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November 23, 1985 History at the Big House!

Posted on November 23, 2017 by Barry Gallagher

November 23, 1985 was another day when the Wolverines made history at the Big House. This is another historic day in Michigan Football History for two BIG reasons. First, it was the first game in Michigan Football History that started at 3:30 pm. Second, because the game would end in complete darkness, it was also the first game in Michigan Football History to be played under the lights. So, there was some good history at the Big House on November 23, 1985.

The 1985 Michigan Football season was important for many reasons. The most important reason was that the Wolverines had to bounce back from Bo’s worst season at Michigan in 1984 (6-6-0). Of course, having a talented, and healthy quarterback, named Jim Harbaugh helped a lot!

Jim Harbaugh led the Wolverines to a record of 8 wins, 1 loss and 1 tie heading into the Ohio State game. A week six loss at Iowa (10-12) and a tie (3-3) against Illinois on November 2nd, made for a difficult scenario for a Big Ten Championship. However, there was still plenty on the line and Bo made sure that his team was ready for the game, even though it started late.

The late start on November 23rd really irked Coach Schembechler. He was a big fan of the 1:00 pm kickoff and absolutely detested the fact that the television executives were starting to call the shots on start times. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do about. His job was to get his team ready for half a game in the daylight and half a game under the lights.

It was another close game until the final minutes. Each team had the lead in the first half, but when the first 30 minutes of played ended the game was tied at 10-10. Michigan scored ten points in the third quarter and kept the Buckeyes off the board. It was 20-10 in favor of the Wolverines heading into the final fifteen minutes of play.

Bo Schembechler and Jim Harbaugh 1985 | bigbluefootbllhistory.com

Jim Harbaugh always did everything exactly as Bo told him to do it. Yes, Bo told Jim to throw the winning touchdown to John Kolesar in the 1985 OSU win – just before he got smashed by a Buckeye defender. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

Early in the fourth quarter, Ohio State quarterback Jim Karsatos hit Chris Carter for 36-yard touchdown pass to make it 20-17. It felt like the Buckeyes had stolen the momentum from the Wolverines even though Michigan still led. Michigan received the kickoff and two plays later Jim Harbaugh and John Kolesar teamed up to seal the deal. Jim Harbaugh dropped back and looked to throw a deep ball to a streaking Kolesar. Harbaugh released the ball just before he was blasted by a blitzing Buckeye defensive back. Jim never saw the end of the play because he was on his back and in some pain. However, he knew that something good happened because the crowd was roaring.

The “something good” was a 77-yard pass completion to Kolesar for a touchdown. Michigan now led by a score of 27-17 after the extra point. Fortunately, that’s how the game ended. This game was the first college game my oldest son ever saw. So, for him, it was definitely some good history at the Big House.

Unfortunately, Michigan’s win over the Buckeyes did not earn them a share of the Big Ten Title. The Wolverines finished second in the conference with a record of 6-1-1. However, they earned a berth in the Fiesta Bowl and defeated 8th ranked Nebraska by a score of 27-23.

The Wolverines ended the season with a final record of 10 wins, 1 loss and 1 tie. They finished second in both polls major football polls for the first, and only, time in Bo’s twenty-one-year tenure. Michigan’s victory over Nebraska was the program’s first Fiesta Bowl win as well. In summary, let’s review the history at the Big House, and on the road, in 1985:

·         September 28. 1985 – First ever game against Maryland in Michigan Stadium. Wolverines won 20-0.

·         November 23, 1985 – First 3:30 pm start in Michigan Stadium History.

·         November 23, 1985 – First game under the lights at Michigan Stadium.

·         First ever Fiesta Bowl game and win (27-24) over Nebraska.

·         First, and only, 2nd place finish in the AP/UPI polls for a Schembechler coached team.

Thanks to the Michigan Historian for this memorable video.

 So, the 1985 season turned out to be a big improvement over the 1984 campaign. Of course, it could have been even better if the Wolverines could have scored 5 or 6 more points (3 in the Iowa loss and 2 or 3 more in the Illinois tie). Yes, this was as close as Bo would come to getting selected by one of the major polls for the top spot in college football. As Frank Sinatra would say, “It was a very good year.”

I hope you had a very good year so far in 2017 – Happy Thanksgiving!



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