ANN ARBOR — Say no. This wasn’t really happening. The last home game of the season, the last one before the BIG game at Ohio State, and the Michigan defenders were furiously chasing a quarterback with a funny name, and he was getting away.
With everything. The undefeated season, the possible national championship, the pride, the farewell performance, all that was in Rickey Foggie’s legs — Rickey Foggie? — and his legs were moving, fast and free, and he cut past one defender then another and into open field . . .
“What were you doing on the sidelines when Foggie broke loose?” someone would ask Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh, after the Wolverines suffered their first loss of the season, 20-17, to Minnesota, on a game-ending field goal set up by Foggie’s run.
“I was talking to my receivers, getting ready to go back in and try and score,” Harbaugh said. ” I was sure we were going to get the ball back and we would drive down field.
“Then I looked up and Foggie went running by and . . . oh . . . I . . . well, I pretty much stopped talking to my receivers. There wasn’t much else to say.”
Foggie danced 31 yards, all the way to the Michigan 17. The crowd blew out a gust of cold breath. Say no. Can’t be. This isn’t happening. Isn’t Michigan undefeated? Isn’t Minnesota 5-4? But it was happening, and by that point, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone. This was the capper to a game as elusive as a greased cucumber.
Fumbles. Michigan had fumbles. A dropped punt. Michigan had a dropped punt. Interception. Miscues. A pitch-out that flew past the running back. Michigan had those as well. “Everything we did seemed to backfire,” Bo Schembechler would say.
Minnesota churned it all into a hardened whole, one that looked like it would end in a tie, 17-17 — which would have been bad enough for a team, like Michigan, ranked second in the nation.
Instead, with 42 seconds left, Foggie — who, by the way, is playing with a fractured tibia — looked up, “saw all this green, and decided to go.”
“Were you looking for a big play?” someone would ask him later.
“Nah, we just wanted to run out the clock,” he would say. “We would have been satisfied with a tie. Hey. We were 25 1/2-point underdogs, remember.”
Remember? Who could forget? Instead, two plays later, Chip Lohmiller kicked the winning field goal, the gun sounded, and Minnesota had beaten the spread by four touchdowns.
“A lot of people lost a lot of money today, I would say,” Foggie said, laughing.
More than that. Much more. But cry and shake your head all you like, no one can say this was a game Michigan deserved. “We were lucky to even be tied,” Schembechler said.
And he was dead right.
Here was Minnesota, a team that hadn’t won in Ann Arbor since 1962 — not a single player out there Saturday was born yet — and they were playing tough, looking loose. And here was Michigan, in its final warm-up before the game that matters most to them, looking error-prone and vulnerable.
They played beneath their ability. They gave the ball away so many times, Minnesota half-expected green stamps. It seemed as if the Wolverines were playing in a dream, as if all the mistakes would disappear when they woke up. Only they never woke up.
Instead, in the last game seniors such as Harbaugh, Andy Moeller, and Paul Jokisch would ever play in Michigan Stadium, they performed dismally. It was like watching the movie hero ride into the sunset, then fall off his horse.
What does it all mean? Nothing for Rose Bowl fans. Everything for everything else. Michigan need only defeat Ohio State next week in Columbus to win the Big Ten and go to Pasadena — scars or no scars. But a national championship is virtually out of the question, and a perfect season — for a team that might have deserved it — is gone now, too.
“Do you think all these turnovers will affect you at all against Ohio State?” someone asked Harbaugh as he was leaving.
“You don’t have to worry about that,” he said.
Say no. No problem. This was just a detour on the road to destiny — hurtful, but survivable. That will make U-M fans feel much better. But if they ask you did U-M deserve to lose, did they deserve the fall they’ll suffer in the polls, are they going to have to earn it twice as much against Ohio State next week, there is only one thing you can say.