of the decade
Editor's note: I moved this weekend and am currently on the floor two feet from the modem; I'll be out the rest of the day assembling the new place.
In two sections for balance: calls that went in favor of Michigan and calls against Michigan. Importance is somewhat… uh… important, but here we're looking for the biggest ref boners of the decade. Games that finish 60-7 don't make the cut but a terrible call in a game that's competitive does even if that call doesn't swing the game.
Spartan Bob is excluded since that was not an error.
In Which Michigan Is Bailed Out
5. Braylon's catch-like-substance against Washington
This set up the #2 play of the decade, in which Phil Brabbs nailed a 44-yard field goal to give Michigan a last-second win against top-ten Washington:
Despite its huge importance, this play checks in last because you can make a case that Edwards did bring the ball in and move upfield before it popped loose. It's at least close.
4. Armageddon bailout
This is not on the 'tubes, unfortunately, so you'll just have to take my word for it. From that game's UFR:
Herbstreit immediately bursts into a spiel about how that's obvious interference and I'm like 'no it isn't.' This ball is well underthrown -- Mario had burned O'Neal crispy -- allowing the S to get back into the play. He doesn't look, the ball hits him in the back or arm or something, and Manningham's progress is never impeded. This is the same kind of crappy call we've been getting on our DBs all year, and it's still crappy when it happens in our favor. (IN, 1, protection 2/2)
That was fourth and sixteen on Michigan's 44 with time running out in Football Armageddon and Michigan down ten; given the gift of new life on a pass interference call that didn't even see the defensive back touch the receiver, Michigan would score and get the opportunity to attempt an onside kick.
3. Bryant Johnson's inexplicable non-catch
The clip below contains back-to-back plays in the 2004 Penn State game; this entry deals with the second, when Bryant Johnson came up with a patented Zack Mills Hopeful Downfield Jump Ball, got not one but two feet in-bounds, and was somehow ruled out of bounds:
If Bryant was correctly ruled in-bounds Penn State would have been in game-winning field goal range with almost a minute left on the clock to set up a chip shot.
2. Illinois double fumble mishap
Fumbles are hard. But even so you these plays late in the fourth quarter of a game Michigan was trailing by three caused outrage in Champaign, then outrage in Ann Arbor after the Big Ten took the unprecedented step of apologizing for them:
Harvey was down. If your helmet hits the ground, you are down. (If anything other than your foot or hand hits the ground, you're down) Thomas was not. The two plays were separated by just one six-yard Askew run, and to this day whenever you're pretending you care about the Illini to an Illini fan they will bring this up. Unlike Penn State, they've got beef.
Michigan ended up losing this game but other than the dadaist Oregon-Oklahoma onside kick there has probably never been a worse call in college football. It's the 2008 Michigan State game and Michigan has a third and goal from around the ten. Steven Threet tosses a wheel route to Minor that's juuust a bit outside, Minor catches it but lands well out of bounds, field goal team comes on, and then the ref gets buzzed.
In the stands people are trying to figure out why. Multiple theories are passed around, none of which stick. As best we can figure there's a confusing television angle in which it looks like Minor managed to get a foot down that will be quickly shown false and we can get on with our lives. The call does not come. We are waiting too long for something not to be amiss. At this point, the replay official should be calling someone to double-check his insane rule interpretation, but he's not. He's just calling it down: Brandon Minor is in the endzone because his foot touched the pylon, which is "part of the endzone" in one part of the rulebook. Problem: in another part of the rulebook it is specifically declared not something that can make a catch in-bounds.
As the ref raises his hands sheepishly, 105,700 people in Michigan Stadium know that something has just gone wrong—everyone but the replay official. The Big Ten later admits error and promotes Jim Augustine to praetor.
This is number one because it's a perfect storm of ineptness: the call was right on the field and was overturned to be incorrect by the replay official
Specifically Omitted Non-Errors
Two seconds of whining lasts a lifetime. For the last time, Penn State fans: asking for time on the clock because the clock operator did not stop the thing after the ref called timeout is not a bad call. You know who thinks that? Joe Paterno, who called timeout on Penn State's last drive and then badgered the refs for two extra seconds on the clock and got them.
Heel-toe. In that same game, Jason Avant picked up a key first down on a pass on the sideline where his toe came down in-bounds an instant before his heel struck out of bounds. The NCAA rulebook is very generous when it comes to getting in bounds: if any bit of you hits in bounds, you are in bounds.
Correct. In last year's Notre Dame game, Armando Allen stepped out of bounds on a screen that looked like it went for a touchdown. Replay overturned the call and ND eventually settled for a field goal. Notre Dame fans complain about this.
Outrages(!) In Which Michigan Is Screwed
5. Bryant Johnson inexplicable catch
This should look familiar:
This is the first Bryant Johnson catch-type substance where Johnson hits the ground and the ball immediately flies out as he hits the ground. The ground can't cause a fumble but it certainly can cause you to not catch the ball, and Johnson never had control. On third and forever, this would have forced a Penn State punt and allowed Michigan a chance to win in regulation.
4. Sure, his entire body is in the endzone but maybe the ball isn't
This wouldn't have been an issue if Chad Henne hadn't fumbled the ball on the ensuing snap from the one-inch line, but he did so holy hell:
It is impossible for someone to be in that position after the play is over and to have not scored a touchdown. As a bonus, Notre Dame had twelve guys on the field and was not called, not that that would have prevented Henne from fumbling on the next play.
3. That's not even a phantom touchdown, it's a phantom run to the one
In the 2002 Notre Dame game, all manner of infuriating stuff happened as Michigan blew the momentum from their win over Washington in a 25-23 loss to the Notre Dame team that inaugurated the jokes about Field Goal Jesus. One of the non-field-goals was a touchdown-type substance by Carlyle Holiday in which the guy fumbled at the two (the two!) and still managed to convince the refs that he had entered the endzone ball-in-hand. Since Michigan lost and Notre Dame's version of Wolverine Historian is a slacker, there is no video of the dread event. It did make it into the game recaps…
Michigan committed another costly error when receiver Tyrece Butler fumbled at his own 24 and Holiday scored on a three-yard run with 23 seconds left in the half. Holiday appeared to fumble before reaching the end zone, but the officials still signaled a touchdown.
...in case anyone thinks I'm insane.
2. Domata Peko fumble rumble
I was at this game and after the replay official upheld the call on the field we complained so loud and long that an elderly Michigan State fan threatened us. But if any college fanbase was familiar with the intricacies of the tuck rule, it was that of the school which produced both Tom Brady and Charles Woodson. We had a righteous cause:
In the aftermath, rule books were delved into, laws specifically addressing the situation unearthed, and slack-jawed gaping disbelief retroactively justified:
When a Team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward toward the neutral zone, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts the forward pass. If a Team B player contacts the passer or ball after forward movement begins and the ball leaves the passer's hand, a forward pass is ruled regardless of where the ball strikes the ground or a player (A.R. 2-19-2-I).
Michigan ended up with the win but it took overtime; without the error Michigan likely wins by somewhere in the range of seven to ten points in regulation.
1. If your elbow hits the ground and you're not Antonio Bass, you're down
1. If your elbow hits the ground and you're not Antonio Bass, you're down
This takes the cake because, like the Minor touchdown, it was a correct call on the field overturned by an inept or possibly insane replay official. It should be noted that it was karmically justified, as the refs had missed an ultra-rare Mike Hart fumble in the first half and the replay official then failed to buzz; there were also a couple of comically bad pass interference calls, one of which was seven yards downfield and saw Iowa inexplicably penalized fifteen yards. Iowa had a ridiculous call in their favor coming.
They got it. Antonio Bass came in for another of his Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Draws. Though intermittently effective on the day, Iowa stoned this one, getting Bass in the backfield and flipping him almost head-over-heels. As Bass crashed to the ground his elbow hit first, causing the ball to pop loose. Iowa recovered, the refs on the field ruled him down, and then the buzz came. After five minutes of looking at Bass's elbow touch the ground first, the replay official awarded Iowa the ball:
Unfortunately, the clip does not show the many copious replays that showed Bass was down but the reaction of announcers normally loathe to criticize officials should suffice.
(Odd side note: all of these plays are from 2002 or 2005.)
Special Lifetime Total Lack Of Achievement Award
The 2005 Alamo Bowl, in its entirety.
6. Buffalo Stampede
2003 Minnesota: trailing 14-0, Michigan has driven to around midfield. John Navarre chucks a WR screen to Steve Breaston, who throws it back to Navarre. Forty yards later, we all have beards and Michigan is within seven points.
At some point in the 2003 Minnesota game I needed to get off the couch after something enraging had happened. I was on it with my girlfriend at the time and she sort of ended up on the ground as I executed my plan. The couch was low to the ground, she was unharmed, and in the aftermath the incident seemed funny. At the time all I could do was clench and unclench my fists.
Michigan would eventually deploy an all-shotgun offense in the fourth quarter that shredded Minnesota for 24 points and win the game on a Garrett Rivas 33-yarder, but at the time it was grim. It would have been more grim but for the trick play of the decade:
In the aftermath a friend immediately called me screaming "WHAT." It wasn't a question. It was just "WHAT." That. From seven year's distance it appears to be the slowest, most awkward touchdown convoy in school history.
Eventually it was key in Michigan's comeback win and Rose Bowl berth but really it's just here for its sheer improbability. It was one thing to run the transcontinental with Drew Henson; doing it with John Navarre—and getting a touchdown out of it—is pure audacity. This, by the way, is why Minnesota bloggers will never do a Worst Plays of the Decade list.
5. In ur base killin ur d00dz
MGoRetro: Pit Bull.
Penn State, 2006: it's second or third and long or something again, can't remember, doesn't matter, and I'm back in the pocket and I know I'm going to die. My offensive line has proven itself entirely hypothetical at this point. So I'm going to die, and it's not going to have any purpose. But this time I actually get a faint semblance of protection and I manage to find an open receiver—I'd forgotten those even existed—and I hurl it out there. And if Alan Branch hadn't driven his facemask into my shoulder and run through my tiny hoo-man body and left me in a concussed heap on the ground I would have gotten to see a first down. Which would have been nice.
But then I might have had to play the rest of the game instead of getting an emergency cup of pudding repurposed from JoePa's stash. So, yeah. I could go either direction, as long as it's 180 degrees from wherever Branch is going.
When Michigan fans are (unwisely, these days) attempting to tweak their Penn State coworkers this play, and the iconic image from its aftermath, is their go-to option. That's a meaningful statement when you've got most of a decade's worth of gloating to choose from, including another play on this list.
As for the significance of the play, Penn State had bounced back from its early decade malaise in a big way in 2005, going 11-1 with the only loss featured a bit higher on this list. By the time the PSU game rolled around in '06 it was obviously the only thing standing between Michigan and a 1-vs-2 matchup against Ohio State at the end of the season. Michigan's last four opponents would all finish with losing records; the only road game was against Indiana. When Anthony Morelli got blasted out of the game the decks were clear.
More than that, though, Alan Branch being in ur base is emblematic of the first ten games of 2006, when the Michigan defense was 1997 all over again and things were, briefly, back on course.
4. "Oh, wide open"
MGoRetro: Quod Erat Demonstrandum
Notre Dame, 2006: Late in the first quarter, Michigan and Notre Dame are tied 7-7 after exchanging terrible interceptions when Chad Henne drops back to pass and launches one deep. Pat Haden breaks the suspense before the cameraman can catch up to a streaking Manningham by declaring "oh, wide open." When Manningham finally appears he is running under a perfectly thrown ball, all alone.
Michigan entered the 2006 game uncertain of its place in the college football universe after a frustrating 7-5 season this blog nicknamed the "Year of Infinite Pain," if only to highlight how sheltered the Michigan fanbase has been in the aftermath of the last couple years. And if Alan Branch sending Anthony Morelli to his happy place was emblematic of Michigan's run to Football Armageddon, Mario Manningham getting ten yards clear of the nearest Notre Dame cornerback was the moment the Year of Infinite Pain became part of the past:
Manningham would score twice more on deep balls as Michigan leapt out to a commanding lead. They didn't look back until the second quarter of the Ohio State game.
Michigan State, 2004: Braylon Edwards skies over yet another Michigan State defensive back, tying a game in which Michigan trailed by 17 with under nine minutes to go.
Braylon Edwards was the most frustrating great player in Michigan history, prone to terrible drops on easy throws and legendarily not "on the same page" as Lloyd Carr. But he was great, and never greater than the last eight minutes of regulation in the 2004 Michigan State game. If they gave out Heismans for a single game, they would have had to give Edwards two for this one.
It almost wasn't anything, though. In this game Michigan was driving in the third quarter, down 17-10, when Edwards fumbled around the 20. He was creeping towards the goat side of the ledger when DeAndra Cobb ran That Goddamned Counter Draw again and outran Ernest Shazor to the sideline and the endzone. But when you're down 17 with under eight minutes left, what is there to do other than chuck it up and tell the onside kick team that they should try really hard?
I remember many things about that game. I remember being cold as hell as the game dragged on and the heat fled from the stadium. I remember going over to a friend's house afterward and being told by his roommates that they had actually left immediately after the DeAndra Cobb TD. I remember another friend telling me that a State friend of his had turned the game off as soon as Michigan hit the field goal to get within 14—he didn't even wait for the onside kick. I remember turning around and jovially telling the State fans behind me that it was good that MSU missed their last-second 52-yard field goal attempt to win after a terrible PI call, because if it had gone in there was no way they were getting out of the stadium alive. But mostly I remember the shadows that gave the whole enterprise an otherworldly feel. It's without question the best game I've ever been to.
The pick here is the game-tying touchdown, as at that point victory seemed inevitable and the comeback was complete. Without it, the others are just coulda-been plays like the Mike Hart touchdown in the Horror.
2. Phil Brabbs is absolutely not going to make this field goal
Washington, 2002: Phil Brabbs hits a 44 yard field goal as time expires to beat Washington.
I've interacted with Phil Brabbs a little bit since he came down with cancer and I've read his blog and am wearing his bracelet, so I have a little insight here. The bracelet says DOMINATE and his blog has pictures of him DOMINATING various things from hospital ice cream to IVs to chemo drugs. Sometimes he makes his adorable children DOMINATE things. He's kind of like anthropomorphized Brawndo. So I'm betting that when Brabbs strolled onto the field after a preposterous sequence of events set him up with a potential game-winning field goal in the 2002 season opener, he was totally psyched to dominate himself some 44-yard field goal.
In this, he was utterly alone.
I'm sure his parents and wife tell him that they just knew he'd hit it, but after a career debut in which he missed 36 and 42 yard field goals badly enough for Michigan to send out Troy Neinberg on a 27-yarder that he shanked, no one in Michigan Stadium thought a 44-yard field goal with no time left on the clock was going in. This includes those nearest and dearest to him. I was just hoping it went forward.
Naturally, Brabbs did this:
Though Washington would end up one of the country's biggest disappointments at 7-6, they entered Michigan Stadium a top ten opponent. The moment the kick actually went through the actual uprights and everyone looked at the guy under the crossbar to make sure they hadn't hallucinated it, then looked at the other guy under the crossbar to make sure the first guy hadn't been hallucinating too, promised grand things. (That would fall apart in a ridiculous loss at Notre Dame in two weeks.)
1. The New Math
MGoRetro: The New Math.
Penn State, 2005: With one second on the clock, Mario Manningham catches a deep slant to beat Penn State 27-25. 86 = 1, as Michigan State would learn in 2007.
Why is this number one? It didn't end up mattering, and it was already clear it wouldn't since Michigan was already 3-3 and headed nowhere in 2005. It was the end of a classic game that swung dramatically from one side to the other, but other games were better and meant more.
I think it's that :01 on the clock, the knowledge that that second was precarious, fought for by Lloyd Carr after the clock ran after a Michigan timeout, preserved by Steve Breaston's best Tyrone Butterfield impression, and ironically Joe Paterno's fault for getting his team an extra two seconds on what they thought was their game-winning drive. Michigan was living on borrowed time. It seemed like they'd been given a chance to go back and right wrongs. Scott Bakula was at quarterback.
Meanwhile, Michigan was locked in an existential crisis unknown for decades. The 1984 season could be written off as a fluke since Jim Harbaugh's broken leg threw everything into disarray and Michigan bounced right back afterwards; 2005 was entirely different. Michigan had never been 3-3 in my recollection. My brother and I spent a large chunk of the game being bitterly cynical about everything. We felt justified about it after the killer Henne fumble/botched extra point for two combination. We'd collectively decided to dull the pain by withdrawing emotionally. This was working for a while, and then the team decided to give the middle finger to the cosmic middle finger, getting off the mat twice. The culmination:
In the end, the game served as a reminder that bitterness is no fun, faith is rewarded, the kids on the field are more resilient than we are, and sometimes they can let us borrow some of that. A lot of the plays on this list were diminished by subsequent events in which Michigan failed to live up to the promise they had in that one moment, but this one has been magnified by the awful last couple of years. It promises a light at the end of the tunnel.
Drew Henson bootlegs his way into the OSU endzone to seal the win (2000) … Chris Perry puts the OSU game beyond doubt with a slashing bounceout TD to make it 35-21 (2003) … Breaston returns a punt for a touchdown against Indiana … Northwestern … Illinois … etc … Manningham's worm after the ND game (2006) … Chris Perry punches it against Penn State in to seal a win in Michigan Stadium's first OT game (2002) … Ron Zook seals the Outback Bowl by calling a reverse pass that Victor Hobson intercepts (2002) … Alain Kashama beats the Sex Cannon to a fumbled ball in the endzone, finally fulfilling four years of Canadian Reggie White hype (2002 Outback) … Jacob Stewart picks off Asad Abdul-Kaliq in the Buffalo Stampede game and returns it for a touchdown (2002) … Garrett Rivas finishes the Buffalo Stampede game with a field goal (2002) … Chad Henne hits Tyler Ecker for a game-winning touchdown against Minnesota and executes nailcoeds.exe (2004) … Braylonfest Part I … Braylonfest Part II … Braylonfest Part IV … Brian Thompson recovers an onside kick, greatly aiding Braylonfest parts II through IV … Jason Avant's catch against Northwestern (2003) … Marquise Walker's catch against Iowa (2001) … Jerome Jackson pops through a nonexistent hole against Iowa to establish himself useful, then scores the game-winning TD (2005) … the snap sails over Jimmy Clausen's head on the first play of the game (2007) … Michigan cracks open the Battle of Who Could Care Less against Illinois with a reverse pass (2007) … Manningham outruns Justin King to tie Penn State (2005) … Mike Hart drags Penn State tacklers for five of the most impressive eight yards of his career (2005) … Lamarr Woodley kicks off Yakety Sax (2006) … Prescott Burgess returns a Brady Quinn interception for a TD(2006) … Mike Hart levels Sean Lee on a blitz pickup (2007) … Arrington's catch against Florida (2007) … A ludicrous Ryan Mallett decision—pitch it backwards to Carson Butler as he's being sacked—works out (2007) … Steven Threet takes off on a 60-yard jaunt against Wisconsin (2008) … Denard Robinson fumbles the first snap as Michigan's quarterback and WOOPs his way for a touchdown (2009) … Darryl Stonum returns a kickoff for a touchdown against Notre Dame (2009) … Forcier hits Greg Mathews on a circle route to win against Notre Dame (2009) … Tate Forcier hits Martavious Odoms on a perfect seam for the game-winning points against Indiana (2009) … Forcier's mansome final drive in the rain to tie Michigan State (2009) … Brandon Graham demolishes Glenn Winston (2009) … Brandon Graham demolishes Everybody (2009).
A major reason this series came together is the tireless effort of Wolverine Historian, who put together video for almost everything on the list. Also a hat tip to parkinggod, who had HD of last year's ND game, and akarpo, who helped out with some of the clipping last year.
This one goes to thirteen because we aren't dead yet. Again, a combination of overall impact with a heavy emphasis on how awesome that moment was—if eligible the Donovan goal against Algeria would be the perfect candidate. #13 is admittedly valedictory.
Michigan State, 2007: Mike Hart scoops up a Mallett fumble and conjures a first down from air.
If Mike Hart did anything other than run for thousands of yards at Michigan it was pick up blitzers on the most famous Michigan plays of the decade. There weren't any Mike Hart runs on this list because the guy always got caught from behind and Michigan's offense was set up to get its big plays from the passing game for the duration of his tenure, but Hart will block on three of the top four. This had to be rectified, but how? There was that eight yard run against Penn State, but that lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. It was in the first half, for one.
How about this rescue instead?
This may be the most Mike Hart play of Mike Hart's career. Ryan Mallett's come in the game for one play after Chad Henne limped off, and Mallett does what he always did, which was fumble. Michigan's about to be facing a second and forever even if they get the ball back when Hart pops out of the pack, ball in hand. He then jukes one Spartan out of his shorts and plows over two more for a game-changing first down. He then heads to the sideline because he's so injured he shouldn't even be in the game.
2003 Illinois: Steve Breaston fields a punt on one sideline and glide-cuts his way all the way across the field, juking six separate Illini before finding a seam and setting sail for the endzone. NOTE: Unfortunately, I can't find this in an embeddable form. It is 15 seconds into this Breaston highlight reel. Picture not relevant.
…was the name message board posters sarcastically bestowed on Steve Breaston as he redshirted and reports of his practice exploits became progressively more ludicrous. "Freshman you've never heard of fails to live up to epic practice hype" is perhaps the most common fall storyline across the country, and Michigan has had more than its fair share of epic busts from Grady Brooks to David Underwood to Kevin Grady. The nickname was a shield against disappointement
When Steve Breaston took the field, though, he somehow managed to exceed the expectations built up over the offseason. This return was the crowning glory; after a half-season full of almosts where he'd get tackled at the five or have something called back on a penalty he didn't need, he waited and waited, making two of those looping back-cuts that would become so familiar and exploding up the sideline.
For the most part teams stopped punting to him after this play, and though he remained amongst the country's most dangerous returners for the duration of his career he never quite recaptured the magic of the first two-thirds of his freshman year. At the moment he did this, though, he could do anything.
11. Ernest Shazor just killed a guy. No, seriously, he's dead
Purdue, 2004: Michigan has a narrow lead in the dying minutes but Purdue wins with a field goal and is driving. Dorien Bryant, then merely a freshman and not yet the Brooks Bollinger memorial eighth year senior, grabs a ball over the middle and starts picking up tons of YAC. Purdue is already in field goal range when Brandon Williams grabs at Bryant's feet, sending him into the air. This is where Ernest Shazor murders him. Bryant coughs up history's most understandable fumble; Leon Hall recovers, ending the game.
I've seen a lot of murderous hits in football, but they're mostly for show. Football's violence is a thrilling, sometimes sad sideshow to the main event; only rarely does the sheer intimidating force of a guy running directly at another guy matter immediately. Not so here. This hit turned a very likely loss into a sure win and ranks as the most CLICK CLICK BOOM play of the decade.
After the hit Shazor evaporated, providing only theoretical resistance against the first terrible appearance of That God Damned Counter Draw in the Michigan State game, about which more later, and entering the NFL draft early only to be passed over entirely. Despite being dead Bryant would go on to be probably Purdue's finest receiver of the decade, though I'll leave that judgment to the Purdue blogs' decentennial glazomania.
This play is lower than I expected because the feelings were more relief and frustration at the defense. A close call against a Purdue team that wasn't at all good (7-5) nearly derailed Michigan's season. Other plays in crappier seasons were fraught with less expectation and more enjoyable, like for instance…
10. The Blip
MGoRetro: We're From Phoenix
Wisconsin, 2008: Donovan Warren breaks up a slant, sending the ball on that parabolic trajectory that screams interception but often ends up hitting the turf. In this instance, Johnny Thompson is in the right place in the right time, catching the ball and picking up a defense's worth of escorts.
Exactly one good thing happened in the entirety of 2008, and this was it. Michigan had just gotten a touchdown thanks to a supremely ill-timed Wisconsin blitz that set Brandon Minor free. One play later Michigan would be in the lead:
Michigan would add another touchdown thanks to a 60-yard Steven Threet read option keeper and hang on for dear life, surviving a two point conversion that tied the game thanks to an illegal formation penalty and stuffing the second attempt.
At the time, the win over a top-ten Wisconsin team seemed like an indicator that even in this season of transition and quarterback incompetence something of Michigan would persist. It seemed super important, and then Toledo blew everything to hell.
9. Chad Henne robot apotheosis
Michigan State, 2007: Chad Henne completes his transformation from inept and injured to flawless robot incapable of understanding pressure by shouting "reprise" and pretending Mario Manningham is Braylon Edwards, completing an improbable Michigan comeback.
I'd somehow managed to get tickets on the 50 yard line in the Michigan student section at Spartan Stadium, and things were tense. Some unlit-cigar-chomping State fan was in my seat and insisted it was his seat to the point where he called the cops over so they could look at my ticket and shrug. He'd eventually switch places with a few Michigan fans outside of the section. At some point early in the second half a woman who looked like she watches a lot of Jenny Jones turned around and screamed something incomprehensible but very angry. She proceeded to do this every five minutes until someone figured out the thing she was saying was "Art Fag U," at which point the guy standing next to me went off about how bigoted that was whenever given an opportunity for the rest of the game, which was every other play.
Meanwhile on the field, Michigan was busy blowing a 14-3 lead in the immediate aftermath of Mark Dantonio's "pride" comments. They gave up three straight touchdowns while managing only one play of significance, a hopeful downfield jump ball that Mario Manningham came up with. With seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, Michigan was cooked.
In my head, this is when Hart went over to Henne and slapped him really hard. Michigan State backed off their coverage and Michigan marched down the field for a touchdown, dodging the Mallett disaster above, got the ball back, drove some more, and then decided to inflict the maximum amount of pain by joining the Braylon Edwards Historical Reenactment Society:
This is why Michigan State bloggers won't ever delve into their version of the Worst Plays of the Decade. As bad as you thought that was, Michigan State's edition would be typed equivalent of the Hurricane Katrina Valenti rant.
8. "I Saw Cover Zero"
MGoRetro: Moxie and MacGyver.
Notre Dame, 2009: leading 24-20 early in the fourth quarter, Michigan faces a 4th and 3 in the no man's land where field goals are dodgy and punts get you put on the Worst Plays of the Decade list. Michigan goes for it, calling a bootleg pass for Forcier. Notre Dame's Stephen Filer cuts off the angle, so Forcier breaks his ankles and cuts up into the wide-open middle of the field.
This could have been one of Forcier's scrambles on the game-winning drive or the touchdown that won the game or Charlie Weis's decision to call a 40-yard fly route during Notre Dame's attempt to kill the game—miss you, big guy xoxo—but for sheer impact it's Forcier rewarding Rich Rodriguez's ability to do math:
Forcier's moxie would see Michigan through another two games of desperate fourth-quarter action before disintegrating in overtime against Michigan State and the fourth quarter against Iowa. In this it's similar to the Thompson interception, where early-season hope gave way to the cruel reality of the situation and the opponent turned out to be something less than they were supposed to be.
7. A Knee On The Ground
Citrus Bowl, 2007 season: with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Chad Henne takes a snap and falls to the ground.
The definition of bittersweet.
Michigan had just finished racking up 91 yards of offense against Ohio State, so of course they come out in a shotgun spread attack and put up 41 points on Florida en route to yet another bowl victory over the SEC. Every downfield strike conjured forth a cauldron of mixed emotions: immediate joy. Fist-shaking at the general bloody-mindedness of the universe. Depression about the missed opportunity represented in Chad Henne's healthy shoulder. An entire extra layer of confusion about Mike DeBord. It was like being 15 again, like being 15 again and stuck in a never-ending afterschool special.
But when Henne kneeled and Marques Slocum, of all people, was the first to get Lloyd Carr up on his shoulders, well… IT IS VERY DUSTY IN HERE RIGHT NOW. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR AIR FILTERS. I have allergies, you know. Severe allergies.
At some point you just have to let that frustration go and accept the program for what it is, accept Carr for who he is, and say thanks. He did hole up and punt with a six point lead against Tim Tebow, but how could he go out any other way?
6. Roy Roundtree is tackled at the one yard line
Early in the third quarter of the 2009 Illinois game, Michigan is leading 13-7 when Tate Forcier hits Roy Roundtree on a seam up the middle. The safeties are out of position and Roundtree sets sail for the endzone, Terry Hawthorne in tow. Hawthorne tackles Roundtree at the goal line; the play is initially ruled a touchdown but correctly called back on replay. Four attempts from the one are stoned; instead of being up 20-7 Michigan is up 13-7. From there the defense gives up 31 points to a terrible team, causing mass chaos.
This, unlike everything else on the list, was not something that directly lost a game. It's actually a great play, a strike down the middle of the field that set Michigan up with a first and goal from the one. Michigan's chances at winning the game went up after it, also unlike everything else on the list. In now way should Roundtree be held responsible for getting tracked down at the one after seventy yards. Sometimes the other guy is just faster than you.
It was what happened afterward that enshrines this play in Michigan infamy. Up until the exact moment Roundtree's knee hit the turf Michigan was on track to recovery from the 3-9 season. Preseason projections of a 7-5 and a crappy bowl game were well within reach, as Illinois was sure to pack it in after going down 20-7 early in the third quarter and Purdue was flailing around. Michigan's losses had been acceptable: a whitewashing at Penn State was ugly but the other two were at MSU in overtime and at Iowa in a two-point game. Big deal, first and goal, let's put it in:
That happened. Then the defense caved in, allowing 31 second-half points.
In the aftermath, this blog got locked down, I talked about how my soul-dong had been crushed, and Rodriguez's job came under serious threat for the first time. If this year is the end for Rich Rodriguez—and Michigan sets off on another awkward transition—the beginning of that end was right here.
5. Spartan Bob
Michigan State scores a last-play touchdown to beat Michigan after the home timekeeper freezes the play clock early. Larry Stevens is roped to the ground like a pig in a poke, too, but… yeah. The cheat was blatant enough for ESPN to break it down frame-by-frame and declare Michigan hosed. State "wins" 26-21.
Once back at the dawn of time I was playing Tecmo Super Bowl against my brother. As it is with brothers, games were intense, unsporting things in which I, the older, invariably prevailed. Once, though, I called the crazy reverse flea-flicker play deep in my own end in an unusually tight game. My brother tackled the receiver at about the two, but after he'd pitched the ball back to the quarterback. Tecmo Super Bowl glitched spectacularly, though, and did its little ditty as it declared my receiver to have taken a game-sealing safety.
Enraged, I immediately hit reset.
That was this play-type substance, except the glitch was an intentional act and life, as of yet, has no reset button. Compounding matters is that Larry Stevens was spectacularly held—a primary reason Jeff Smoker had eons of time to find TJ Duckett. End result: rage like has never been seen before or again in a certain rental house belonging to a friend of a friend on Plymouth. As a blubbering Bobby Williams wept through a post-game interview I swore little demons into existence as I declared my eternal hatred of the man. Eventually I stormed outside so I would not be kicked out.
In football, you might not get justice all the time—see the 2005 Alamo Bowl, please—but at least when you don't there is the tiny consolation that the gibbering sack of incoherence that robbed you of justice didn't mean it. This is something wholly different.
4. Nick Sheridan hurls a wobbly duck in the general direction of four Utah defenders
With under a minute left in the first half against Utah, Nick Sheridan drops back to pass and, under little pressure, lofts a mortar that four Utah players have a better shot at than the best-positioned Michigan receiver. Brandstatter groans "oh, no, Nick." Utah intercepts it and punches it in a few plays later.
This did end up in a rankling Utah touchdown that extended the Utes' lead to 12; that touchdown would end up being the winning points after Michigan scratched its way to a competitive second half. So it was a game-losing play.
But that was small potatoes compared to what the play represented. First of all, the whole idea was preposterous, a terrible throw into triple coverage in a situation where caution was a priority. Worse than that was the back-foot windup Sheridan deployed to chuck an artillery shell 30 yards downfield. Such was its accuracy that any of three Michigan receivers could have been the target-like substance; such was its pace that if one Utah secondary member didn't pick it off another one would have found it gently tickling his fingers as it nuzzled its way into the crook of his arm.
As Michigan Stadium settled into a halftime funk, the hivemind thought: we are so fucked. In one searing instant Sheridan erased all the foolish hopes Michigan fans had that their walk-on quarterback could be anything approximating functional and exposed the vast talent deficiency that's driven Michigan to the bottom of the Big Ten. If there was ever an oh, shiiiiiiiiiit moment for Michigan football, this was it.
The next week this ran through my mind as I told WCBN that the upcoming Notre Dame game was "critical for bowl eligibility." It wasn't but only because that wobbly-duck-induced panic was so, so right. There were probably worse things that happened in 2008, but as the indignities piled on each other numbness sets in; the Sheridan interception was the knockout blow. The rest was just kicking a man on the ground.
3. Anthony Thomas fumbles for no reason whatsoever against Northwestern
Leading Northwestern 51-46 in the craziest game ever played by the Wolverines, Anthony Thomas bursts through the Wildcat defense for a game-clinching first down, then drops the ball without being touched. Northwestern recovers and scores to win.
I didn't actually see this play live. Michigan was playing Michigan State back when the CCHA was the Big Two and Little Ten and if there was anything I hated more than Ron Mason's brand of energy-sapping anti-hockey it was how unbelievably good Ryan Miller was. Michigan State games at Yost were pure bloodsport, so I headed out. The final quarter of this game is the only Michigan football I've missed since my enrollment.
This was a good thing, because when I finally found out what had gone so terribly wrong with the force sometime during the first period I was in disbelief. Michigan needed a first down to seal the game. Anthony Thomas broke through the line and could have guaranteed a Michigan victory merely by falling over. Instead he dropped the ball without a Northwestern player so much as touching him, allowing the unstoppable Wildcat offense the opportunity to win the game. If I had actually watched this live I probably would have died. Even though I never had the raw emotional experience of it, finding the clip was a sickening experience. There should be "I Survived The Anthony Thomas Fumble" t-shirts.
The costs were severe. Michigan finished in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten with Purdue and Northwestern, sending the Brees-led Boilers to the Rose Bowl. There they lost to the 10-1 Washington Huskies. Michigan had to settle for a Citrus Bowl date against Auburn.
2. Shawn Crable blocks the outside guy
The Horror: trailing 34-32 with hardly any time left on the clock, Chad Henne throws a hopeless moonball to Mario Manningham that Manningham actually comes down with, setting up a makeable field goal. That field goal is blocked because Crable and Greg Banks split like a cheap zipper, allowing an opponent to run unimpeded at the kicker.
I'd already started my exit from Michigan Stadium before the moonball that set Michigan up with an improbable final attempt at evading the biggest upset in the history of college football*. I was disgusted and given the situation, the slight chance of winning the game was less of a priority than not getting stuck in the Stadium longer than a nanosecond after it ended. So I watched the final drama from the aisle.
I didn't even know that an Appalachian State guy had picked the ball up and started trucking for the endzone until Tuesday. I was already stalking my way home.
*(At least for the next few weeks, anyway. Before the season was out not one but two bigger dogs rose up and overcame. Syracuse and Stanford, we thank you kindly.)
1. Shawn Crable goes helmet to helmet on Troy Smith.
Ohio State, 2006: Michigan trails by three late in the fourth quarter of a game with no defense and finally manages to get Ohio State into a third and long. Troy Smith drops back, but can't find anyone. Smith gets pressure and bugs out, flushing up out of the pocket and scrambling uselessly on third and forever. Shawn Crable comes up to knock him out of bounds; in doing so, he bashes Smith helmet to helmet, drawing a 15-yard flag that extends the Buckeye drive. OSU would score a game-clinching touchdown.
The previous play has much to recommend it as the worst thing that's ever happened to anyone outside of a Lars Von Trier movie, and, yes, even if Crable pulls up Michigan is a long way away from actually beating Ohio State. Michigan's last ditch touchdown drive that allowed them an onside kick required a terrible fourth-down pass interference call to be successful and for much of that drive Ohio State's strategy was to give up yards as long as it bled the clock. Up only three, OSU would have been considerably less accommodating unless Jim Herrmann was pulling a Mission: Impossible stunt on the opposing sideline.
But if you're looking for a moment at which Michigan ceased being Michigan, this is it. Ohio State had evened, then tilted the balance of the rivalry their way in the first few years of Jim Tressel's tenure but a Michigan win in Football Armageddon would have made it 2-3 in the Tressel era with the all-important Biggest Game Ever in Michigan's corner. They would have put up more of a fight against Florida if only because the left tackle was Jake Long and would not have been a turnstile all night. In some extremely abstract sense Bo's death would have been avenged, or something. The five hours I was stuck in Columbus afterward, waiting for a man not named Skeeter and wondering if I was actually going to strangle him with my bare hands, would have been almost pleasant.
None of that happened. The next three things to happen to Michigan football were another uncompetitive Rose Bowl against USC, The Horror, and the Post Apocalyptic Oregon game. The Bo era had persisted through a couple coaching changes, 8-4 malaise, and the Year of Infinite Pain; it ended at the same time I crumpled to my seat in the OSU student section.
That play against Ohio State(2007) … a John Navarre pass deflects off the bottom of Braylon Edwards's foot and is intercepted by USC in the 2004 Rose Bowl (2003) … Hayden Epstein misses a 27 yard field goal against UCLA in a 3-point loss (2000) … KC Lopata misses a 27-yard field goal against Toledo in a three-point loss (2008) … Steven Threet throws a 100-yard pick six in that same game (2008) … Washington blocks a would-be game-clinching field goal and returns it for a touchdown (2001) … on the next play a Navarre pass is batted skyward by a Michigan receiver and Washington returns that for a touchdown, too (2001) … Marquise Walker drops a sure touchdown during Michigan's storming second-half comeback in the 2001 Edition of the Game … John Navarre promptly throws a game killing interception afterwards (2001) … Tennessee's Jason Witten outruns the entire Michigan secondary at some point during the 2002 Citrus whitewashing (2001) … Braylon Edwards is called for offensive pass interference against OSU (2002) … Chad Henne wings an interception directly at a ND safety when he had Avant open for a touchdown (2005) … Henne fumbles on a QB sneak from inside the one in the same game (2005) …virtually any defensive play during the Post Apocalyptic Oregon Game (2007) … Tate Forcier chucks a terrible interception in overtime against Michigan State (2009) … Denard Robinson chucks a terrible interception on the last drive against Iowa (2009) … Mike Williams lets a deep post behind him on third and thirty-seven in the same game (2009) … Forcier gives Ohio State a free touchdown to start the 2009 Game (2009) … and then throws five interceptions (2009).
This one goes to 11 despite my intention to make it a top ten list because I wrote them up piecemeal and at some point after too much effort had been put into each to throw any away I realized I had an extra item. This is obviously fate, so here they are.
These are ranked by gut because you can't put a number on the special sort of misery football can inflict. How to rate high on thie list:
- Represent a major missed opportunity. Games from the Year of Infinite Pain do feature prominently but towards the end of the list because reversing any one of them means you went 8-4, which BFD.
- Be an easily preventable error. Sometimes bad stuff happens. Sometimes you do it to yourself.
- Be the obvious start of something terrible; some individual plays on the list were moments when it became clear a large number of plays later were going to be very bad.
And now on with the hairshirts!
11. Unblocking That Field Goal
Dusty Magnum lines up for a 38 yard field goal on the last play of the 2005 Rose Bowl. Michigan charges hell-bent after the kick and gets two players in position to block the thing, but the ball manages to split Ernest Shazor's arms, taking a deflection off his elbow. The slightly redirected ball squeezes through Prescott Burgess's hands and through the uprights. Michigan loses 38-37.
A lot of these moments to come are going to be events that cost Michigan some opportunity in the future. This one was simple: if Shazor's dive takes him an inch to the left or right, Michigan wins one of the classic Rose Bowls of all time and I don't spend a couple hours making "The Five Stages of Vince Young" in a South Park character generator.
Despite that, the play is mostly notable for how close Michigan came to doing something that is hard to do, does not involve a Michigan player or coach making a terrible decision*, and did come at the end of a classic someone had to lose. I don't know… it just doesn't rate compared to the rest of the stuff enclosed herein. Losing a close Rose Bowl is hardly the worst thing that's happened to Michigan in the last ten years.
*(Michigan did not attempt to save itself any time in case the field goal was good but Mangum was somewhat shaky and Vince Young was unstoppable the whole night; if Texas was willing to take a 38-yarder I would have been happy enough to let them if I was coaching.)
Late in the 2005 Minnesota game, Jim Herrmann lines up LB Prescott Burgess as a DE opposite the Gopher right tackle. With face-crushing tight end Matt Spaeth also to that side of the field, a 230 pound linebacker who's never played DE is one-on-two versus the best run-blocking line in the conference. Herrmann's playcall is a blitz from the other side of the field that sucks the safety on Burgess's side back into a centerfield position, and a simple off-tackle run goes for 60 yards, allowing Minnesota to kick a game-winning field goal.
Unquestionably the dumbest single playcall any Michigan coach made during the last decade. Michigan was tied with Minnesota 20-20 when Lamarr Woodley decapitated Gopher quarterback Brian Cupito. Minnesota ran a couple times with the backup quarterback, punted, and got the ball back after Michigan's drive stalled out. Stuck around their own 20 with around three minutes on the clock, Minnesota runs twice more, petrified of letting backup and redshirt freshman Tony Mortenson do anything other than hand off.
Mortenson's career numbers: 14 of 39 for 179 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs. At the time his most extensive run had come in an 0 of 4 performance against Florida Atlantic. Since Cupito has gone out Minnesota has run six straight times. It's third and ten. Minnesota is clearly playing for overtime and will just run it off tackle and punt. An injury to Willis Barringer has forced true freshman Brandon Harrison into the free safety spot, where he pairs with true freshman Jamar Adams.
Jim Herrmann decides to put Burgess in as a down lineman in a nickel package, lines him up on the strong side of the formation, and blitzes away from Burgess. The rest is Gopher history:
Burgess ended up ten yards downfield and still couldn't get off his block, but that was not exactly his fault.
In the long run this did not matter since Michigan stumbled to 7-5 in and though they could have easily won three more games, this one included, they could easily have lost three more. Herrmann would be shipped off to the NFL after the season, clearing the way for Ron English to give everyone the wrong idea for ten games. Speaking of Jim Herrmann's failings during 2005…
9. Carr punts from the Ohio State 34
Leading 21-19 in the dying minutes of the 2005 Game, Michigan has a first down on the Ohio State side of the field. Two runs to bleed OSU's timeouts get nowhere. They're followed by a six-yard WR screen that uses the last OSU timeout. On fourth and four from the OSU 34, Carr brings out his kicker to do the fake-kick-actually-punt thing, which goes out of bounds at the OSU 12.
Of all the awful math-spurning things I ever saw Lloyd Carr do this was the worst. Ways in which it was a terrible idea:
- The clock was hovering around three minutes and OSU had no timeouts. If you get the first down the game is essentially over. If you give the ball back OSU is not under any serious time pressure. Indeed, they scored and Michigan had 20 or so seconds to respond.
- Michigan's defense had crumbled on three separate score-or-die drives earlier in the year, four if you count the one Michigan had ceded to OSU just moments ago. On each they had played soft, ensuring that when the opponent scored Michigan would have no opportunity to respond.
- OSU was down two points and only needed a field goal.
- The fake field goal punt was so obviously coming that OSU put a returner back. If the punt had been slightly better that guy was off to the races.
- You spurned the opportunity to get a first down on third down for a more makeable fourth down so you could take away OSU's meaningless final time out.
Instead of taking a solid shot at ending the game, Carr chose 22 yards of field position that Michigan gave back in three plays by playing soft. I shorted out in the aftermath. Under pressure Carr reverted to the sort of call that hadn't been right since 1979 and it cost Michigan its best shot to put a dent in this agonizing OSU winning streak.
8. Pitch it to Breaston!
Michigan's attempt to replicate The Play is 15 yards from working when Tyler Ecker runs directly into a Nebraska defender on the sideline instead of pitching the ball to Steve Breaston, a man with a plan in the open field. Panama.
We end our Year of Infinite Pain trifecta with this:
I actually ended up at a tailgate that Tyler Ecker was at once, and all I could think was "why didn't you pitch it?"
Michigan was really, really good in 2003. John Navarre had molted from an inept flamingo into a laser-chucking flamingo. Chris Perry made one of those senior-year explosions you always hope will happen but almost never does. Braylon Edwards announced his presence. The defense featured Marlin Jackson, Ernest Shazor before he went up in smoke, Pierre Woods before he went up in smoke, and Lawrence Reid before his back imploded. (Unsurprisingly, the yardage defense would sag from 11th to 33rd the following year.) They were good.
But it all blew up on special teams. A grad assistant named Jim Boccher was placed in charge of it; by the end of the year he'd be in real estate and (probably) therapy. Things first went poorly against Oregon. Oregon blocked an Adam Finley punt for a touchdown. A fake punt attempt ended in a fumble. Oregon returned a punt for a touchdown. Despite getting a special teams touchdown of its own on a blocked chip-shot field goal, Michigan gave away ten points on special teams in a four-point loss.
That could have been random fortune, but what happened against Iowa was not. Boccher was an eager beaver who was actually ahead of the rugby punt curve that has spread through college football; stodgy Michigan was one of the first teams to try this high school thing out. The announcers openly wondered what the heck was going on. The intervening years have proven that it's a good idea if you can do it right.
Michigan could not, and was immediately reminded of why it liked being stodgy. Iowa almost blocked a punt, then almost blocked another one, then deflected a third; Michigan was fortunate that the deflection was partial. Along the way Michigan had given up a 43-yard punt return to Ramon Ochoa that set up a nine-yard Hawkeye touchdown drive. When Rivas wandered out with five minutes left in the third quarter, the whole stadium could feel it coming, and it did: Iowa finally returned one to sender, setting up a one-yard field goal drive. Michigan lost by three despite outgaining Iowa 463-295.
Boccher sought other opportunities before Michigan fans had the opportunity to seek him; the 2003 team would go undefeated outside of games in which their special teams cost them at least ten points until meeting USC in the Rose Bowl. That was the year in which USC got booted from the title game despite being #1 in both polls; if Michigan's special teams hadn't imploded so spectacularly an undefeated Michigan would have featured in the national title game against an Oklahoma team that had just blown the Big 12 title against Kansas State; Kansas State got blown out by an OSU team that Michigan had just handled. Competency on special teams could have resulted in a national title.
Tomorrow: The top six. Wear a cup.