
more yards than I do," he said. "But say we are the better team.
We proved that today." He turned to Velly Janvier, a friend from
home who came with Beya to Ann Arbor for the game. "Please," he
said, lifting his right arm as if with great effort, "help me
take my pads off."
Across the room from Biakabutuka was senior offensive tackle Joe
Marinaro, one of the linemen who opened yawning holes all day.
Marinaro snatched his home uniform top, dark blue with number 73
in maize, off the floor of the locker room and held it in the
air, clenched in a meaty fist. "The jersey goes home," he said,
and he stuffed it into the small locker above his dressing
Long after the game, he fell into his usual seat, off in a
corner of the Michigan coaches' dressing room. Usual, except
that Bo Schembechler hadn't spent a postgame in this chair since
he retired as Wolverine coach after the 1990 Rose Bowl. Why he
had felt compelled to descend from the press box and come into
the locker room after a game for the first time in six years, he
wasn't quite certain. It probably had something to do with the
Michigan coach's being one of his guys (Schembechler hired Carr
in 1980) and the opponent's being Ohio State. "I was into this
game more than any one since I left," said Schembechler. "Think
of how much that team lost today."
His eyes danced with the telling of stories from the Wolverines'
past. He told of how, in November 1969, his first Michigan team
had upset a Woody Hayes-coached Ohio State team 24-12, bouncing
those Buckeyes from the Rose Bowl, from all the bowls in those
all-or-nothing, prealliance days. "There were some similarities
to this game," Schembechler said. Another first-year coach,
another upset of Ohio State. Schembechler rose and stood in the
middle of the room, praising Biakabutuka and Woodson, praising
even George and Glenn.
Only as Schembechler was leaving, walking the length of the
players' locker room toward a door to the stadium, did Carr
return from an hour's worth of congratulations and interviews
and stroking of recruits. The two met in the middle of the long,
empty room, amid small piles of discarded tape. They shook hands
at first and then grabbed each other in a hug, mitts slamming
against backs, like two brothers in a very exclusive fraternity.
Somewhere in the night, four buses rolled toward Columbus, their
passengers painfully educated. Not like any other team. Not like
any other game.