MINNEAPOLIS (Oct. 15, 2003) – No chance. No way. Not going to happen. You had to be thinking that. Admit it. Even you diehards out there must have started to doubt.
Michigan was getting smoked on the road against a ranked team. The offense was going nowhere. The defense was stopping nothing.
14-0 at halftime? 28-7 in the fourth quarter? You don’t come back from that, not if you’ve had two road-game comeback bids fall short already this season.
It’s okay, it’s hard to blame you for thinking that.
The Michigan players weren’t thinking it. But then, they couldn’t.
“We didn’t give up,” freshman cornerback Leon Hall said. “That whole game, our mentality was just like, ‘We’re going to come back. It’s going to be the greatest comeback.’ “
It had to be. The whole season was on the line here. If the Wolverines could somehow claw their way back and beat Minnesota, they’d still be in the Big Ten title hunt, and maybe they could use the victory to vault themselves back into being contenders.
And if they couldn’t, they would have nothing left to play for, not really. With three losses in seven games, they’d have to finish out the season knowing that after so much hype and with so much potential, there’d be no championship, no BCS bowl.
When did you start thinking the Wolverines could win? Did you let the thought creep in after they scored in the third quarter? Or did you push it away still?
For many of the players, it was Jacob Stewart’s interception at 13:30 in the fourth that made them think they could really do this. The cornerback stepped in front of a receiver and ran the ball back, making it 28-21 and giving the porous defense a little redemption.
The defense hadn’t made a play all night, it seemed. They flailed their arms while the Gophers ran for 424 rushing yards.
“Of course we had to turn it around,” defensive end Larry Stevens said emphatically. “I mean, the team’s jamming it down our throat. What (are) you going to do? You going to lay down? That’s your manhood right there. That’s your pride. That’s what you stand for.”
So the defense starting making tackles, and the offense had switched to the hurry-up and they were only down by seven. Did you believe in Michigan yet?
Not so fast.
Sure, it looked like the Wolverines could win now, but they’ve been close at the end before. Remember Oregon? How about Iowa? And sure enough, just as soon as Michigan pulled close, Minnesota pulled away again, 35-21.
But like some game of tug-of-war, Michigan pulled back, harder. A touchdown bomb to Braylon Edwards. A Chris Perry 10-yard touchdown run. 35-35.
On the next drive, the Gophers had a 3rd-and-4 on its own 20, and the Wolverines stopped them.
Oddly similar to Michigan’s other two road games, it came down to this: Michigan had the ball and a chance to win with just 4:12 left.
Did you let yourself think it could happen then? Even with the way the Wolverines had fought back, you had no reason to believe they could finish it. You had every reason to think that they’d come up short again. You’d seen it before.
So had the Wolverines. What were they thinking on the field?
“Don’t let this be (like) the last two games.” That’s what Braylon Edwards was thinking. “I’m tired of hearing about how we fought hard, but yet we didn’t make the plays. ‘You guys did good, you guys didn’t give up, but you just didn’t come up with it.’ We said, ‘To Hell with that. We’re going to come up with this one. We’re going to make this one work.’ “
So they advanced down the field, and they fumbled the ball. Perry dropped it, and you must have been crushed. But wait – there was Tim Massaquoi, finishing a block, spotting the ball, falling on it, saving Michigan’s chances.
And those chances now rested on the leg of a true freshman. Michigan took a knee on third down, and Garrett Rivas came out to kick the 33-yard field goal.
Did you trust him? Stephens, Edwards and John Navarre – they all said they knew Rivas would make it. And he did.
That was it. Markus Curry grabbed the Gophers’ Hail Mary attempt at the end, and it was over.
Did it take a while to sink in? Was it hard to believe that the Wolverines had completed the biggest comeback in Michigan history, scored 31 points in the fourth quarter? Imagine how the players felt.
“That’s probably the most emotional lockerroom I’ve ever been in in my life,” Edwards said. “You had guys that were crying, coaches that were crying. I even cried a little bit. I don’t even cry, but I cried a little bit.”
After the game, Stevens said he still didn’t know what happened. How did it happen? How did a team this talented get itself in that position anyway – 4-2 and staring down loss No. 3? How did Michigan dig itself such a deep hole and then overcome so much so quickly?
“We’re not a great football team,” coach Lloyd Carr said, “but we’ve got great heart, I’ll tell you that. We’ve got great heart.”
You know that now, don’t you? Or maybe you knew it all along.
Courtney Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.