MIAMI — It came while players and fans were catching their collective breath. Preparing for this wild battle to stretch even further into the hours of the morning. As Alabama’s point-after attempt sailed outside the right upright, the roaring crowd turned silent before realizing the game was over. But as shocking as the conclusion was, it was a fitting ending to one of the craziest — and best — Michigan games in recent memory.
The eighth-ranked Wolverines twice battled back from two-touchdown deficits to defeat No. 6 Alabama, 35-34, in overtime of the Orange Bowl on Saturday. The game ended abruptly when Alabama kicker Ryan Pflugner missed an extra-point on Alabama’s first possession of the overtime.
“I stood on the sideline, and the thought that went through my mind was, ‘It’s going to be a shame for someone to lose this football game,’ ” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “Both teams played with everything they had.”
The game shaped up as if it were a Hollywood script — one with plenty of plot twists but nevertheless a happy ending for Michigan (10-2). Senior quarterback Tom Brady made sure his last collegiate game was also his finest. And in writing the final act of his Michigan career, Brady also rewrote the record books.
He completed a career-high and Orange Bowl-record 34 of his 46 pass attempts, throwing for 369 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
But the final scene almost turned into a horror movie for Michigan. Brady had driven his team down the field, as he has done time and time again this season, setting up the game-winning 36-yard field goal with two seconds left. But Hayden Epstein’s kick was blocked, extending the improbable game to overtime and putting a heart-stopping Michigan comeback temporarily on hold.
Brady had been putting Michigan in a position to win all game, though, so there was no reason he couldn’t continue to do so after the time in regulation had expired. On Michigan’s last play of the overtime period, Brady found tight end Shawn Thompson over the middle for a 25-yard touchdown pass. Epstein added what seemed like a routine extra point at the time, but would soon turn out to be the difference in the game.
Alabama (10-3) scored two plays later on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Zow to Antonio Carter, but Pflunger missed the point-after attempt, bringing the wacky game to a close.
Michigan’ s rushing attack was dormant for the entire game, so Carr was forced to rely on Brady’s arm to lead Michigan to its third straight 10-win season. And the coach wasn’t at all surprised with the way his senior captain responded.
“Tom Brady has everything you want in a quarterback,” Carr said. “The guys around him love him and believe in him and if you knew him, you’d believe in him too.”
Michigan’s receivers certainly believe in Brady, and with the groove the quarterback was in, they couldn’t help but get involved in the offensive explosion. Brady found eight different receivers on the day as he calmly picked apart the Alabama secondary, exhibiting the fearless brand of senior leadership he has become known for during this gut-wrenching season.
“If you’re quarterback, you want everything on your shoulders,” Brady said. “You want to be the one to make the decisions.”
Brady’s outstanding game nearly overshadowed another heroic performance, this one by wide receiver David Terrell, who was also named the game’s Most Valuable Player. The sophomore was the entire Michigan offense for the game’s first three quarters, accounting for the Wolverines’ first three touchdowns in a 10-catch, 150-yard performance.
In fact, shortly after halftime, Alabama versus Michigan was shaping up more like Terrell against Shaun Alexander. The Michigan receiver and the Alabama running back accounted for six of the game’s first seven touchdowns, and Alexander’s impressive showing rivaled those of Terrell and Brady. The senior rushed 25 times for 161 yards and matched Terrell’s total of three touchdowns, as Alabama established its rushing attack early while taking a 14-0 lead.
But Brady and Michigan battled back to set up the thrilling conclusion that left everyone in the stadium, whether they wore maize and blue or crimson and white, drained and exhausted. And Brady couldn’t think of a happier ending to his time at Michigan.
“Ten and two, Orange Bowl champions, beating the SEC champions,” a beaming Brady said after the game. “It’s a great way to end your career.”
— This story was originally published on Jan. 5, 2000.