PASADENA, Calif. — Suddenly the magic was gone, dried up in the California wind and blown out to sea. Jim Harbaugh took his first snap of the third quarter — how many first snaps of the third quarter had signaled Wolverine fireworks this year? — and he overthrew Greg McMurtry. By a mile. Harbaugh took the second snap and tried to run. He was stuffed. He took the third snap, scrambled around, and dumped the simplest of lobs to Jamie Morris. Morris dropped it.
Roses are dead. They began dying with the coin toss of this New Year’s Day showdown and they didn’t stop until the final gun of this 22-15 defeat. Michigan traditionally likes to kick off so it can receive in the third quarter, rested and recharged, but Arizona State won the flip, took the kickoff option, and, although no one knew it then, it was the first sap of Wolverine strength.
There would be plenty more.
ASU drove downfield to start that third quarter, used nearly six minutes, and scored a touchdown to make it 19-15. The drive was a virtual still-life painting of what went wrong for Michigan in this Rose Bowl.
This was a titanic struggle, but the image that endures is a Michigan defensive line slamming into an Arizona State offensive line and getting nowhere. And behind the rock’em-sock’em action stood ASU quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst, cool as the California breeze, picking a receiver and hitting him in the hands.
How many times did the Wolverines try to get to Van Raaphorst — and just miss? How many times did he find a receiver just underneath the Michigan coverage?
And meanwhile, the potent Wolverine offense, which had carried the team most of the year, was suddenly just out of sync. Jamie Morris, a break-away tailback, was not breaking away at all. On a fourth-quarter drive he took the ball and actually had to go backward to avoid the ASU defenders.
And Harbaugh was suddenly unpredictable.
Remember that Harbaugh was the quarterback of celebration coming into this game. He was the All-America, third in the Heisman voting, the subject of all those pre-game hype features. One can barely imagine the despair he must feel this morning, not only because his college career ends with a loss, but because he so wanted to deliver for Bo Schembechler, the coach he has known since he was a nine-year-old kid running around his Michigan office.
But endings are not always happy, even here in the shadow of tinsel town. And on Thursday it was Van Raaphorst, who did not ride in on such headlines, who rode out on them when the game was over.
The highlight films will be of him — not Harbaugh — and plays like third-and-seven for ASU late in the fourth quarter. Van Raaphorst backpedaled, a Michigan defender was in his face, grabbing his torso, and he still unloaded a pass to tight end Jeff Gallimore for the crucial first down.
It was his excellence, and his team’s lack of mistakes — no fumbles, no interceptions, few penalties — that enabled the Sun Devils to go home with their first Rose Bowl title in their first try.
And for Michigan, it is another bowl defeat, the hidden wire that seems to trip Bo Schembechler at the end of most of his successful U-M seasons. There is no jinx, no voodoo, just some excellent teams waiting on Jan. 1.
Arizona State was excellent.
One should remember that a Rose Bowl loss does not in any way diminish the fine regular season the Wolverines enjoyed, does not erase the come-from-behind victory over Ohio State, the rack-up yardage of Harbaugh and Morris. All that stuff is already hardened in concrete memory. But no one in a Michigan uniform wants to hear that today.
Roses are dead, Wolverines are blue. Somewhere in the California wind blows the could-haves and should-haves and the might-have-beens.
They don’t matter now.
Or anymore. CUTLINE Michigan’ Jamie Morris evades Arizona State’s Eric Allen and scores Michigan’s first-quarter touchdown.