"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
On November 8th, 1997, Michigan traveled to Happy Valley to take on Penn State in a battle of unbeaten squads. The Wolverines pulled the upset, 34-8, led by Chris Howard's 120 rushing yards and the exploits of eventual Heisman winner Charles Woodson, who caught a 37-yard touchdown pass.
The lasting image of that game, however, was the violent collision between Michigan safety Daydrion Taylor and Penn State tight end Bob Stephenson on an otherwise-innocuous first-quarter completion. The hit, perhaps the hardest in Michigan history, ended the football careers of both players.
During the pre-game show before tomorrow's Michigan-Minnesota game, the Big Ten Network will mark the 15-year anniversary of that play with a feature on the hit, with exclusive interviews of Taylor, Stephenson, Woodson, Brady Hoke, and others who were there to witness it first-hand. I've had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at the piece, and also had the pleasure of speaking with Julian Darnell, the producer of the feature, and Bill Friedman, the BTN's coordinating producer of original programming. The feature is powerful and sheds light on how Taylor and Stephenson have both moved on from the hit—both, in fact, are now coaching youth football—and I highly encourage you to check it out tomorrow. Below are excerpts from my conversations with Darnell and Friedman:
What was the purpose in putting this piece together?
Julian: I guess the purpose on my end was to reflect on the events—it's certainly newsworthy considering what we've seen in football nowadays, you look to the next level and you see everything in regards to head-first football in NFL, the changes they've made to the football that I was used to seeing when I was coming up, and it just made for an interesting story.
It really piqued my interest, especially when you see, for me, the names that participated in that game. On one side you have Curtis Enis, who was a number one pick, you have Joe Jurevicius, who was a future world champion with Tampa Bay, Charles Woodson, who was the eventual Heisman Trophy winner that year and a Super Bowl champion, Dhani Jones, whom we know very well, Jon Jansen, whom we know very well as well, just so many great names. And it was a great win by Michigan, no question about it, but just that hit, when you see it, it still resonates today.
It really resonated for me when I had the opportunity to talk to Charles Woodson. I had a chance to interview him at Green Bay. During the pre-prep interview when he came in, I was going to show him the hit, because, you know, it's been 15 years. And he's like, "I don't need to see it, I remember." And he did. The details, he remembered it, he didn't need to see it. And this is a guy who's played a whole lot of football since Michigan, and to remember it in the detail that he did, and he didn't even need to see it or want to see it, just resonated to me that, "Okay, I'm really onto something that can really be everlasting," in my opinion. That's what stood out to me.
Bill: The collision between Daydrion Taylor and Bob Stephenson happened 15 years ago this season, so that was kinda the time hook to it. With concussions being a bigger subject matter every day in the national football landscape, we though it'd be an interesting piece, too.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the Q&A.]