This is part four of our five-part series that looks back at the Daily’s game coverage of some of the seminal moments in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry. Today, we take a look at the Daily’s cover from the 1997 game, in which Charles Woodson clinched the Heisman and the Wolverines clinched a spot in the Rose Bowl.
Charles Woodson’s grin stretched longer than usual, even for the confident All-American. It seemed to extend from end zone to end zone at Michigan Stadium.
And in the middle of Woodson’s mouth was a sweet symbol of perfection — a rose.
“It just doesn’t get any better than this,” said Woodson, sporting a fresh, bright-white “1997 Big Ten Champions” cap.
So stately was the rose, yet so simple was the message.
Michigan’s 20-14 victory over Ohio State on Saturday concluded the Wolverines’ first perfect season in 26 years and sent them to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1992 season.
A year of dreams culminated in a day of magic, which so drained the Wolverines physically and emotionally that some could hardly muster the energy to describe it.
“I’m still emotionally out of it,” junior safety Marcus Ray said. “This is my dream: to go undefeated, beat Ohio State at home and go to the Rose Bowl. That’s why I came here and that’s why my teammates came here.”
Since first setting foot on Michigan Stadium turf, each Wolverine had waited for this moment. No current Michigan player had ever earned a Rose Bowl berth, making all unsure of what true euphoria felt like or exactly how to react.
“I came back to the locker room and we were celebrating, and we sang ‘The Victors,'” said fifth-year senior Brian Griese, who almost opted to skip his final year. “I just wanted to go back out on the field and be back out there one more time, like an encore.”
The fans who had lambasted Griese during his tumultuous career now embraced the quarterback with similar intensity.
“I just wanted to shake every “fan’s” hand in the stands. I wasn’t able to do that, but I think I got about 50 percent of them.”
Griese played through the pain of losing four games in each of his four previous seasons, but he never gave up hope that this perfect moment would come to fruition.
His coach also waited patiently. Lloyd Carr survived both good and tough times as an assistant for 19 seasons. And when he finally became a head coach in 1995, he ignored criticism and pressure, looking instead to the day when he could call his team the best in the land.
“For us, it’s truly a dream season,” Carr said. “When you can line up and play hard for 11 straight weeks against the caliber of competition that we’ve face — and never play when you didn’t play hard — that’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
Michigan played hardest in its most important game. Sure, there had been rivals such as Michigan State and talented, intimidating opponents such as Penn State. But no team presented a complete test quite like Ohio State, making victory over the Wolverines’ arch-rivals an appropriate finish to a season full of challenges.
“This is a big rivalry just like Michigan-Michigan State,” Ray said. “The only difference in this game is that Michigan-Michigan State is like a neighborhood street fight and this is like a world war.”
Now that Michigan has won that war, it can stand on top of the world and smell the roses — the scent of perfection.
“It’s lonely at the top,” said senior co-captain Eric Mayes, who was injured in the fourth game of the season and had to sit out the last seven games. “It’s lonely at the top.”