A Game of Inches

Submitted by wolvrine32 on June 11th, 2009 at 12:17 PM
Editor's note: Lo siento for a day short of content; I am going to New York for a sportsblogging conference, which yes what a strange life I lead. I may or may not have time to get something up in the late afternoon; tomorrow should be a regular day.

Instead of my content, here's a fun diary I've bumped. Actually, wait, this is extremely painful. Dammit.

Football is such a game of inches. If you could go back in time and gently nudge a single play in Michigan’s favor, which would you choose to change? I’m not talking about randomly adding 7 points to a game, but rather a minor change to an actual play that has a huge effect. This is my list:

10. Michigan v Nebraska, 2005 Alamo Bowl
– Steve Breaston is RIGHT THERE and you don’t flip the ball to him? Oh Ecker. I would go back and have you make one little pitch. Although this game had no global impact or anything, it would’ve been nice to beat Nebraska.

9. Michigan v Northwestern, 2000 -
Did we really deserve to win this game? Probably not. But we certainly would have but for one little fumble, almost an unforced error by Anthony Thomas (one of my favorite players.) If he just puts both arms on the ball in the waning minutes, Michigan wins an odd Big Ten shootout.

8. Michigan v Michigan State, 1990 – We got jobbed on the 2-pt conversion. If Desmond can hold on for just another .5 seconds, it’s good. This game marks my first sports bet. It, um, wasn’t my last.

7. Michigan v Ohio State, 2006 – How many plays in this game could’ve gotten us a victory? I’ll focus on 2, though both involve the same player, Shawn Crable. Crable had Beanie Wells for a loss in the backfield, and let him get by for 7. Then he gets the infamous penalty on Troy Smith, and if his head were just a few inches lower he’s probably in the clear and we have a shot at the win. This game isn’t on the list as a guaranteed win, but I’d just have liked to see us with the chance at the end. That’s why it isn’t higher.

6. Michigan v Texas, 2005 Rose Bowl –
Vince Young loses if Dusty Mangum’s FG attempt is blocked. I forget which defender it was, but one Wolverine was literally an inch or two from blocking it. It certainly appeared to me that if he didn’t touch the football, he felt the breeze on his hand as it went by. Would’ve been nice to have won this one, and we were maybe an inch away.

5. Michigan v ND, 1990 – This game was on ESPN Classic the other day. Michigan was leading by 28-14 in the 4th quarter and driving deep in Irish territory. I’m thinking, how the hell did we lose this game? Then Elvis tossed a bad interception to Michael Stonebreaker, and the rest is history. If that ball is just tipped or dropped, or sails over his head, we kick a FG and win easily. Sigh.

4. Michigan v ND, 1988 –
Mike Gillette’s field goal attempt sailed wide by inches. Lou Holtz goes on to win a MNC, and I generally hate life for awhile. This one was personal, though Michigan only lost 2 games (and tied Iowa) and had a great season.

3. Michigan v Appalachian State, 2007 – Shawn Crable, can’t you just block the guy? Seriously? Or Steve Brown, can’t you just tackle the guy in the first quarter? Really? Truth is you could probably pick 10 plays from this game an inch here or there and it goes the other way.

2. Michigan v Iowa, 1985 - If that damn field goal at the end misses, or one Wolverine hand gets on it, chances are Michigan wins a National Championship for Bo a year after going 6-6. Yes, Michigan tied Iowa, but I personally believe that if we’d topped Iowa we’d have beaten Illinois. Just the impact of that game alone warrants being very high on this list, but for me personally, well. We all have that first loss when you’re old enough to know what’s really going on and you’ve developed enough of a passion that it *matters*. This was that game for me personally. It hurt. A lot.

1. Michigan v Colorado, 1994 - I don’t even really have to say which play, do I? It would be nice to avoid sitting there in the stands for a half hour after the game just looking at the crumpled up freebie program and thinking about the meaninglessness of existence. Feel free to share your own, I'm sure I've forgotten a ton. And please let me know if you have a time machine I can borrow.



June 14th, 2009 at 8:34 PM ^

It was the Crable play I referenced above. ND won 12-10. 1979. On the turf in Ann Arbor, even.

It did lead to the rule change, but its also worth noting that folks older to remember more details (i.e. you suckers who are actually older than I) will mention the whole 1979 season may have been worst season from a kicking standpoint ever for UM.

Worse than Peter Elizovich. Worse than 2004.

Losing to both rivals, at home, on blocked kicks in the waning moments. Ugh.


June 10th, 2009 at 10:19 PM ^

Keep in mind, this goes the other way too. Inches we're glad we got.

Wisconsin last year. Push-off in the end zone negates the 2pt conversion for the AWESOME win. It's odd... I was to both the best and worst game last year.


June 11th, 2009 at 9:52 AM ^

I was once hanging in Toledo and a guy showed up and said me and the Ohio State fan next to me could both have one turn with his time machine.

I used it to go back in time and kill Guele in 1932. The Ohio State fan went back and gave Troy Smith our defensive playbook in 2006.

We came back to discover that Carr had lost to Ohio State, and Smith had won the Heisman, and then lost to Florida (!?) in the national championship game.

He took away not one, but TWO victories over Ohio State with that!!!

No national championship. No perfect season. No sending out Carr with two back-to-back wins over OSU in one season.

And no Head Coach Ron English (I guess that means the war between GBMW and the WLA over English never occurred either). Instead, Carr stuck around another year, then we had to do a massive coaching search with flight stalking, getting West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez, who got a bare cabinet and we ended up going 3-9 in 2008 (with losses to all three rivals!!!)

And as for my change: turns out some Austrian prick named Adolf took Guele's place and made WWII and the Holocaust even worse.


So remember kids, if you get the chance to change history, change a sporting event, because destiny will probably be too lazy to change it back.

Number 7

June 11th, 2009 at 10:22 AM ^

I'd vote for the 1980 game against South Carolina (and that year's Heisman winner George Rogers). Michigan was losing by three late in the game, and opted to go for it on fourth and long deep in SC territory. (Remember: no OT back then). The pass (From Wangler, or maybe Hewitt) was head toward a seemingly open Anthony Carter in the back of the endzone. A Gamecock managed to tip the ball ever so slightly, and the ball fluttered just over AC's reach (he may have gotten a finger on it as well). Final Score SC 17, Michigan 14.

Michigan fell to 1-2, but won out and finished the year #4 in the polls.


June 11th, 2009 at 12:59 PM ^

Everyone remembers Chuck Winters and Colorado, but there were so many games that turn on somethng so small and effect the whole season. That is another potential NC team for Bo that was derailed by something so small.

Great pull on the old Gamecock game.



June 11th, 2009 at 1:21 PM ^

Marion Body drops an interception on Notre Dame's last drive. They kick a field goal in the last seconds and win by 2.

I wanted to add that we could have won that South Carolina game a number of different ways. As I remember, there were two red zone fumbles in the first half. Oh, and that pass interference call on third down on the game-winning drive (somebody tried to tackle George Rogers without realizing he didn't have the ball).


June 11th, 2009 at 12:42 PM ^

Blocked field goal, which would have put us up 15-6 in the Fourth Quarter. Instead 7 in UW's favor on the blocked kick return. Then on I think our first offensive play after the block, a pass skips off of our WR's hands and ends up a pick six for UW. BRUTAL. (And I totally don't remember it being the weekend before the NYC/DC terrorist attacks. Wierd.)

From the AP wire that day:

"Omare Lowe needed less than a minute to ruin
Michigan's day.

Lowe blocked a field goal attempt that was returned 77 yards for
a touchdown and took back an interception 27 yards for a score
51 seconds later to lift 15th-ranked Washington past No. 10
Michigan, 23-18.
. . .
Michigan controlled the tempo for the first three quarters and
had a 12-6 lead when Hayden Epstein lined up for a 33-yard field


June 22nd, 2009 at 8:14 AM ^

I can remember leaving the stadium depressed thinking UM had just lost the opener and what do ya know. Walking in front of Pioneer High School with everyone that also gave up on the game in the waning minutes was pleasantly surprised with people honking their horns and going crazy as the game-winning field goal fell through the uprights. Can't wait for another season-opening victory...need one against Western


June 11th, 2009 at 12:45 PM ^

It wasn't until 2001 when i was ten and could dtart watching the games and caring about them. SO games I remember are:
2001 Michigan State
2001 Ohio State
2002 Ohio State
2005 Rose Bowl Texas
2005 Notre Dame
2005 Minnesota
2005 Ohio State
2005 Alamo Bowl Nebraska
2006 Ohio State
2007 Appalachian State
2008 Utah
2008 Toledo
2008 Purdue


June 11th, 2009 at 1:24 PM ^

Seriously. When they played Iowa the next week, they played like they were completely demoralized and they only lost because of that weird two-point conversion attempt.

I don't think we would have beaten Washington in the Rose Bowl, though.


June 11th, 2009 at 7:36 PM ^

The 1992 Rose Bowl (34-14 thumping) is why I don't think we'd have won the 1991 Rose Bowl. If we'd gone.

We lost to Michigan State on that no-call on the 2-pt conversion no-call. The next week, the team was demoralized and lost to Iowa after another 2-pt conversion mishap (or maybe they just missed the PAT, I don't remember anymore). Iowa went on to the Rose Bowl where they were thumped 46-34 or thereabouts.

My argument is that, had Desmond Howard hung onto the 2-pt attempt against MSU, Michigan would have played a better game against Iowa and won a trip to the Rose Bowl. Washington wasn't quite as good that year as they were the next, though, but I think they still would have won.

Other Andrew

June 11th, 2009 at 1:47 PM ^

This is painful.

On that Northwestern game, not many people recall that Michigan had a chance at a long, game-tying fieldgoal, but a high snap slipped through freshman John Navarre's hands and into Hayden Epstein's. He then completed a pass to a random tight end who was soon tackled. Game over.

It was a long kick - probably 50 yards or so. But Epstein had a strong wind at his back and was really booming his kicks in the halftime warmup. I always wish he would have just thrown the ball away (possibly stopping the clock with one second), or of course if the snap-place-hold thing had worked out. If ever a game deserved to go to overtime, it was that one. Of course, the way that the two defenses were playing that day, the game would probably still be going on right now...


June 11th, 2009 at 3:51 PM ^

Was at that game and it was just ridiculous. I also remember being soooo disappointed that Epstein didn't get a chance to kick that ball.

The worst thing about that game was walking to the purple line afterwards some NW student got right in my face and said, "we're smarter than you AND better at football". For once in my life I had absolutely nothing to say.

Other Andrew

June 11th, 2009 at 4:30 PM ^

I guess you did encounter a (somewhat) smarter one, but the random NU fan who decided to stick to me said, "Hahaha. Go back to Lansing." I don't need to list the assortment of things wrong with that statement. In sum: Northwestern fans are generally imbeciles when it comes to college football.


June 11th, 2009 at 4:44 PM ^

Haven't read all the responses so not sure if others have mentioned these.

1. Alamo Bowl vs Nebraska. I'd almost rather have Avants fumble back. UM still winning and looking to run out the clock. Everyone expecting run and UM throws it to Avant who was in the flat with the defender. Avant gets tackled it's a nice gain. Instead Avant fumbles.

2. OSU 2006. I'd love to have the pass back that Henne and MM missed each other on the second series. If MM catches the ball in stride, it's a TD. Not sure if UM would have gone on to win, but they would have been up 14-7.

3. OSU 1979 - the blocked punt.


June 11th, 2009 at 5:07 PM ^

A few inches this way or that would have changed the outcome in each one of these games.

1972 Ohio State 14, Michigan 11--No. 3 Michigan outgained the Buckeyes 344-192 in yardage, but was rebuffed twice on goal-line stands and saw its Rose Bowl hopes dashed. Michigan back Harry Banks apparently scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, but officials ruled he never crossed the plane. OSU earned the trip to Pasadena, and because of the criminally stupid Big Ten it's-the-Rose-Bowl-or-nothing bowl game policy, 10-1 Michigan stayed home for the holidays.

1973 Michigan 10, OSU 10 Poor Mike Lantry had two chances in the fourth quarter to kick FGs to put us in the lead, but alas no go. Because of the still criminally stupid Big Ten it's-the-Rose-Bowl-or-nothing bowl game policy, 10-0-1 Michigan stayed home for the holidays.

1974 OSU 12, Michigan 10 Lantry tries for the winning field goal as time expires and kicks it so high above the goal posts that the refs can't see that the kick was good. Because of the yet still criminally stupid Big Ten it's-the-Rose-Bowl-or-nothing bowl game policy, 10-1 Michigan stayed home for the holidays.

(Starting with the 20-9 defeat to OSU in 1970, Michigan went 50-3-1 from 1970 through 1974, which is one of the best 5-year runs for any program in college football history, and yet they went to exactly one bowl game. Those who started following the team in 1975 or later can't really comprehend the punch in the nuts it was to see those great teams stay at home while other teams in the country with 2, 3, or 4 losses got to play in bowl games. There's no question that had those teams been able to play in the Cotton, Orange, or Sugar Bowls, Bo would not have had to wait until the Jan 1, 1981 Rose Bowl for his first bowl victory.)

1972 Stanford 13, Michigan 12- Rod Garcia kicks a short field goal at the end of the game to give #4 Michigan its first defeat of the season at the hands of the #16-ranked Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

1976 Undefeated and #1 ranked Michigan stinks up the joint down at Purdue, but Bobby Wood has a chance to kick the game-winning field goal as time expires. As Bob Ufer memorably groans, "It's good!...no good, no good..."


June 11th, 2009 at 6:07 PM ^

1973-76 were the falls that I was a student, so I feel your pain. Don't forget the 1975 game when Corny Greene was trapped about 30 yards behind the line of scrimmage and somehow escaped and led OSU to a tying touchdown and then another later and Michigan lost its first of the season (two ties earlier in non-conference).

But I will go back further, to when I was 8-years old, and undefeated Michigan trailed Purdue 20-14 late. Bob Timberlake led the Wolverines to a touchdown with about 6 minutes left, but was stopped short of the goal on the 2-point conversion attempt. Michigan ran the table the rest of the way and got the Rose Bowl bid over Ohio State because OSU had one fewer conference game. Oregon State fell to the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl, 34-7. Michigan would have likely won the National Championship with the win over Purdue and its sophomore quarterback, Bob Griese.

More recently the 1988 game against Miami (that Miami). Michigan led late and a sideline pass completion gave Michigan the first down which would allow it to run out the clock. Jimmy Johnson convince the ref that the receiver (don't remember who) did not have possession until he was OOB, refs changed call, Steve Walsh leads Miami to game-winning score, Michigan loses 31-30. This was a week after a loss to ND that is mentioned in diary.

Re the 1976 game, before Wood's missed FG, Jim Smith was 10 yards behind the nearest defender when he dropped a long pass from RIck Leach. Ufer, in his most inappropriate comment ever, said it was the biggest bomb dropped since Hiroshima.


June 11th, 2009 at 6:26 PM ^

Michigan Ohio State 2001- Tressel's first game. Marquise Walker has a sure touchdown bounce off of his shoulder pads. If he catches that, Tressel probably wouldn't have made good on his promise upon taking the head coaching job and we might be looking at a different outcome in several future Michigan-Ohio State games.


June 11th, 2009 at 11:12 PM ^

If I remember correctly, it was either late 3rd or erly 4th quarter, UM was down 23-7 and uncle mo appeared to be favoring UM. Quick slant over the middle. It was bullet but hit Walker in the hands, incomplete. To add insult to injury, UM missed a chip shot field goal on the next play.


June 11th, 2009 at 7:54 PM ^

Great list and very entertaining. However, quite painful.

FTR, I was at that Washington game in 2001 and it sucked ass.

But nothing, nothing compares to the Appy State game and the humiliation that followed. Damn you Shawn Crable. There were inches everywhere in that game for us.

Tim Waymen

June 11th, 2009 at 8:10 PM ^

Maybe we're biased, but has Michigan been screwed by an extraordinarily high amount of bad calls and unfair policies (Big 10 Rose Bowl rules, 1973, that thief Tom Osborne) for the past 40 years? Granted, we've had calls go our way as well. For all we know, fans of other teams may also have that list of missed calls that bugs them to this day.

No joke, I had nightmares of the blocked FG of the App St catastrophe. I was hooking up with a girl that Labor Day weekend, and she told me that she heard me groaning "App State" in my sleep. I just kept seeing that goddamn blocked FG played over and over again. Yes, I'm pathetic.


June 12th, 2009 at 9:32 AM ^

Remember, it works both ways. Let's not forget the set-up for what some consider the most exciting play in the history of Michigan Stadium, Anthony Carter's Uferific catch-and-run on the final play vs. Indiana.

The set-up was a blatantly intentional fumble out of bounds to stop the clock. Just ask the Indiana coach, one Lee Corso.


June 11th, 2009 at 8:35 PM ^

1. Clockgate ... not sure if this counts because after all we did win, just grandpa state running the clock had a quick trigger finger

2. OSU '05 ... either change our cleats for the new turf brfoe the game or the crable hit

3. State '09 .... We were only down by 7 in what would of been the funniest win over lil bro if we could have won last yr, but were down 7 late in the fourth when we throw a idiotic pick and then then went on a fourth and short when a field goal would of fiished us ... this game was actually on espnu a little bit ago and was much closer than i remember