1979 Michigan Football Team | bigbluefootballhistory.com Michigan Wolverine Football History

December 28, 2018 First Ever December Game in 1979

Posted on December 27, 2018 by Barry Gallagher

Today’s post recalls the thirty-eighth anniversary of Michigan’s first ever December game in 1979. This historic matchup was also the first ever bowl game (Gator Bowl) between Michigan and North Carolina. The teams had only played each other twice in their football history.  Michigan won the first encounter by a score of 31-24 in 1965. The Tar Heels came back in 1966 to defeat the Wolverines 7-21.

Part I. Michigan’s First Ever December Game in 1979

Michigan entered the first ever December game with a record of 8 wins and 3 losses. It was the first time that a Bo Schembechler team had lost three times since he arrived in 1969. To make matters worse, the Wolverines were on a two-game losing streak since they lost the final two games of the season to Purdue (21-24) and Ohio State (15-18). The Wolverines needed a win to end the season on a positive note.

North Carolina was 7-3-1 heading into this game. The Tar Heels were on a two-game winning streak. They finished in fifth place in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 3-3-0. North Carolina intended to end their disappointing season with three straight wins!  

Michigan Was Favored to Win

The first ever bowl game between Michigan and North Carolina was also a matchup between Bo and Dick Crum. It promised to be a very interesting game and it was! 

Michigan vs North Carolina Gator Bowl 1979 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Michigan played North Carolina in the 35th Gator Bowl game in December 1979.

The fourteenth ranked Wolverines were favored to win over the unranked Tar heels. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way for Michigan.

The Wolverines got off to a great start in the first ever game in December and took a 9-0 lead on the strength of John Wangler’s superb passing and Butch Woolfolk’s hard-running. However, a missed PAT kick in the second quarter really set the tone for the game. It didn’t help Michigan’s cause when linebacker Lawrence Taylor ended Wangler’s season with a hard tackle in the second quarter.

North Carolina came back with a late score in the second quarter and trailed 9-7 at halftime. The Tar Heels scored another touchdown in the third quarter to make it 14-9 at the end of three periods of play. North Carolina added a field goal to increase their lead to 17-9 with about seven minutes to play.

The Wolverines came back behind second-string quarterback B. J. Dickey. When Anthony Carter caught a 30-yards scoring pass with just over one minute to play – it was 17-15. Unfortunately, the Wolverines were forced to go for a two-point conversion, but it failed.

Another Tough Bowl Loss for Unlucky Bo

Yes, it was another gut-wrenching bowl loss for Bo and his Wolverines. Actually, it was the seventh straight bowl loss for Bo at Michigan. The Wolverines and the Tar Heels were pretty even in most categories (first downs, rushing yards and total plays). However, Michigan had 328 passing yards to North Carolina’s 161. Although the Wolverines “outgained” the Tar Heels, Michigan left a lot of points on the field because of two lost fumbles and 87-yards in penalties.

Bo Schembechler Michigan Football 1979 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Bo Schembechler lost his seventh straight bowl game in December 1979. However, things did get better and he won five of the last ten. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

So, December 28, 1979 was a historic date in Michigan Football History, but not one that most Wolverine fans would rather forget!

Some Interesting Michigan Football “Firsts”

Here are the “firsts” that took place on this historic day:

·         The first ever December game in 1979 was also Michigan’s first ever appearance in the Gator Bowl. Of course, it was Michigan’s first Gator Bowl loss.

  • This historic game was the first, and only, time that Michigan and North Carolina ever played in a bowl game. It was also the first, and only, game that Bo Schembechler ever coached against Dick Crum. (Interestingly, it was also the last time that the teams played each other.)

·         Michigan’s loss to North Carolina marked the first time that the Wolverines ever lost two bowl games in the same calendar year. (USC defeated Michigan 10-17 on January 1, 1979 and the Tar Heels got them 15-17 on December 28, 1979 – double ouch!

·         Finally, the painful loss to North Carolina marked the first time that a Bo Schembechler team lost four games in one season. Ugh!

So, the first ever December game is another Michigan Football “first” to remember. Yes, Bo Schembechler won a ton of games at Michigan.  However, when his teams lost, it was almost always painful! This game certainly qualified as a “painful” loss! The good news is that, even with this loss, the Wolverines are still the winningest team in the history of college football. Go Blue!


Part II. Michigan Football Trivia Question – December 27, 2018

Who is the only Michigan Football player to be named MVP of two bowl games in the same calendar year?

Part II. Michigan Football Trivia Answer – December 27, 2018

Butch, don’t call me Harold, Woolfolk is the only Michigan Football player to be declared the “Most Valuable Player” in two bowl games in the same calendar year.

Woolfolk was the MVP of the 1981 Rose Bowl on January 1, 1981. Michigan won the game by a score of 23-6 over Washington.

On December 31, 1981, Michigan defeated UCLA 33-14 in the Bluebonnet Bowl. Once again, the hard-running Woolfolk was named the MVP of the game.

What is really amazing about Butch Woolfolk’s 1981 season is that he was also named the team’s Most Valuable Player for Michigan’s 1981 season. No other Michigan Wolverine has ever been a three-time MVP. I think it is a safe bet that Butch Woolfolk will be the only M-Man to accomplish this trifecta. What do you think?

Part III. Michigan Football Trivia Question – December 28, 2018

Which Michigan Football coach has the best bowl winning percentage among those who have coached in at least two bowl games?

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