October 27, 1979 is a day that will live forever in the history of Michigan football. It didn’t hurt that Bob Ufer, Michigan’s legendary radio announcer, made it even more memorable with his call of the final play.
Today’s post celebrates what I think is the greatest ending to a Michigan football game − ever! Before I describe what happened, I want to give you some background about the game and how it all came about.
The 1979 season was the last season of Bo Schembechler’s first full decade as coach at Michigan. After a pretty good start in 1969, Bo really went to work in the seventies. Man, did he go to work! Schembechler’s Wolverines won at an amazing rate from 1970 to 1978. They racked up one Big Ten championship and a share of six others. They also finished in second place in 1970 and 1975. Michigan ended every season from 1970 to 1978 in the top ten of the national rankings.
Everyone was expecting more of the same in 1979. How could they think anything would be different? Michigan started the season with an easy win over Northwestern (49-7). Notre Dame upset the sixth ranked Wolverines with a narrow win (12-10) to put Michigan at one win and one loss after two games. The Wolverines went on a five game winning streak that put them at 6 wins and 1 loss heading into homecoming.
Michigan’s opponent on October 27th would be Lee Corso’s Indiana Hoosiers. Corso was in his seventh year of the eternal re-building project at Indiana. The Hoosiers were on a ten year “losing season” streak, but there was hope in Bloomington in 1979. Corso’s teams were showing improvement. Maybe this would be the year that Big Red would earn a winning season.
The Hoosiers were off to a pretty good start by the time they rolled into Ann Arbor. They already had five wins and only two losses. They were on pace to win six or seven games and maybe go to a bowl game for the first time since 1968. Lee Corso probably believed that his Hoosiers were good enough to beat Michigan and I think that a lot of his players thought the same way.
Coach Lee Corso had lost the first four games that he coached against Bo Schembechler and only one was close. Michigan averaged thirty-nine points a game and only allowed about seven points per contest in Corso’s first four games against the Wolverines. This would be the first game since 1976 due to the Big Ten scheduling rotation.
Michigan scored first in this game on a 3-yard run by Lawrence Reid and Bryan Virgil kicked the extra point to make it a 7-0 game. Michigan led by that same score at the end of the first quarter. Indiana came back strong in the second quarter. The Hoosiers scored once in the air and once on the ground to lead at halftime by a score of 14-7.
Apparently, Bo got everyone’s attention at halftime. Michigan stormed out of the locker room to score two touchdowns in the third quarter (Lawrence Reid 50-yard run and Butch Woolfolk 2-yard run). Michigan led 21-14 at the start of the fourth quarter. Both defenses stiffened and yards became very hard to come by. However, Indiana put together a long drive and scored on a 3-yard touchdown pass with fifty-five seconds remaining. Corso decided to go for a tie and the made extra point put the teams in a 21-21 deadlock. After getting pounded in the four previous games Lee Corso was ready to accept a tie as a “moral” victory against Michigan in the Big House.
Michigan took the kickoff and got the ball to the twenty-yard line. It took Michigan forty-six seconds to move the ball twenty-yards. Lawrence Reid caught a short pass fumbled the ball out of bounds at the fifty yard line with six seconds remaining. Lee Corso went nuts about the play, but the officials let it stand. An Indiana off-sides penalty put the ball at the Hoosier forty-five yard line. John Wangler took the snap, dropped back, and threw a strike to Anthony Carter who ran a perfect slant pattern. The “Human Torpedo”darted into the end zone for a Michigan victory! After that it was pure bedlam and unmitigated joy by Bob Ufer as he described what just happened.
Interestingly, Indiana seemed to bounce back better from their stunning defeat than Michigan did after their stunning victory. Indiana went on to win two of their last three games and finished the regular season at 7 wins, 4 losses and 0 ties. They earned a trip to the Holiday Bowl and beat Brigham Young University (38-37) in a thriller.
Michigan blasted Wisconsin the next week by a score of 55-0. Then the roof fell in as they lost to Purdue and Ohio State to end the regular season at 8 wins and 3 losses. The decade of the seventies ended with a “thud” for Bo when North Carolina beat them (17-15) on December 28, 1979.
So, the Homecoming game that will live forever in Michigan football history was probably the high point of the 1979 season. Team number one hundred was Bo’s first four loss team at Michigan. The third place conference finish was the worst in Bo’s first eleven years at Michigan.
Although the Wolverines kind of staggered at the end of the decade, it was an amazing ten year run for Bo Schembechler and Michigan. The Maize and Blue footballers ended the seventies with 96 wins, 16 losses and 3 ties. No team in America won more games and nobody won nearly eighty-five percent (.847) of their games in that span.
So, that’s it for today’s post. Bob Ufer declared on October 27, 1979 that “Johnny Wangler to Anthony Carter will be heard until another one hundred years of Michigan football is played!” Well, it has only been thirty-seven years since that amazing day, but it still lives on in our memories. Thanks to John Wangler, Anthony Carter and Bob Ufer – for making the last six seconds of the 1979 Homecoming game so memorable. I will always remember it as the greatest ending to a Michigan football game. What do you think?