IOWA CITY, Iowa — Well, at least it shut the fans up. Iowa boosters, who had been making life miserable all day for Michigan, filed slowly out of Kinnick Stadium with blank looks on their faces. A tie? What were they supposed to do with a tie? Be happy? Be angry?
Be quiet. Take it and tuck it under the sheets before someone maize and blue returns, Hawkeyes, because this was a game that Michigan should have won. It was a firecracker without the boom, a 60-minute drama that goes 58 minutes and then the lights come on and everybody has to go home.
“I hate ties,” said coach Bo Schembechler Saturday after his Wolverines knotted Iowa, 17-17, to keep both teams undefeated in the Big Ten. “Gawd, I can’t stand them.”
Sure. Especially when victory is within a yard. Who designed this one? A masochist? Here was Michigan, after a game’s worth of jump-starts and oil slicks, finally looking strong, moving like thunder, less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter and the ball just an arm’s length from the Iowa end zone. Even the Hawkeyes fans — screaming yellow zonkers who had foiled the Michigan offense with incredible noise — were packing up the pom-pons and reaching for Sucrets. But whoa! Wait a minute. Here comes U-M’s Tracy Williams, who had just entered the game one play earlier, and he takes the ball and he thrusts toward the goal line and, whoops, there goes the ball, there goes the win, there goes the story. Fumble. Iowa recovers.
“I hate ties,” Schembechler repeated. “I hate them.” Well, who doesn’t? But whose fault was this one? You could blame Michigan, for
not executing the simplest of plays. Or for giving the ball to a cold running back in the heat of the fourth quarter. Or for not having the defense to stop The Chuck Hartlieb Passing Machine. (By the way, do all Iowa quarterbacks have to be named Chuck, or is that just coincidence?)
“We had a significant number of mishaps before that last fumble,” admitted Schembechler, whose team was penalized eight times for 65 yards and allowed Hartlieb to complete 26 of 33 passes. “Most teams would have gone home if they’d played a first half like we did.”
True. Then again, you could also blame Iowa. The Hawkeyes had a fumble on that very same one-yard line — a fourth-and- goal in the third quarter — which Michigan then took and drove 99 yards to tie the score. And, true, Iowa’s defense was Jell-O-like in the final minutes. But at last count, the team had lost six starters for at least part of this game, middle guard Dave Haight, center Bill Anderson, linebacker Brad Quast, safeties Mark Stoops and
Gary Clark, and running back Tony Stewart. The last time so much Hawkeye was missing was when M*A*S*H went off the air.
“We had walk-ons playing in the secondary,” said Iowa coach Hayden Fry, shaking his head. “In my 37 years of coaching, I’ve never seen so many guys crippled and wiped out.”
So maybe we should blame . . . the fans. Why not? Half the time, they were the story anyhow. On three separate occasions their noise was so loud Michigan quarterback Michael Taylor could not call the plays.
In practice, teams go over what you’re supposed to do in that situation. Step back from the line, signal the referee, and wait. Taylor tried that in the second quarter, with Michigan driving on the Iowa 17.
He stepped back. He looked at the referee, John Nealon. He waited. Nealon motioned for him to try again. Taylor motioned that he couldn’t hear. Nealon motioned to try it. Taylor motioned he couldn’t hear. It was like watching a Rudolph Valentino movie, with the music replaced by 67,700 farmlanders hooting and hollering.
And the referee threw a flag.
Delay of game.
“We interpret the rules that it’s up to the quarterback to decide if he can hear,” said Taylor. “And suddenly he’s calling me for delay of game. I didn’t understand it.”
Why should he? The rules say it is not for the referee to determine
“acceptable” noise. It is the quarterback’s judgment. True, he’s supposed to go under the center before signaling for help. But that doesn’t warrant the penalty. The referee was misguided. Or, as Schembechler put it: “That man has no idea how to play the game of football.”
Schembechler offered that thought to the referee.
We can’t print Bo’s reaction.
Anyhow, the Wolverines rebounded from all this and marched in for a touchdown. In fact, every time the Hawkeyes fans made trouble for Taylor, the U-M drive ended up in a score. If they were smart, they’d have shut up in the second period.
Iowa might have won by 30. So that brings us back to Michigan, and the finger of blame must point there, because, let’s face it, no matter what happened before, first and goal with less than two minutes left should get you some points, right?
“I have no excuses,” said Williams, from whom linebacker Melvin Foster stripped the ball. “It wasn’t because I had just come in the game. I was just sort of stood up and somebody hit it and I fumbled. We should have won.”
Taylor said the same thing. So did Schembechler. So did Greg McMurtry, who had the best clutch game of all, catching six passes for 91 yards. Could have won. Should have won.
All forgotten now. The tie pretty much leaves Michigan where it was before this game — needing to win all the rest to get to the Rose Bowl. A victory would have been better for both statistical and morale purposes. But either way, it is mandatory against undefeated Indiana next week.
“Is this tie easier to take for you than Iowa?” a reporter asked Schembechler. “Because Iowa already has one Big Ten tie and–.”
“Ties are lousy, period. I don’t care about Iowa. I don’t want to hear any more about Iowa.”
And they don’t want to hear about Michigan. They say ties are like kissing your sister, but nobody was in the mood for kissing after this one. Mostly they were just wondering what happened, or going, “Shhhh!”
“Would a noise problem like this exist at your stadium in Ann Arbor?” an Iowa reporter asked Schembechler.
“No, it wouldn’t,” bellowed Bo, “because in Michigan Stadium WE HAVE MORE SOPHISTICATED FANS.”
Quick, somebody, start the bus.