[Ed-Seth: This being the 20th anniversary of the 1997 National Championship, Michigan historian Dr. Sap is taking us game-by-game through it. Previously: Those Who Stayed (Colorado); The Hit (Baylor); The Stop (Notre Dame); The Captain’s Down (Indiana); Vengeance (Northwestern), Gut Check (Iowa), Six Picks (Michigan State), The Trap (Minnesota)]
November 8, 1997: #4 Michigan 34, #2 Penn State 8
- also #1 Nebraska 45, Missouri 38 (OT) thanks to the “Flea Kicker”
- also also #3 Florida State 20, #5 North Carolina 3
watch the whole thing if you’ve got time.
Week #8 was barely in the books when ESPN’s Beano Cook lit the fuse for the much anticipated match-up between #4 Michigan and #2 Penn State. While Michigan easily took care of Minnesota the week before, Penn State held on to beat Northwestern by only a single point. Much like UM, perhaps PSU had a “Trap Game” of their own?None of this mattered to the Howard Cosell-like curmudgeon, Cook.
To Beano, the unabashed East Coast lover of all things Notre Dame and Penn State, victory for JoePa was a mere formality the next week against Lloyd Carr and his Wolverines. So much so that on Saturday night, one week before the big game, he uttered the now famous phrase: “Don’t even bother showing up next week, Michigan. JUST SEND THE BAND!”
The buildup to the titanic clash of undefeateds was raised up another notch when at the Monday press conference in Ann Arbor, Charles Woodson didn’t shy away when asked what was on everyone’s minds:
just the nation?
Prophetically, Woodson also offered this nugget: "If everybody says that the Heisman Trophy is given to truly the best player in the country, I would think I'd have a legitimate shot at winning," he correctly offered.
|Penn State vs. Michigan’s band|
No one in that room argued that point, and neither did Penn State head coach Joe Paterno when he said that he thought #2 was a great athlete and quite possibly the best EVER in college football history! JoePa’s compliments on Woodson start at the 5:17 mark in this clip here.
To ratchet up the pre-game hype even more, ESPN dubbed the historic weekend, “Judgment Day.” This wasn’t just because of the UM-PSU tilt. The ACC had their own epic clash of undefeateds as 3rd-ranked Florida State (8-0) was playing at 5th-ranked North Carolina (8-0), in Chapel Hill, NC. For all you Husker lovers out there, #1 Nebraska was playing at Missouri this same day and was expected to win rather easily.
The historical significance of this type of day in college football occurring so late in the season was best described by Beano Cook (at the 2:50 mark in this clip):
For those of you too young to know what Hale-Bopp was, there was a comet we could all just go outside and stare at for over a year
[Hit THE JUMP for the best game Michigan ever played]
The idea of a Countdown Clock didn’t dawn on the folks in Bristol, CT back in 1997, but this game and this weekend was surely deserving of such hype and such anticipation.
The Big Ten’s “hype” video for this game, looked like this:
This 1997 outfit was one of Paterno’s best teams. Heck, they had just went undefeated three years earlier and won the Rose Bowl. Oh ya – they were also riding a three-game winning streak over Michigan, so ya, the Nittany Lions and their fanbase were a confident group.
What about the Michigan fans? How did they feel heading into this game?
I for one was cautiously optimistic about Michigan’s chances. I had always felt, and still do, that it was, and still is, difficult to win on the road in the Big Ten. On top of that, the Wolverine offense had not yet hit their stride. They were self-destructing with penalties and turnovers and still lacked a big play-maker on the outside. Even after eight games, Woodson was still needed to kick-start the offense. I was not worried about the defense – not one damn bit – but the offense? They just hadn’t looked as good as Penn State’s offense.
|SuperFan with Jamie Morris at the ‘97 PSU game|
I stayed home and watched the game on TV. Avid Michigan Football fan, and good friend, Jeff Teague, made the trip to Happy Valley and shared some of his thoughts on that memorable weekend:
My friend Jeremy and I made plans throughout the spring and summer to attend all 11 games that year. We knew it could be done as 7 games were at home, 2 were easy road trips, which left only 2 tough road tickets – Penn State and Wisconsin. We got the PSU & UW tix both through the UM ticket office, so we got lucky. Maybe it was a sign of things to come, I guess!
We did not have any clue or evidence that the Michigan team was going to be great in 1997. I have seen 185 Michigan wins in person, but this was my favorite victory.
I did not think we would win as they had a very good D as well. I just thought their offense was better than ours. It had also been 3 years of losing to them which was a lot back then. Only ND in late 80’s had beaten us that many times in a row. I thought this could be a repeat of that type of frustration.
We got into the stadium the day before the game. It was easy back then to go inside before 9/11. People were nice to us. I believe the weather that day was similar to the game day – scattered showers. I just remember a guy working in the stadium the day before saying, “Yeah it might rain. If JoePa wants it to rain, it will rain”. He said it with a chuckle, but looking back, it actually provided some insight into JoePa’s cult-like following back then.
Since State College is in the middle of nowhere, everyone making the trek likely already had a ticket.
I do remember only seeing a few scalpers, and they sold tickets for a high price. It was common practice out there
to skirt around the scalping law by holding up a sign that said, “Buy a pencil, get a free ticket,” or something along those lines. They would charge $100 in total – $30 for the ticket (face value back then) and $70 for the pencil.
Beaver Stadium did not have a 2nd deck in the south end zone back in those days, so the crowd was smaller
in 1997 for a game than it is now. I don’t remember that many UM fans being there for that game.
I do remember walking near the Bryce Jordan Center which was close to where GameDay was. They had updates throughout the late morning and early afternoon. Fans were chanting “Beano, Beano!” as they all knew his prediction.
Another friend of mine who went to Happy Valley that day was Jeff Holzhausen. You might know him better as The Original Michigan SuperFan. He too scored some sweet tickets for the game – first row behind the Michigan bench, right by the tunnel!
“I remember looking forward to taking it to an opponent on the road,” SuperFan recalled about winning a big game away from Ann Arbor on the way to The Summit.
“The Penn State fans treated us very well and they were confident before the game. We ended up tailgating next to Billy Baldwin, so that was pretty cool!” said the guy known for his outfit &cowbell.
And yes, he did bring the cowbell for this game!
“I didn’t know what to expect from Penn State. I was confident and knew our D was strong, but I didn’t think Michigan would win in a rout!” Holzhausen told me.
By the time Saturday arrived, the excitement level and anticipation for this game had reached a fever pitch. Everyone was expecting a four quarter battle between these two talented teams. ABC’s Keith Jackson – THE voice of College Football – intro’d the game like this:
Of course Beaver Stadium was rocking just before kickoff and as SuperFan told me, “The sound was pumped in over the speakers. THAT’S what made the stadium so loud!”
Michigan received the kickoff and surprise, surprise, they ended up settling for a field goal on their first drive! When Penn State got the ball, Glen Steele astonishingly set the tone for the day on the very first PSU play. Instead of having me tell you about what happened, take a look for yourself:
WHOA! In my mind, this was the most impressive Michigan victory since the 1969 squad upset Woody’s #1 Buckeyes. From top to bottom, from start to finish, this was as close to perfection as you could ask. All three phases of the Wolverine squad (Offense, Defense, Special Teams) ALL played their best game of the year. It was a total destruction and annihilation of JoePa’s Nittany Lions. The worst loss in his career was televised to a national TV audience and it was jaw-dropping for both fan-bases.
That Michigan’s defense controlled Curtis Enis—and Woodson could shut down big receiver Joe Jurevicius—was no surprise. What nobody imagined was the butt-kicking on the sidelines that Michigan offensive coordinator Mike DeBord delivered to his counterpart for Penn State, the 31-year veteran Jerry Sandusky. Michigan ran draws when Penn State expected passes, passed when they expected runs, screened when they blitzed, then ran slants into the areas the Nittany Lions abandoned to cover screens. A battle that not just Beano thought would be a Penn State landslide was so thoroughly dominated by DeBord that at one point they even left Charles Woodson wide open on a quick seam. Just put this in context: the guy getting schooled by MIKE DEBORD was such a legend by this point that when he retired two years later he was given more pomp and ceremony than Michigan gave Bo:
and always will be.
Jeff Teague also recalled the sudden reversal of expectations “The PSU fans were confident, but by end of the first quarter they had fear. All the talk about Curtis Enis was moot as they were already in panic mode.”
SuperFan saw the same thing, “The Penn State fans went quiet, quickly in the stadium. They were panicking after the loss.”
More from Teague: “When Woodson busted lose, the flood gates were open and the rout was on. The stadium fell quiet quickly as I believe that was the biggest deficit they had faced at home since they joined the league. In the second half there was not much action actually, but at some point in the PSU crowd tried to get their trademark “We Are, Penn State” chant going. But each time it was started, it was getting louder and louder in our sections with UM fans screaming “#1” after “we are.”
You can’t talk about this game without talking about “The Hit.”
Leading up to the Penn State game, it seemed like everyone on the Michigan defense had their moment and/or their “signature hit.” Woodson had laid out that helpless Baylor receiver in week 2. Tommy Hendricks had the game-winning interception against Notre Dame. Sam Sword had his game-winning interception against Iowa and then ran over the Minnesota QB, the week before Judgment Day.
Daydrion Taylor’s hit was quite possibly the all-time greatest hit EVER shelled out by ANY college football player. While it was deemed a clean hit back in 1997, I’m sure replays and officials today would have somehow managed to see some helmet-to-helmet contact that would have ejected Taylor from the game for Targeting.
Having played D-1 college hockey and having practiced with a couple of NHL teams, I have seen first-hand some massive & nasty collisions. I can tell you from experience that when you see something as traumatic as that hit, in person, it has an everlasting effect on you. It affects your psyche. Much like seeing someone suffer an epileptic seizure, or witnessing a compound fracture, or a dramatic car crash – those memories burn an imprint on you & your mind. You never forget those moments. There are emotions attached to those events. Emotions such as fear and flight. Athletes don’t play well when they have the emotion of fear attached to them and their game.
In my mind, Michigan had just won the game with that hit. Opposing teams NEVER recover from witnessing and experiencing a play like that, especially when it is dropped on their sideline, right in front of all of the Penn State players and coaches.
SuperFan said that while he didn’t see The Hit, he “Heard it clear across the field. There was a collective “WHOA” by the crowd when it happened. I’ll never forget that!”
Teague had this recollection: “The delay seemed long when Daydrion Taylor got hurt. It’s not like we had replays back then in the stadium. We didn’t know how big the hit was until we saw highlights of it after on TV.”
Not surprisingly, both players would never play football again. It was an extraordinary reminder of how brutal this game, and these collisions, could be.
When the game was over, Keith Jackson closed out the ABC broadcast with this:
As the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard, the Michigan players celebrated as they ran off the field. But they didn’t head straight for the locker room. They made a bee-line for their fans who made the trip and were now hanging over the railings of the first row. It was an astonishing display of raw and unbridled emotion. Think about that for a second – when was the last time the Michigan players searched out the fans to celebrate their victory with them? It now happens at home in the student section, but this was on the road!
“When the players high-fived the fans, that was really cool!” Holzhausen told me.
“On the way out of the stadium, I remember walking down the ramps and the Michigan fans were chanting: “We Are - #1!” It was much like it was in 2006 at Notre Dame when the fans were singing, “It’s great, to be, a Michigan Wolverine!” I personally thought this trip was better than the (1998) Rose Bowl. These conference road games usually are, as the Rose Bowl would have not happened if we didn’t win at Penn State.” Teague shared with me.
The local Detroit TV post-game coverage and scene looked like this:
Eli Zaret, Kirk Gibson and Gary Danielson had this to say about the monumental Michigan victory:
Justice had indeed been served!
But the best scene happened near the Bryce Jordan Center, after the game. As Chris Fowler and the ESPN crew in Chapel Hill threw it over to Mike Adamle in Happy Valley, Beano ate his words.
I just love how the “Beano! Beano!” chants were replaced with a collective roar from the Michigan faithful who hung around to hear Cook proclaim Michigan as the #1 team in the country and Woodson as the now presumptive favorite to win the Heisman Trophy!
What a difference a week makes.
Back in Ann Arbor, an amazing series of events took place immediately following the game. No couches were burned and no cars were overturned in celebration of the big Wolverine victory. No, that’s not how the students in A-squared rolled, twenty years ago. Several of them decided to take their celebration to the front lawn of University President Lee Bollinger’s residence.
[Staff Photo/Michigan Daily, because when you graduate they change your name to “Staff Photo” but I happen to know that Maggie Myers took this –seth]
From the Michigan Daily:
“More than 1,000 students gathered outside the President’s House and began chanting Bollinger’s name. As the crowd grew rowdier, instead of turning them away or calling University Police, Bollinger opened the front door and invited the students in.
“You can stay here as long as you want and come inside,” Bollinger said as he welcomed students into the house on South University Avenue, according to Michigan Daily reports.
The 1,000 plus students packed into every room of the house.
Then-Kinesiology sophomore Bob Lehrer was among those who made himself at home in Bollinger’s bedroom.
“I sat on Lee Bollinger’s bed and was watching football on TV,” Lehrer told the Daily. “I called from his phone to my answering machine and left a message. He gave me a hug and on the way out he said he loved us all.”
Bollinger reported that nothing was missing or broken after students left, although several students claimed to have stolen beer from the president’s refrigerator.
Such an event, where the entire student body was welcomed into the president’s house, is extremely rare. At the time, History Prof. Nicholas Steneck remarked the President’s House had not welcomed the entire student body since Harlan Hatcher’s tenure as president from 1951-1967.”
After Nebraska kick-caught their way to an improbable overtime victory over Missouri, it was clear to everyone who watched the games on Judgment Day who the #1 team in the country was.
It truly WAS great, to be, a Michigan Wolverine!!