1997 Michigan Football
Something I will never forgive or forget, and neither will any other Michigan fan who followed that season:
UPDATE: For those in the comments who say "what's the big deal; he was just pulling for his team"—no. The relentless badgering of the pollsters and the media was something that only Nebraska, not Michigan, did. Maybe in this BCS/playoff era we're now accustomed to that sort of electioneering. But in those days it was considered profoundly distasteful and unsportsmanlike. You did your talking on the field, and let the pollsters make up their minds. That was the majority ethos then.
With the news of Aubrey Solomon's decommitment after receiving a recruiting letter that spelled his name wrong, former Michigan linebacker Clint Copenhaver tweeted Angelique Chengelis a photo of a recruiting letter he got from Wisconsin in the early '90s.
Via Twitter, slightly NSFW:
A Historical Fiction piece i wrote for my Creative Writing course, it could only be five pages, but would have been around 8 if i could have done what i wanted.
Teammates, and Champions
Charles walked along Main Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan on a gloomy August day, there he saw the infamous Big House; 106,000 empty seats waiting eagerly for the 1997 season to start. He thought to himself, “I can’t wait for this season, man, they have no clue.” He started jogging back to his dorm to eat, then get ready for bed after a long day of lifting, class, practice, then film; the almost unbearable life of a college football star. His roommate and teammate, Andre Weathers, was watching film on his vintage TV that his mother bought him the year before. Last season Andre struggled learning the new defense and his confidence was a little shook. He would always turn to Charles for advice, whether he could act on that advice would be up to him though. During the 1996 season CB Charles Woodson was finishing up his second year as Michigan’s starting defensive back. He was considered one of the best in the country at the position his Freshman and Sophomore years and many analyst docked him as an All-American, multiple award-winning, first round draft pick.
The opponent they faced first was the Colorado Buffaloes, a team who was large, experienced, and extremely well coached. The weekend was four days away. Michigan was in Schembechler Hall, named after the beloved Bo Schembechler. The team meeting was held there every Tuesday and was ran by Coach Car, a handsome and very intriguing older man who seemed to knew every button to push on every player. A motivator is the simplest way to put it, but to people who knew him he’s much more. Halfway through the meeting as Car is explaining the motto of the season “Trust, Leadership, Willpower”
which was engrained in every player as if it was their very favorite childhood memory, Charles Woodson stood up on his older broken desk and shouted to his teammates,
“This is OUR year, and this is MY year, this YOUR year, and together WE will make history!” Teammates cheered “Yeah Woodson!” “Hell yeah boys! Let’s win this for Michigan.”
The team rallied around coach Car and sang the notorious fight song “Hail to the Victors” as they jousted their venerated Coach into the air. The night ended on a great note and the feeling was in the air. It was their year.
That same night Charles was lying in his bed when he heard the fuzzy TV on out in their small living room. He was confused as to why it was playing and clearly remembered turning it off right before he went to bed. He went to check, and what he saw filled him with a great sense of pride. At 2 A.M. Andre was watching film on Colorado.
Andre and Charles went to bed, with visions of a National Championship dancing in their heads.
The week went by at a rapid pace and it was game day. The noon kickoff was approaching fast and the fans had been tailgating since 6 in the morning. The whole campus was buzzing as the 17
th ranked Wolverines faced the 8th ranked Buffaloes from the beautiful city of Boulder. ESPN was talking about the game the whole week, as it was one of the premier matchups of opening day. People were football hungry and it showed. Every game that was played that week had very detailed write-ups and predictions of the score. The Michigan-Colorado write-up was very one sided with the 5 analyst predicting the Buff’s to win easily in Ann Arbor. A quote from E. Jackson, who was the Ann Arbor Free Press sportswriter, was being read aloud by Charles in the locker room just 5 minutes before kickoff, “Colorado stomps Michigan, 38-12.” The players were pissed and rallied up together. Quarterback Brian Griese was giving a very emotional, heart-felt speech. The team was fired up, and ready to tap the “M Club Supports You” banner, a tradition held for many years. As the Maize-and-Blue clad ran out of the tunnel you could hear 106,000 fans cheering for what seemed like miles. Kick off was here.
Michigan jumped out to a 10-0 lead at the half, and the energy in the stadium was appreciable. The defense was relying on the tough man-to-man defense from Charles and Andre. They had locked down the Buff’s receivers all half with only 3 receptions total. In the locker room, Coach Car applauded the team and inspired them to fight on, and win the second half as well. The Wolverines did just that as they cruised to a 27-3 stomping of Colorado. The Michigan defense didn’t give up a touchdown thanks to the great play of the veteran secondary. The hard work of both Charles and Andre paid off. In a post-game interview, E. Jackson caught up with Woodson just before he ran into the tunnel.
Jackson asked Woodson, “What did the defense do today to stump the highly potent Colorado offense?
Woodson responded briefly and quickly “It’s our year. Thanks for doubting us.” Charles then ran off into the tunnel with his winged helmet held high.
The Wolverines went on to win their next 5 games. 6-0 heading in to State week Charles thought to himself, halfway there. Woodson was excelling on the field, with 32 tackles, and 4
interceptions. As a defense they hadn’t gave up more than 24 points in a single game. That score coming from the always tough Iowa Hawkeyes. Notre Dame was the next closest, with only 14 points. Michigan was ranked in the top 8 and people started giving them a close look, as a possible contender in not only the Big Ten, but in the National picture as well.
Andre Weathers was also playing extremely well, and posted a respectable 22 tackles with 2 interceptions. The Junior corner was no longer struggling; instead, strutting himself around campus. They felt like kings, and in some aspects, were treated as such.
Michigan was prepared to play the in-state rival Spartans. Some viewed the Michigan St Spartans as the Wolverines “little brother” in terms of results on the field, and academically. The Spartans came into the game with a 2-4 record, something the Wolverines shouldn’t have scoffed at. To MSU players this was their National Championship.
Charles Woodson was a target for the Spartans as he told the local news, “Michigan St is formed up of players that Michigan didn’t want, that Ohio didn’t want. Classless, dirty players, they go against everything we stand for.” Coach Car heard these comments on the News and was pissed, calling the young Woodson on the phone.
“What the hell were you thinking Charles? You can’t go around talking to the news like you have no repercussions! Are you trying to get us killed Saturday?” Charles started to respond, but Coach told him to shut up, “I’m sorry but I’m going to have to sit you for the first half.”
Coach Car hung up the phone. Charles was sitting on his small bed in his apartment, Andre asked him what was going on and he told him the he was sitting the first half of the State game. Andre went on thinking in his head… You’ve got to be kidding me...
Prentavious Jones-Darbo would be taking his spot, the highly touted Freshman from Santa-
Monica, California. Half-way through the second quarter, Jones-Darbo was completely toasted by the State receiver and the Wolverines ran into halftime trailing 7-0 to the rival Spartans.
Michigan started the third quarter with the ball, driving 78 yards on just 6 plays for a quick score tying it all up. The Spartans next drive was ended shortly, as Woodson jumped nearly four feet into the air and snagged the ball with one hand, tip-toeing his foot down right before it hit the sideline. The Wolverine crowd erupted and the momentum shifted. The Wolverines went on effortlessly to shut the Spartans out the second half going on to win the Paul Bunyan Trophy, 23-7. Wolverine players ran onto midfield with the Olde Paul Bunyan Trophy, and sang “Hail to the Victors” as loud as their voices could raise, Michigan had triumphed Little Brother again.
Michigan was 8-0. Charles Woodson was in the running for one of the most prestigious awards known to man, and Ann Arbor was now the place to be. Michigan went on to win their next four games which included a drubbing over 8th ranked Penn St 34-8 in State College. The Wolverine faithful was rocking and the college football world was in awe of the 2nd ranked Wolverines.
December 17th, 1996. “Standing on that podium, hoisting the Heisman trophy was a dream of mine, a dream turned reality, congratulations to the guys that were up there with me.”
Charles won the Heisman trophy, and was the first defensive player to ever do so. He truly was in a class of his own. Michigan had Washington St in the Rose bowl, which would determine if Michigan won the National Championship.
The Wolverines and Charles were unstoppable. Michigan was the team everyone wanted to be, everyone wished their season had turned out like the beloved Wolverines. Coach Car was AP coach of the year, an honor that was highly respected. Michigan beat Washington St in that Rose Bowl. They were the undefeated National Champions.
Running into the locker room the Wolverines sang “Hail to the Victors” one last time.
Charles spoke to the team, “Before this season started I knew we were going to win it all. Thank you guys for allowing me to win the Heisman and a National Championship!” the team broke out in cheers.
Coach Car proceeded to tell his athletes, “I am so gracious for this team. I have NEVER, and I mean NEVER, been more proud to coach the men in this room.” Coach Car started crying and gave the crystal ball, the trophy of the champions, to Andre Weathers. Andre shook his head in disbelief.
“Hey Charles, get your fancy ass over here.” Andre said. Charles and Andre held the crystal ball over their heads in a way only a champion could do.
Anyone who tried straight downhill running against us was going into the teeth of our defense. Our front four and rotating subs were some of the best that M has ever had. Very seldomly did we ever have to blitz with our linebackers because the front got so much pressure. It allowed us to sit back in tight coverage and ball hawk all day.
Defensively, the only issue I ponder is how our defense would have stacked up against today's spread offenses. The closest thing we faced to a spread that year was Washington State but their offense was more predicated on the pass. Today's spread is more geared towards the run so it would have been interesting to see how we would have faired.
Our offense was adequet enough to make up for the lack of major explosiveness. Griese was as competenta QB as anyone could ask for. His pin-point accuracy that year was deadly and although he didn't have a plethora of deep threats, he selectively used Streets, Shaw and Tuman very well. He was also very well at spreading the ball around that year and when the opportunity presented itself he wasn't afraid to take a shot downfield. The strength was obviously the running game as we had three highly capable backs that year including a young A-Train. We also had arguably the best offensive line in our history and one of the most unsung heroes in FB Chris "follow me" Floyd.
My issue with matching them up to today's defenses is zone schemes have evolved so much nowadays that I wonder how BG would have handled it. Our running game and play-action tricks still would have led the way but I wonder how our offense would fair when they're forced to throw the ball against a much more sound zone scheme that many teams employ today. Also, with the exception of Streets, we didn't really have any burners to stretch the field.
So let's take a look at the 97 squad going up against the 2014 schedule:
Applachian State - No contest. I doubt we would have put up 52 points like this year but I also doubt the 97 unit would have given up 14 to App. State. In fact, I have a hard time believing they would have crossed the 50-yard line. WIN 30-0
Notre Dame - This is where it gets interesting. Gholson created problems for us now and I'd have to imagine he would have created problems for us then. We didn't face anyone in 97 with quite his ability but in 1998 with many of the same defensive players, we squared up against Donovan McNabb and that didn't end too well for us. Our speed may have slowed ND's potent offense and Gholson down but they still would have put up some points. The advantage I see us having is that we didn't turn the ball over in 97 and turnovers were a huge problem in the 2014 contest. Although playing in South Bend would have been a challenge, I just don't see us giving them short fields like we did this year. Our offense controls the clock and produces just enough 1st downs to sneak out of the dance with the chic. WIN 24-20
Miami - No challenge, no let down from this physically imposing and confident team. Surprisingly was a decent game in the 1st half this year but the 97 squad would have worn them down very quickly. Miami would have had a ton of early 3-and-outs and M would have grinded away at the heart of their defense. I could see all three of our backs going for 100 yards each. WIN 34-0
Utah - This is what separates the 97 squad from any Wolverine team in the past 7 years - their resiliency. They were the toughest sons of bitches on the football field. They would never have allowed a semi-quasi hurricane to deviate them from a severe beat down of an opponent like this year's team did. The 97 squad would have been itching to get back out on the field after a lengthy two-hour rain delay and showcase their ability. The Utes would never have been able to sustain any of their drives like they did this year be ause we were so good at getting off the field on 3rd downs in 1997. Turnovers were a major issue with us in this 2014 game, something we just didn't do in 97. And even if all else failed and the Utes somehow managed to stay with our beloved NC team, if our 97 squad would have witnessed someone else striking the Heisman pose in our stadium, the red in Utah's uniforms would have quickly began to look like the Scarlett from OSU and it would have been go-time. WIN 27-9
Minnesota/Rutgers/Penn State - this is where it gets a bit jokey as none of these team's offenses would have been able to move the ball against our front 7. For as solid as the Gophers have been under Jerry Kill, you can't expect to run roughshod over the 97 squad's run defense. It just wouldn't happen. For as great as Gary Nova looked against our 2014 defense, guys like Woodson, Ray, Weathers, Hendricks, Peterson, Whitley (holy shit we were loaded) would have picked off any ball that somehow made it out the backfield as Nova would have been throwing from his ass from the amount of heat he would have felt. We probably would have picked off anywhere from six to twenty passes of his. Penn State would have been laughable because I'm not sure they would gained a yard with their offense against our defense.
Minny - WIN 31-13
New Jerz - WIN 40 -3
PSU - WIN 34 - negative 5
Michigan State - the 97 team would have found out quickly that this ain't your Grandmomma's Spartans as this probably would have been something as close to WW3 as you can find. There would have been body blows, uppercuts and right hooks back and forth for 60 minutes, possibly more. The team that compares to the 2014 Spartans in 1997 isIowa. That Hawkeye team had similar components - tough run game, capable QB, disciplined, in your face attitude, but probably not as good a defense as today's Sparty.That Iowa team gave us fits as so would have this year's MSU team. Griese would have had to come up big against a formidable D-line so check downs to his running backs and his play action deception would have came in big here. Our D would certainly be tested with one of the best RB's in Langford. I think our depth would have helped us a lot in this game as we had many moving parts that season on the defensive side of the ball. We probably would have bent a bit but I don't think we would have broke. WIN 20-17
Indiana/Northwestern/Maryland - this stretch would give the 97 team its first real life look at some type of spread offenses just without the personnel or talent. I can see our 97 squad coming away with one question from each game:
Indy - They lead the B1G in total offense? WIN 37-6
NW - If this is Northwestern then why do they have 5 WR's on the field? WIN 33-3
Maryland - Who is this team? WIN 39-7
Ohio State - Interesting. Challenging. 97 defense meet Urban Meyer. The brawn of the Wolverines verse the brains of a great coach. Uncharted territory for us back then as we never faced a more calculating mastermind. The zone read would have been an issue for us because quite frankly it didn't exist back then. We were a very disciplined team so I have to imagine we would have maintained good gap integrity and our DB's wouldn't have bought on any play actions off of the zone read options. I'd have to say that this would have been our greatest challenge. Our offense would have A.) controlled the clock like no other and play keep away or B.) keep pace by throwing the ball downfield. We would have given up points to the genius coach but for shits and giggles let's say WIN 31-30
Wisconsin (B1G Championship) - Ummmmm yeah. I have a feeling that the Badgers circa 1997 is EXACTLY the same as 2014. I wouldn't be surprised if the average height, weight and 40-yard dash times of their roster is exactly the same as it is now. Beefy guys up front, solid but unspectacular QB, and an electric RB. They gave us a game in 97 and I imagine they'd give us a game in 2014. We beat them back then and we'd beat them now. WIN 24-13
That brings us to the final four of ALABAMA, OREGON, FLORIDA STATE and MICHIGAN. The SEC wasn't as overhyped and as blown as it is today but it certainly is more talented and advanced. Oregon would have been a major issue for us simply because of Marcus Marriotta and Florida State well.....is....Florida State. As much as I am in love with the 1997 National Champs, I think their magical climb up the mountain ends in the semi-final to the Crimson Tide. Too much size, too much speed and too many playmakers for us to handle. Although how fun would it have been to see Amari Cooper going up against Charles Woodson??? The game would be an absolute dog-fight and by no means so I think we would be over-matched but I see us losing something like 27-21.
Happy Holidays and yes I was bored!
A little late in the day, but good Michigan content on BTN.
Michigan - Indiana basketball (2014 in Ann Arbor) is currently on.
Big Ten Icons - Charles Woodson is next (9:30 EST)
Perseverance: The Story of Dr. Billy Taylor (10:00 EST)
1997 Michigan - Ohio State, with the Woodson punt return and interception (11:00 EST)
Slow day got me to thinking about the aftermath of the 1997 National Championship season.
I was an undecided LSA sophomore that glorious year and my memories of most of the games are vivid, but much less vivid are my memories of the "official" celebration when students returned to campus. Quite frankly, the night of the rally at Crisler I remember being so blitzed on Aftershock (yes, I know, not very masculine of me....but I WAS just a sophomore and the rock candy in the bottle was pretty damn good) that my ONLY memory of the actual event was walking there with a group of my buddies and being incredulous that a guy was selling unofficial national championship tee-shirts at the corner of Hoover and Greene for the price of 3 shirts for 5 dollars. "How could that man have been turning a profit", I asked....nobody answered.
From that point on I think I was awake but incoherent. Anyone have any memories from the rally to help allow me to patch in that gap in my fanhood?
The online sources are fairly weak: