ANN ARBOR — I hope you were watching. I hope you were glued to your TV set and had all your relatives over and you videotaped the whole darn thing. Otherwise, I don’t know if you’d believe me when I tell you how Michigan beat their archest of arch-rivals, Ohio State, to cap their season Saturday:
They passed them to death.
Over the middle, down the sidelines, in between defenders, a short touchdown lob and a long touchdown bomb. Three touchdowns by air, 230 aerial yards all told.
Yes, the team that had worn its defense like an amulet to ward off evil spirits all season won their annual blood feud by outscoring the enemy.
And in so doing, they convinced a lot of people, me included, that they may indeed be the finest college football team in the country, polls or no polls.
But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, savor Saturday. It was not orthodox. But there it was.
Michigan 27, Ohio State 17.
And long after the celebration had fizzled, after the band had played the school’s alma mater on a darkened field, after the goal posts had been left for dead, and the 106,102 who witnessed this affair had gone home with their souvenir piece of the turf — long after all that, it was the way this game will be remembered that brought the biggest grin.
For the biggest memory will not be a crunching goal line stand or some last second squeaker of a field goal. Nope. The image that repeats will be that of Jim Harbaugh dropping back in the fourth quarter and uncorking a soaring sprial that rose high and long as flanker John Kolesar ran underneath it, his steps seemingly in sync with the revolutions of the ball, so when it fell, it fell right into his arms, almost gently, and he lifted his legs and simply outsprinted the Ohio State defender to the promised land.
It didn’t end the game. But it broke Ohio State’s back — “Took the starch out of their sails” is how Bo Schembechler put it.
One play, 77 yards. Touchdown. Victory. Pass more? Bo started fast Yes, there have been more important games in this rivalry. After all, the Big 10 championship and Rose Bowl invitation sailed away in the middle of the third quarter Saturday, when the announcement
that Iowa had beaten Minnesota came over the loudspeakers.
There was no prize anymore for Michigan and Ohio State, who were tied at 10-10 at that moment. No tangible prize, anyhow. Iowa had won the conference. The damsel in distress had taken off with some other guy while the heroes were fighting the dragon.
But in this series, the battle is the thing. So with the Rose Bowl gone, all that was left was 84 years of two-fisted tradition and the right to smile for the rest of the month.
Plenty to fight for.
And they did. Michigan opened its offense with a first-down pass. “How about that?” Schembechler said with a laugh. “I did it for all you guys
(reporters). You always say I should pass more.”
That statement is consistent. The laughter is not. Schembechler had bristled at criticism that he holds down the passing in the big games before.
Not Saturday. From a 40 yard strike to tight end Eric Kattus in the second quarter to that 77-yard bomb in the last, the passing was the key.
And the star of this game would be a young man who never played against Ohio State before, who sat out last year’s showdown with a broken arm — Harbaugh.
He showed confidence, he showed accuracy, and he showed speed under pressure. He completed 16 of 19 passes. And he showed that when he’s on, you may be watching the No. 1 team in the country. The offense took off Now, this is not the rambling of someone caught up in a victory. Think about it. Michigan lost its only game of the year — to Iowa — because its offense stumbled (some say it was simply squeezed too tightly by a conservative Schembechler). But that offense has spread its wings in recent weeks (mostly behind Harbaugh’s passing) and, when matched with the incomparable defense, it makes for the best 1-2 combination in the college football ranks.
Polls don’t show everything.
Neither does a wom-lost record.
So send them no roses. Who cares? The game they wanted to win the most is theirs.
They had come to blow on the embers of an old affair, Michigan and Ohio State, and this time it was the Wolverines who came away unscorched. Flying in the air will do that.