HONOLULU — Don’t tell me. Jim Harbaugh came into Michigan’s locker room at halftime Saturday, the Wolverines tied with the unranked Hawaii Rainbows, 3-3, and he said, “Don’t worry. I guarantee we will be lying on the beach tomorrow.”
Well, something like that.
It took just six minutes in Aloha Stadium for Michigan to realize they play football for real out here. Harbaugh was sacked rudely on U-M’s first possession, a should-have-been touchdown drive turned into a field goal, and the vacation was over and the game was on.
And then the game stopped and the battle began. And by halftime, the battle was closer to war. Bo Schembechler was fuming over a call — an incompletion ruling on a Greg McMurtry reception over the middle — and Bo stayed on the field while his team ran off, he waited for the officials, and when they caught up to him, he began screaming, a cyclone in the sunshine, and the Hawaii crowd roared and the scoreboard flashed a message “That’s a No No.”
Yeah? So is being tied with an unranked team when you are ranked No. 4 in the country and heading for the Rose Bowl and playing before a nationwide cable TV audience.
Michigan 3, Hawaii 3, read the halftime scoreboard.
Vacation, my foot. Hawaii has plenty of muscle
Were you surprised it was this tough? Well, remember, this is a Hawaii team whose defense is ranked fourth in the nation. A team that features an All-America defensive tackle and a swift group of linebackers and a quarterback who threw for more yards than Harbaugh this season. The Rainbows are confident in this stadium, and, besides, it was their last game together, this particular group of players, because they were not invited to a bowl.
They were psyched, ready and talented.
Just because they play on an island doesn’t mean they sink. Er, stink.
In seasons past the Rainbows have played Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa and Brigham Young in their closing game of the year, all at home. They are used to the nationally ranked big boys coming in, looking for sunshine, getting leis and kisses at the airport — and although Hawaii hadn’t beaten any of those teams, it had not been embarrassed either.
Hawaii was 7-4 coming into this game, which is nothing to sneeze at. And they honestly believed they could win. The coach, Dick Tomey, once worked for Bo Schembechler (back at Miami of Ohio) and you always have to be careful of former assistants playing their larger than life mentors.
Tomey did a good job of setting the trap. When the hosts weren’t plowing head-on into Michigan, they were mixing things up enough to leave any mainlander dizzy. There were screens and roll outs and audibles.
Al Noga, the Hawaii All-America, wore his brother’s uniform in the first half and his own in the second. In the third quarter, the Rainbows ran a play
called the “muddle huddle” in which the quarterback, Gregg Tipton, lines up like a wide receiver and snaps the ball to his running back, Danny Crowell, who ran for a first down.
When they came out in the second half, the Wolverines drove 66 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. But Hawaii came right back on consistently effective passing by Tipton and tailback Coyle Permetter leaped over the pile for a touchdown and all of a sudden it was tied again, 10-10. Michigan kicked back
The Rainbows’ defense was tough, quick, and powerful. Michigan didn’t look terrible, it simply didn’t look great. There were not a lot of big passing plays, mostly there was a lot of runs inside tackle.
Actually their biggest play of the day might have been a punt by Monte Robbins, from the Michigan 17, with the Wolverines up 17-10 in the fourth quarter. The ball lifted and lifted and then lifted some more, and by the time it landed and rolled it had traveled nearly the length of the field, and corked Hawaii back on its 2.
That seemed to take the edge off Hawaii. The Rainbows ran three plays and punted and Michigan scored shortly thereafter — a long run by Bob Perryman — and it was time to get measured for beach blankets.
There was worry that this game, coming in between the Ohio State showdown and the Rose Bowl on New Year’s day, might be perfect fodder for a letdown.
It was. Michigan survived anyhow.
Schembechler kept his guys virtually indoors before this game, but he promised them two days of island vacation when it was over. So this afternoon, they will be horizontal — by their own choosing — and between their toes, an 11-1 regular- season record in their pockets.
This is a safe bet.
They won’t be looking for rainbows.