EAST LANSING –
In a game in which the two teams competed for a trophy named after a legendary myth, one Wolverine wrote his own real-life tall tale.
There was the shoulder injury. The ankle injury. The drive. The second drive. The audible. And the pass.
Had just one happened in Michigan’s 28-24 comeback win over its intrastate rival, it would have been remembered. A combination like that, though, will be hard to ever forget.
“If you want to define courage, one way to do it is to mention (Michigan quarterback Chad) Henne,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. Later he added: “Every quarterback I’ve had since I started as a head coach, (they’ve been) tough guys, smart guys. But there isn’t anybody tougher than Henne.”
Certainly not during this season – or during the second half of the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game.
Early on, Henne overthrew receivers, his passes lacked zip and he even tossed an interception.
But with 7:35 left, it no longer seemed that save for a few passes with a trainer Thursday morning, Henne’s shoulder injury kept him from throwing a ball last week.
Exit: The 8-for-20 Henne, down 24-14.
Enter: The man who added a whole year to Michigan State Mark Dantonio’s calendar. Chad the Spartan Killer. Destroyer of all dreams green.
Now 4-0 against Michigan State, Henne has thrown for 14-career touchdowns versus the Spartans. But whereas Henne followed senior Braylon Edwards in his four-touchdown performance freshman year, Saturday, the quarterback led the Wolverines.
Not before somehow finding another body part to injure, though. On the first play of the drive that began with less than 8 minutes left, Henne threw a first down to Adrian Arrington, but limped off the field in pain. As he nursed the ankle he heard crack under the weight of 298-pound Steve Schilling, Henne watched freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett fumble for the 10th time this season.
“I felt a little crackle, and I was like ‘Oh god I can’t put pressure on my foot.’ and I was like ‘Not another injury for me,’ ” Henne said. “I kind of hobbled off and toward the sideline I felt a little better. So there’s no reason why I couldn’t go back in.”
Luckily, he had a shot to.
Hart jumped on Mallett’s fumble and ran it for a first down, giving Henne another chance to lead a drive. And what a drive it was. To Butler. To Mathews. To Arrington. To Mathews. To the end zone. Nearly as quickly as Henne’s detractors had called for Mallett to play earlier this season, the senior had the Wolverines within three.
Forty-eight seconds. Seven plays. Seventy-nine yards.
And he wasn’t done.
With 4:28 left, Henne (with some help from Manningham and Arrington) marched back down the field, this time to the Michigan State 31-yard line. Henne had completed nine of his previous 12 passes. And then came No. 10.
On third-and-12, Henne audibled and sent Manningham to the end zone. And in-almost-but-not-quite-Braylon-esque fashion, the junior jumped and made an incredible catch over Ross Weaver’s head.
Wolverines 28, Spartans 24.
Carr was a bit upset Henne went for broke on that third-down. Still 31-yards from the end zone, the coach viewed it as four-down territory.
But that’s about the only way Henne wronged him.
Tackle Jake Long receives a lot of attention because, as an offensive lineman, he’s not supposed to get it. Running back Mike Hart gets it because, well, he’s Mike Hart. And both deserve all that praise.
But without quarterback Chad Henne – rightly criticized and wrongly booed earlier this season – Michigan would be, at best, 5-5 and fighting for bowl eligibility over the season’s final two weeks.
In September, with an offense that looked stagnant under freshman Ryan Mallett, Henne returned from a knee injury to engineer a second-half comeback against Northwestern. Less than a month later against Illinois, he returned from an injury to his throwing shoulder to steady the Wolverines after Mallett nearly threw the win away.
But Saturday, Henne’s performance made his coaches and teammates regret they had wasted all their kind words on him two weeks earlier.
Because now, what else did they have left to say?
“Chad is crazy,” cornerback Donovan Warren said. “He showed a lot of stuff. Showed a lot of heart. He’s a warrior. That was the true definition of a warrior there.”
Michigan may not have wanted the Paul Bunyan Trophy when it first played for it in 1953. But after this game, there was no way the Wolverines weren’t proud of their newest mythical man.
– Herman can be reached as firstname.lastname@example.org.