Those Were The Days - Michigan

Nov 18, 2022

A little commentary from me before we get to Detlef's post. I just want you to imagine this happening today.

Detlef is going to take us back to Illinois-Michigan in 1992. It's a game that ended in a tie (I'd say "spoiler alert", but the game happened 30 years ago). The game ended in a tie because Michigan was driving, down three, got to the Illinois 17, and were forced into 4th and long. Michigan, #3 in the polls at the time, 8-0-1 on the season and in contention for a national championship... and Gary Moeller chose to kick the field goal.

Just think about that decision today. Well, I guess it wouldn't happen today because a field goal today sends a game to overtime and the team playing for the tie still has a chance to win. But think about being #3 in the polls with a shot at the national title (you need to be one of the top two teams by the time bowls are selected)... and you settle for the tie. Michigan fell from #3 to #6 in the polls and that was that.

Gary Moeller was asked why he settled for the tie and his response was that they wanted to wrap up the Rose Bowl bid (see the video I added at the bottom for that specific comment). That was college football in 1992. Play for the tie against Illinois (and a certain Rose Bowl berth no matter what happened against Ohio State the following week) instead of going for the win to keep national title hopes alive. As Keith Jackson would say, innnnnnnncredible.

Here's Detlef to talk about the game:

This week Illinois plays at Michigan in the second-worst stadium in the Big Ten. For any Illini fans going to Ann Arbor (or as we soccer fans say, the away supporters) you will miss the entire third quarter while standing in line to use the bathroom at halftime. You have been warned. Don't get me started on the 2000 screw job by Bill LeMonnier. ….Anyhow, one time Illinois went into Ann Arbor and put the "Fight" back in the Fighting Illini….

November 14, 1992: My junior year at Illinois forced me to consider what I would do after college. During the summer I laid the groundwork to be a White House intern the following year. However, with Bush Sr. losing, my plans went into the crapper. Thus, I decided to become a sports handicapper.

Alas, my vocational choice proved to be silly. When this game rolled around, I was down $150 to a classmate. These days, $150 is not much to a big time Chicago attorney like me. But in 1992, the sum of $150 represented a full month's supply of booze and Grog's pizza. I feared that I would have to hock my leather couch from my Urbana luxury apartment to pay this debt so I came up with an ingenious scheme when the point spread came out for this game. With Illinois a 28 point underdog at Michigan, I made the ridiculous decision to go "double or nothing" to wipe out my debt…or wipe out my money for the semester.

This was Lou Tepper's first year as head coach. He was obsessed with beating Michigan (nothing wrong with that). This included wearing a pink Michigan hat during game week and devoting fifteen minutes each day in practice to Michigan. Tepper also showed a tape of former UI coach Ray Eliot describing the 1939 upset of Michigan. Illinois' season had proved adventurous, with Tom Beck's conservative play-calling on offense and musical quarterbacks. Illinois went to Michigan to prove that it was not mediocre.

I sat on my leather couch and watched one of the most bizarre games ever. With snow flurries and a nine-degree wind chill, Michigan fumbled ten times, losing four of them. QB Elvis Grbac threw two interceptions. "The turnovers kept us in the game early," said Illinois Coach Lou Tepper. WR Derrick Alexander dropped a sure touchdown on a bomb. Thus, Michigan only led 7-6 at halftime despite outgaining Illinois 309-106 at that point.

In the third quarter, with Illinois trailing 13-6, Darren Boyer (64 yards rushing) scored on an eight yard run. Chris Richardson kicked the extra point low (I have not since seen that in any game at any level) and Illinois trailed 13-12. QB Jason Verduzco then put Illinois on his shoulders in the fourth quarter.

Verduzco led Illinois on a ten play, 65-yard drive that finished with Verduzco keeping the football on a two yard option play, fighting off two tacklers. Illinois led 22-19 with 2:26 left for Illinois' first win in Ann Arbor since 1966. Verduzco threw 25 of 38 passes for 192 yards.

However, Michigan took over at its 13 and Illinois conceded short passes to Michigan with its prevent defense (prevents you from winning the game). Grbac connected on six passes in a row, reaching the Illinois 17, and Tepper called time out to gather the troops. Dana Howard (East St. Louis) then made a tackle for a loss. Grbac threw an incompletion and Michigan ran a draw play. Gary Moeller sent out kicker Peter Elezovic to try a 39 yard field goal. The Michigan fans booed. Elezovic made the field goal to tie the game at 22.

On the kickoff, the football came down to the Illinois 20. Antwoine Patton (Chicago Simeon) and Kevin "Action" Jackson (Oak Lawn Richards) collided. The football rolled around until Filmel Johnson recovered it. Jason Verduzco could not believe that Tom Beck and Lou Tepper called for him to kneel on the football instead of trying a bomb. "It's not just me," Verduzco said. "The rest of the guys feel the same way. We wanted to try something to win." In true Tepper fashion, he put coach-speak on his decision. "There's no question that a tie helps us a lot more than it helps Michigan. It makes us more palatable to bowl scouts."

Thus, Illinois proved that it was not a Big 10 pushover. Michigan fans made history by being the first fan base to boo its team while it clinched a Rose Bowl Bid on its home field. Illinois fans were left saying "wait until next year" to win in Ann Arbor. However, I walked into my Sociology 100 class with no fears of my bookmaker taking my wallet.

Illinois finished 6-5-1 and lost to Hawaii in the Holiday Bowl.

Sources: "Bumbling Michigan accepts tie with Illini, Rose Bowl Bid" by Associated Press. November 15, 1992. "Tie serves Illini in chase for bowl bid" by Andrew Bagnato. Chicago Tribune, November 15, 1992. "Illinois plucks a petal off Michigan's Rose" by Andrew Bagnato. Chicago Tribune, November 15, 1992. Credit to Detlef's parents for the research and Mrs. Detlef for her copy editing.


on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM


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