As kickoff for Team 133 approaches, our MGoHistory journey continues. Our past stops in 1986 and 1971 found pleasant memories of Michigan glory past. Now let’s set the Omni to a more recent time, a more familiar time. We’re arriving just 15 years past (no way it’s been 15 years!) and the Omni shows green, which means history is right….oh so right. We have arrived in 1997!
The 90’s are in full swing and the PC has become as ubiquitous a household item as the television. This coupled with the rise of the World Wide Web on the internet has spawned the Dot Com boom. Speculation into online businesses drives financial markets into huge gains worldwide, making countless computer geeks into millionaires overnight. Riding the wave of this economic boom, Bill Clinton begins his second term as president after a landslide victory over Bob Dole the previous November. On the surface, things seem to be running smooth for the president, but the turmoil of the Lewinsky scandal and his impeachment trial loom just a year away.
In Great Britain, Tony Blair wins the general election, becoming Prime Minister and sovereign control of Hong Kong is returned to China. The British also cause a stir when Scottish scientists announce the successful cloning of an adult sheep, Dolly; and a little known children’s author, J.K. Rowling publishes her first novel, “Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone”. Britain stays center stage on a sadder note when hundreds of millions mourn the untimely death of Princess Diana.
The Earth sees the return of comet Hale-Bopp for the first time in over 4000 years and NASA successfully lands the Pathfinder probe on the surface of Mars. Justice is served for many in Oklahoma with the conviction and subsequent death sentence of Timothy McVeigh for his role in the Oklahoma City bombing. More positively, Steve Jobs returns to head a foundering Apple Computer where he will lead the next revolution in consumer technology that most of us take for granted today.
On the popular front, Americans line-up to see “Titanic” and Leonard DiCaprio becomes a star. Americans also line up to see “Batman and Robin” and it almost ruins George Clooney’s career. Young people the world over inexplicably go crazy for the Spice Girls and Hanson while fans of hip hop and rap mourn the passing of the Notorious B.I.G. We all flock to our television sets on Thursday to watch “Must See TV” on NBC and see Ellen DeGeneres come out of the closet on ABC. Animated TV achieves a few hallmarks when “The Simpsons” become the longest running animated primetime show while another animated cult classic, “South Park”, debuts on cable’s Comedy Central.
Brett Favre leads Green Bay to their first Super Bowl championship in 30 years, the Red Wings bring the Stanley Cup back to Detroit for the first time in 40 years, and the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan win the NBA championship for the 5thtime in 7 years. Mike Tyson meets Evander Holyfield for the heavyweight championship, but rather than fight him, he tries to have him for supper.
For Michigan athletics, the 90’s were one of the great decades of the school’s history. By 1997 Jon Urbanchek has built Michigan Swimming into a powerhouse, winning his 11thBig 10 title in 12 years. Not to be outdone, the women’s swim team under Jim Richardson wins their 11thstraight Big 10 title. Women’s softball has also become the dominant program in the Big 10 under Carol Hutchins winning their 3rdstraight Big 10 tournament title and their making their 3rdstraight Super-Regional in the NCAA tourney. Mens Baseball under Geoff Zahn wins the Big 10 Conference title as well.
The men’s basketball team also continues to be one of the elite teams in the Big 10 under Steve Fischer Featuring notable players such as Robert Traylor (may he rest in peace), Maurice Taylor, and Louis Bullock; Michigan hoops follows up an NIT championship in March by winning the inaugural Big 10 Tournament at the end of the 1997-98 season. This all becomes overshadowed though with the breaking of the Ed Martin story in June which costs Steve Fischer his job, Michigan all of the banners it won during the decade, and creates a vacuum in Michigan basketball recruiting that allows MSU’s Tom Izzo to become a coaching legend.
In hockey, Red Berenson fields what is arguably one of the greatest hockey teams of all time. The 1997 Wolverines are the defending National Champions and sport a line-up that include All-Americans Brian Wiseman, John Madden, Marty Turco as well as Hobey Baker winner Brendan Morrison. The team also includes no less than 5 additional NHL players in Jason Botterill, Mike Legg, Bill Muckalt, Matt Herr, and Bubba Berenzweig.
The Michigan icers win both the CCHA regular season and tournament championships and are overwhelming favorites to repeat as NCAA champions going to into the tournament. Michigan cruised to the Frozen Four, dispatching Minnesota 7-4 only to lose in the semi-finals to Boston University in OT, 3-2 and illustrating the highlighting the frustrating fact about the NCAA hockey tournament, the best team doesn’t always win because pucks bounce. This is why you must always hate BU…always….so much. In terms of Michigan disappointments in athletics, the 1996-97 teams’ loss to BU has to rank near the top.
Michigan football in 1997 is lead by former assistant coach Lloyd Carr, who is in his third season as Michigan’s top guy. Unlike the rest of Michigan athletics, the football team is in the midst of a malaise which has seen them finish four straight seasons with four losses. Grumbling has begun amongst the Michigan faithful and some in the media snidely comment that the “M” in Michigan has come to mean mediocre. With former walk-on Brian Griese being the starter by Carr over the stronger-armed Scott Dreisbach and Tom Brady and a meh 14thranking in the AP poll coming into their opener with #8 Colorado, expectations are guarded to say the least.
Of course, we all know how this turns out. Michigan, lead by the legendary Charles Woodson and All-American Glen Steele never let anyone score…ever and Brian Griese heads a workmanlike Michigan offense to an undefeated season, it’s first Big 10 title since 1992. The regular season is highlighted by an epic shellacking of #2 Penn State and a defeat of #4 Ohio in Ann Arbor to clinch a Rose Bowl berth. Woodson goes on to win just about every award a player can earn, including becoming the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy, which Tennessee fans deem to be the greatest injustice ever….EVER! Coach Carr is named Walter Camp Coach of the Year and Defensive Coordinator Jim Herrmann wins the Frank Broyles Award as the top coaching assistant.
Michigan goes on to defeat Washington State, lead by future NFL super-bust Ryan Leaf, 21-16 in the 1998 Rose Bowl securing the AP Poll National Championship. Michigan enters the Rose Bowl the undisputed number one team in the country, but Nebraska splits the title off their impressive win over Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl and some strange final Coaches Poll shenanigans, prompting years of speculation from the Michigan fanbase over which coach screwed us. I’m not saying it was Phil Fulmer, but karma is a bitch and Tennessee has had a pretty precipitous slide in the past decade and a half…just sayin’.
1997 may seem too many to be not that long ago, but it was pre 9/11, pre-Google, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-Apple iPod/Phone/Pad, pre-reality TV, pre-Great Recession, pre-WiFi. The world has changed a LOT in the past 15 years. 1997 was the culmination of a dominant era for U of M sports. An era that saw the football program tower over Ohio and MSU, hockey rise to become the preeminent power in college, and basketball being one of the great programs in the Big 10*. Let’s hope that the current caretakers of our beloved Maize and Blue are ready to give birth to a new era of Michigan domination that will make our hearts soar and our enemies’ heads explode in frustration. Enjoy the season and we’ll pick this up again in the winter of 2013.