You know the gig by now. Each week, we reach in to the historical context bag featuring our opponent and throw out seemingly random words, phrases or names that instantly associate us with happy thoughts. With the “will Denard play?” question being the number one, two and three question of this week, it’s time to get the juices flowing for our return to the Big House and pick up right where we left off with them – winning.
#10 – Valensizi’s knuckler – In the ‘Cats memorable 1995 Michigan upset, placekicker Sam Valensizi went a perfect 4-for-4 on FGs, but there was one that signified “this is our time”. The first half was a defensive slugfest with both teams struggling to move the ball. With less than a minute to go in the half and Michigan leading 6-3, Paul Burton boomed another stellar punt, this time one that Amani Toomer couldn’t hang on to and we pounced on it. A drive stalled and with just seconds left in the half Sam lined up for a game-tying FG kick. The TV angle was behind the bars, but my angle was right in front of me. Sam’s kick got tipped and it flutterred towards the crossbar and eeked over it with a wobbly, knuckleball motion. Instantly, my buddies and I posed for a photo with the scoreboard behind us to memorialize the 6-6 game. . Obviously, when we emerged with the 19-13 win to move to 4-1 it underscored our ability to step up when expectations were raised. We were ranked 25th, while Michigan was #11 Michigan. More on this game later, but this play symbolized that it was possible for the ball to bounce our way which at one point was inconceivable.
#9 Peterman’s Snowman – This is also known as the single worst weather game I’ve attended in NU lore. Worse than the cold of Penn State and Iowa of ’95. Worse than the monsoons of the Michigan night game. This was 34 degree pouring rain. Icy cold rain that chilled you to your bone. The year was 2008 and the RichRods were well on their way to starting the program’s downward spiral. The ‘Cats were spectacular on special teams, but it was Eric Peterman on a seam route from CJ Bacher that he bolted with in to the house for a 53-yard TD catch to move to 8-3 and hand the Wolverines an 8-loss season.
#8 – Bates to Drexler – We go back to the 1995 ‘Cats-Michigan game at the Big House. NU trailed 13-9 midway through the 4th quarter. Steve Schnur took a quick drop step and threw a screen to D’Wayne Bates. Bates, the former QB-turned -WR promptly lofted one downfield to tightend Darren Drexler near the goal line. It was classic Barnett trickeration and set up an iconic TD (more later).
#7 – Hartl’s Cradle – The play above set-up a moment that still gives fans spine tingles. Schnur rolled out to his right on a play action and tossed the rock low to our fearless FB, Matt Hartl, who had to go low to get the pass and got his whole body underneath it and cradled in the pass to ensure there would be no controversy. Touchdown Wildcats as this would provide all the scoring we’d need while Matt Hartl would then go on to battle Hodgkins disease and passed away four years later. I think most people think of this play when they hear his name today.
#6 Kustok’s shake and bake – We venture to the 2000 game again, heretofore known as THE GAME. It’s the start of the 4th quarter and we’re down 4 5-36 at about the 15 yard line. Kustok calls his own number, sidesteps a blitzing LB, cuts bacl across the field and begins to run full speed laterally, while baiting defenders who lunge at him one at a time. Somehow, Anderson steps up with a block and Zak dives for the goal line, fumbling it as his hand hits the ground. Touchdown Wildcats.
#5 Anderson’s Daylight TD – Earler in THE GAME, the ‘Cats were down 42-29 early in the third. Damien Anderson had already put on a clinic and had Brent Musberger and Bob Griese losing their minds in the booth. On this play, DA took a delayed handoff, turned back west, found a crease and BOOM – exploded through it for a 45-yard TD run that left a sea of Wolverines in his wake.He scorched the Michigan secondary en route to paydirt and would finish the first half with 174 yards on the ground. This very TD set an NU rushing record (tied it actually) with rushing TD #18 and elicited a “man, oh man” from Griese in the booth.
#4 – The Gator – We talked about this one earlier in the week, but it still merits reliving. The ’96 ‘Cats-Michigan rematch was highly anticipated as NU has still not lost a Big Ten game since 1994 and this was the meat of the 1996 season. The place was packed with mostly purple, yet the noise had been bottled up as Michigan led 16-0 through three. The ‘Cats cardiac play had them claw back to a 2-point defecit and there wsa less than 2 minutes to go, All of a sudden there were only four down lineman and Schnur as eight guys ran out to the perimiter for two separate sets of trips on each side. Schnur, just like he did at Michigan, took a quick step back and threw a dart to D-Bates, who promptly pushed behind the wall in front of him for 12 yards, untouched. First down!
#3 Gowins’ It’s Goooooood – Moments before Brian Musso had come up huge with a first down catch in coverage, just to the edge of PK Brian Gowins’ range. The place was rocking. A FG would win it and keep our B1G title hopes alive. Gowins did his usual drillled it right down mainstreet, but as fans went berserk the announcer claimed he hadn’t given the ready for play signal. I stood there in disbelief along with 47,000 other fans who were now convinced we’d miss it. Boy, were we wrong. Gowins promptly stepped up and booted the cncore throught the uprights and NU won 17-16. Dave Eanet famously called it as “it’s gooooooooooooooooooooooooooddddddddddddddd!”
#2 Damien’s Drop – Back to THE GAME in 2000. Michigan 51 NU 46. 4th and goal from the 8 with 1:44 left in the most exciting game we’d ever seen. Kustok takes a snap and throws a strike to Teddy Johnson who promptly dives for what appeared to be the game-winning TD. Pandemonium turned to panic as a flag was thrown – ineligible man downfield. Now, it’s 4th and goal from the 12. Michigan was bringing the all out blitz and everyone knew it. Zak took the snap in the shotgun, he backpedaled brilliantly and at the last second – as he was getting tossed to the ground – somehow floated a ball to a wide open Damien Anderson who turned over his shoulder at the goal line…..and dropped it. Anderson lost it in the lights as he turned over his shoulder and as he sat there stunned on national TV, guys like Drake and Howard came over and hugged DA2 in such a touching show of sportsmanship, I still respect Michigan to this day because of it.
The game was over, or so we thought.
#1 – Wieber’s miracle – I’ve replayed the following highlight no less than 100 times and I still get sweaty and nervous the outcome will change. My favorite alltime LTP Purple Mafia Q&A comes in to play right here. I asked Zak Kustok what he did after the drop and he told me he went up to Damien and told him “those lights are brutal”, tapped him on the shoulder and then went to every other player and told them to keep their helmets on as we were going to get the ball back. He said it felt like the leadership thing to do.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines simply needed to kill the clock. A first down and the game is over. Michigan had it 2nd and 3 with :53 to go and Anthony Thomas took a handoff for a simple off tackle right short gainer. Yet, he received a perfect block an had a huge hold. Instantly my friends and I said “touchdown” as he was already off in to the daylight. You have to look very carefully, but you can see Sean Wieber lunge towards A-Train s he is blocked, the ball squirts loose and a surefire TD turns in to a Rasheed Covington recovery. All hell breaks loose. We quickly convert and connect with Sam Simmons on a slant to take the lead AND tack on a 2-point conversion. The Wolverines would even get a FG shot, but NU decommit, John Navarre, bobbled the snap and had to tosss the rock and we finally ended the game that wouldn’t end.
AVRs – Ismaeli’s blitz and strip – 10:44 to go up 19-13; William Bennett’s pick on Fitz sack to seal ’95 game; 1st half onside kick vs MI 2000
1995 Magic Hour
BTN is producing a series called BTN Elite and the 1995 Wildcats hour special debuted last night. If you’d like to see it again, it will run tonight at 9pm ct and several of the Michigan moments will be included. It features interviews from guys like Gary Barnett, Fitz, Darnell Autry and a slew of others. I for one can’t wait to see it.
Hoops Season Tips-Off TONIGHT!
OK, so it’s an exhibition game against DIII University of Chicago, but who cares? The new look Wildcats will be offering fans a chance to connect names, numbers and faces as we can take a peak at some of the bigs and just what they have to offer. Game time is 7pm ct at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The ‘Cats first “real” game is next Tuesday night at Welsh-Ryan against Texas Southern at 7pm. Click here for more info.
Budzien Named Lou Groza Finalist
Jeff Budzien has been named to the Lou Groza Finalist list, an award given to the nation’s best FG kicker. More on this in the weeks to come.