By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published August 31, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas — Twelve years seems a lifetime.
On the eve of the Cowboys Classic, think 12 years back to the 2000 Orange Bowl — the last matchup between Alabama and Michigan. The game pitted the eighth-ranked Wolverines against No. 6 Alabama at Pro Player Stadium in Miami.
Today, most of the members of Michigan’s ‘Team 120’ don’t remember the last play of regulation, don’t know that the Orange Bowl was the first overtime game in Michigan history or that Tom Brady was taken out of the game. They remember the final score and the men they played alongside.
“Amazing,” said senior linebacker Ian Gold as he trotted off the field that night. “That was the best ending to a football game ever.”
Six former Michigan players —Gold, David Terrell, Bennie Joppru, Aaron Shea, Drew Henson and Jason Kapsner — and then-defensive line coach Brady Hoke rehashed their Orange Bowl memories for the Daily this month.
DECEMBER 31, 1999
David Terrell, sophomore receiver: “It was the scariest night of my life.”
“Y2K, man. You had everyone go out and get canned goods, bottled water. I didn’t even know the world was going to be here in the morning when I got up.”
Jason Kapsner, senior quarterback: “We all went to bed thinking, ‘Man, are we going to play tomorrow?’ The whole world was freaking out.”
Terrell: “Lloyd told all of us, ‘Go to sleep. You’re going to wake up in the morning, it’s going to be 2000, and we’re going to go out there and play a great football game.’ ”
Bennie Joppru, freshman tight end: “They took the team to a completely different hotel the day before the game. When midnight struck there were guys running around the courtyard yelling ‘Y2K! Y2K!’ and messing around and having fun with it. The coaches came out yelling, ‘Get back in your rooms!’ ”
JANUARY 1, 2000
Brad Nessler, ABC announcer: “Schools of tradition: Michigan, the winningest program of the past century, Hail to Bo, the Victors, and the Maize and Blue; Alabama, the Bear, the All-Americans, the pride of the South. The dawning of the new century brings free faces and new heroes.
“Alabama and Michigan, set to light up the night at the 66th FedEx Orange Bowl.”
Ian Gold, senior linebacker: “Everybody doubted us. Nobody believed that we could win except for us.
“I remember my freshman year going out to the Outback Bowl and losing to Alabama. All I remember was, ‘Roll Tide, Roll Tide.’ Everybody in my class had extra motivation. I was looking forward to this opportunity to make amends for what had happened four years prior.”
“Who is the tougher team here? We’re going to find out in the first couple series and feel each other out. It came down to which coach could figure it out the fastest.”
Nessler: “On the first snap, a quick slant and a man wide open! Jason McAddley would have been off to the races, a blown coverage by Michigan.”
Ian Gold, senior linebacker: “From a defensive standpoint, my mindset was this: If we let (Alabama running back) Shaun Alexander get started, it’s going to be a long game. It’s kind of how we approached (Wisconsin running back) Ron Dayne — you can’t let him get momentum.”
“The more he got warmed up and got his legs under him, we had a tough time.”
Nessler: “Dropped in his tracks is Antonio Carter by Dhani Jones. Alabama, likewise, loses five and goes three-and-out.”
Brady Hoke, defensive line coach: “The guys up front for us — James Hall, Rob Renes, Josh Williams, Eric Wilson — they played their hearts out.”
Drew Henson, sophomore quarterback: “Alabama had a heck of a team that year. Their defense was stout; they had a couple All-American linebackers.”
Kapsner: “We tried to keep a balanced attack for the first quarter, which got us off to a rough start. It wasn’t until we embraced the fact that we’re going to win this game by throwing the ball, let (senior quarterback) Tom Brady and the great receivers go offensively, that’s when the offense really clicked.”
Senior fullback Aaron Shea: “Coach Carr was saying, ‘We’re going to run this football.’ Well, coach, there’s eight or nine in the box, there’s no way we’re going to run this ball.”
Gold: “I didn’t realize that it was the first first down of the whole game, but I specifically remember that play. We had practiced it and everything. [Epstein would fake a bad snap and ran backward while Gold took the snap.] Coach Carr told me on the sideline before the play, ‘Ian, remember, if they’re lined up in a certain way, cancel the fake and punt the ball.’
“I got out there, they were lined in the front so that I was supposed to cancel and abandon the fake. [Alabama didn’t even have anyone back to receive the punt] And literally I thought: I don’t care. We can get this first down. I kept the fake on and got the first down.
“I remember running to the sideline and looking at Coach Carr. He was just shaking his head and, of course, he’s just thinking: I’m glad this is his senior year. If something would have gone wrong on that play, I would’ve heard it.”
Joppru: “I played with Shaun Alexander in Seattle for two years and we always talked about this game.
“He used to always tell me, ‘I wanted to go to Michigan so bad. I loved (Michigan running backs coach) Fred Jackson.’ When Shaun was in high school, people would always buy him Michigan gear rather than Alabama gear.”
Nessler: “It took us until 9:48 remaining in the first half, but the All-American and the best back Alabama’s ever had just put ‘em in the end zone.”
Hoke: “You had to get 11 hats on the football against Shaun. He was tough, strong, physical, and he could make the shallow cut and accelerate out of it. You had to fit the defense right, and the other part was to do a tremendous job of tackling.”
Nessler: “Shaun Alexander walks in. Touchdown, Alabama.”
Joppru: “After the first couple touchdowns we knew we were going to have to make the quarterbacks beat us.”
Bob Griese, ABC color commentator: “I think it’s a good move by Lloyd Carr to get Drew Henson in the game, see if it changes the tempo a little bit. He can run a little bit better than Tom Brady.”
Henson: “Lloyd had told me during bowl practice that I had practiced well and deserved to get into the game. So I knew I going in that I was going to get a little bit of run in the second quarter, a drive or two.
“I came in for three or four plays before we punted. [Henson completed a short pass to Thomas, handed off and on third down ran just short of the first down.]”
Gold: “I was definitely surprised (Henson entered the game). But if I know Lloyd, he was giving Tom something to think about, a little extra motivation. This being the last game of Tom’s collegiate career, Lloyd was saying, ‘Look, I can put this kid in, or I can put my trust in you and you can start playing like I know you can play.’
Kapsner: “I wouldn’t say it was a surprise, I’d say that it was something that was frustrating to the team. Everyone knew that Tom was our quarterback. He was going to be the one to pull this out and win this thing. It was frustrating to the team to see Drew go in just because, frankly, he was not the leader of that team.”
Gold: “I wouldn’t be surprised to look at the stats and see if Tom woke up after that.”
Griese: “I think this is what Michigan has to start to do — open it up, get the ball to the outside and down the field.”
Henson: “I wanted to get back out there. I remember being a little upset (that it was only for a drive), but that’s how it goes being the backup. I would have loved to have another drive, but we ended up scoring and being kick-started and the offense started clicking in the second half.”
Terrell: “It was a decision on that play: You could either post it or fade it, depending on the safety, and Tom was going to put it wherever you went.”
Griese: “They hadn’t thrown downfield all night.”
Nessler: “Terrell has been indicating to the sideline all during the course of the ballgame that he’s been open and they want to get the ball to him.”
Griese: “Sounds like a wide receiver, doesn’t he?”
Kapsner: “It was like flipping a switch. It went from an offense that couldn’t get anything going to an offense that looked pretty unstoppable.”
Shea: “In the second half, we just abandoned the running game and let Tommy work his magic.”
Nessler: “We are dead even in Miami.”
Terrell: “That was a regular hitch route. We knew we had an advantage against them with our receivers, so we were going to exploit it. To me, had we starting off passing earlier … (laughs)
“It’s so, so funny that Braylon Edwards and Chad Henne (in later years) got to come out runnin’ and gunnin’ from the start. Had we ever started out gunnin’ — and I love the Train (running back Anthony Thomas); he was the best man in my wedding — but goddamn! If we would have come out gunnin’ from the get-go, please, it would have been an easy national championship that year.”
Nessler: “Here’s Shaun Alexander, busting into the secondary. He might take it! Alexander is gone!”
Griese: “Is he special or what?”
Nessler: “Fifty yards of special on that one.”
Hoke: “Oh, I remember that one.”
Gold: “When Shaun scored his touchdowns it wasn’t a feeling of defeat, it was more a feeling of disappointment and disbelief: How can we stop this guy? We’ve gotta do something. He’s their whole team, their whole offense. If we stop him, everything is done.”
Hoke: “Freddy Milons — you’re talking about speed and play-making ability.”
Shea: “He made me look very unathletic on that play, let’s just put it that way. He broke me down pretty good.
“After I was embarrassed on that punt team, I had to make up for it. But I wasn’t the only one — I think he made five of us miss on that play.”
Kapsner: “That guy could shake.”
Hoke: “We were down 14 two different times in the ballgame, and I can just remember that the guys on the sideline were just unbelievably together. We had some pretty good football players on that team. We just kept chipping away, kept fighting away.
Gold: “During our time at Michigan, we never doubted that we could come back from a 14-point deficit. In 1996, we were in the Citrus Bowl and were down 14 points two times in that game. With that said, that was stuck in my head and came to the surface. A 14-point deficit was nothing.”
Nessler: “He’s in again! That’s three from Brady to Terrell.”
Henson: “What we really ended up doing was not complicated: If they had cushion coverage, we’d just try and get the ball in Dave’s hands short and then he made plays after the catch.”
Nessler: “Shea rumbles down to the 15-yard line. (Lynn) Swann said it: He’s an integral cog to this offense.”
Nessler: “Finally, Anthony Thomas has something to say about this football game.”
Henson: “I think that score was a byproduct of the passing game. When you are passing more on first downs and the teams have to respect them, they may not stuff the box. The running lanes naturally opened up for him.”
Nessler: “We thought Michigan maybe had put itself in a hole too deep to climb out of, but Anthony Thomas has changed our minds. It’s 28-28.”
Nessler: “What an adjustment he just made in midair!
Griese: “When a guy like David Terrell is making big plays it kind of ignites the other receivers on the team.”
Nessler: “Is he in? Now the ball is loose, and Alabama’s got it!”
Henson: (laughs) “You don’t remember the negatives as much.”
Joppru: “I don’t think Anthony had fumbled all year.”
Kapsner: “That wasn’t Anthony. When you’re inside three or four yards, it was pretty much consistent that we’re going to give it to the Train and let him go in. It was a total freak play.”
Shea: “That was tough. The momentum of that game changed. ‘Oh man, you gotta be kidding me to fumble like that.’ But there was no pointing fingers, everyone stayed positive.”
Gold: “As a defense, we always prepared for sudden-change situations.
“Since I’d been at Michigan, Brady Hoke was the sudden-change guy. Every year during training camp, Hoke would talk about it and bring a half-cup of water with him every year. He would simply tell us, ‘When certain things happen, it’s up to us to determine whether we have a mindset of whether the glass is half-empty or half-full.’ I loved that speech every single time.”
Hoke: “I had a glass or a Ball jar that we filled with water and put some blue dye in. I’d hold it out and ask the guys, ‘Is it half-empty or half-full?’ Got their reaction and said, ‘For those who said it was half-empty, that’s where you won’t be very good at sudden-change.’ It’s half-full because it’s always an opportunity. You always look at it as another chance to play Michigan defense.”
Gold: “We’re coming onto the field hype — the glass was half full.”
Nessler: “Look out! Down he goes. The helmet’s gone. Whitley came flying in from the secondary, and Michigan’s defense comes up with a big play.”
Nessler: “There’s the Alabama native hanging on to maybe the biggest pass play of the night.”
Griese: “He held on just long enough.”
Nessler: “They won’t have to worry about a long field goal, they’re already inside the 20.”
Griese: “If there’s ever a staple of the Michigan offense it’s that right there: Fake to one side, roll away and hit the tight end coming across.”
Nessler: “Rob Renes to snap, Tom Brady to hold, Hayden Epstein to try and win it.”
Joppru: “There was just one hand up there — three inches to the left or three inches to the right and it doesn’t get blocked. But it hit him square in the palm and made a huge thud noise.”
Gold: “Well, here we go again. It let the air out of the place.”
Henson: “Kicking’s not a given in college football. It never is, no matter who you are. If anything, we were feeling better going into overtime than Alabama, since we’d been coming from behind all game.”
Henson: “You’ve got to go into overtime with your best stuff. You go into it expecting that you have to score a touchdown to continue. We were known for our running game and our naked stuff off of it. That was the first call.”
Nessler: “Just like that: One play, 25-yard touchdown.”
Shea: “I remember that play vividly. Sometimes I would switch with Shawn on that standard bootleg that we ran a thousand times at Michigan over into the flat. I went, ‘Hey switch me on this one.’
“I thought I’d do the slant and get the ball quick from Tommy, but the safety came up and read the play and Shawn had a good release on that linebacker and was open. I remember yelling, ‘That was my touchdown!’ ”
Henson: “It’s kind of our bread-and-butter when you need a high-percentage play. It was the same play they threw to Jerame Tuman in 1997 in the Rose Bowl, the winning touchdown.”
Kapsner: “I remember thinking, ‘We won this thing. The defense will hold.”
Gold: “We have four plays — if we stop them every down, we win the game. That’s it. These are the last four downs of our collegiate career. They were the biggest games of my collegiate career. This would be the footnote. We were ready to make a stand.”
“Unfortunately, we didn’t.”
Nessler: “Did he miss it? He did!”
Nessler: “Alabama won a game in the regular season against Florida because of a missed Gator extra point. Fate has dealt them an ugly blow in this Orange Bowl.”
Gold: “I had this thing on field goals where I never turned around to see if the ball went through or not. I’d always just wait to see the crowd’s reaction. I remember coming off the edge where I always came, just fighting through to get some more push — it was probably the hardest I’ve ever pushed on a field-goal attempt.
“I remember coming through and seeing our fans go crazy. I was like, ‘Yes! He missed it! I can’t believe it!’ I never even turned around the look.”
Henson: “Our part of the sideline was opposite that end zone, and the offense was huddling up on the sidelines to talk the next play sequence because we were about to get the ball for the second overtime. Then everyone started going crazy on the field.”
Kapsner: “What just happened? Then it dawns on you. For me and the seniors, suddenly it’s over.”
Joppru: “You couldn’t tell anywhere from the sideline — no one could. The refs say ‘no good.’ Everyone just froze for a split second there and then went crazy.”
Hoke: “Oh, I saw it. Believe me, I was watching. I can remember that down in that end zone, in the corner, there was a big contingency of maize and blue. You never believe it until you see the officials, but we could see those people start to yell, start to get excited.”
Shea: “I remember sitting right next to Coach Carr as we’re waiting for the extra point. Then boom, he missed it. Everyone looked at it: He missed it? Even talking about it now gives me goosebumps.”
Gold: “It was an exclamation point to a career that was 32-8 in four years at Michigan — that’s pretty amazing. I still am proud of that accomplishment.
“Honestly, I thought Coach Carr was going to be retiring after that season. I could see the stress on his face through the ups and downs throughout the game.”
Kapsner: “I remember giving Tom a hug and him burying his head into my shoulder pads. There’s a picture I still have of that moment that some guy in the media took. I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, it’s over. It was an amazing game and we went out on top.’ ”
Shea: “That senior class, we were not going to be denied victory in our last time wearing that Michigan helmet.”
“We had a bunch of oranges up there, and those oranges were diamonds to us.”
TWELVE YEARS LATER
Shea: “The game was on TV about a month ago. I came home and planned to put the girls to bed at 9 or 9:30 and somebody said, ‘Hey, (a replay of) the Michigan-Alabama game is on.’ I turned around and said, ‘Girls, you’re staying up until 11 tonight.’
“My daughter goes ‘But Dad, we know you won that game.’ I said, ‘We’re going to watch it anyway.’ So we watched it all as a family.”
[Shea is now the Cleveland Browns’ director of player development. One of the players in Browns’ camp is running back Trent Richardson, who was a Heisman candidate for Alabama last season.]
Shea: “Trent Richardson, he wants to have a little side bet for this year’s Michigan-Alabama game. I said, ‘Trent, you know who was the last team I beat in my college career? Alabama. I don’t want to hear this SEC stuff.’ I didn’t tell him it took until overtime.
“We’re going to have a friendly little wager on this game. I’ve got my Michigan flag flying down in this state of Ohio.”