Column: Michigan Delivers Big in Big House

Notre Dame game "under the lights" a night no one will forget
John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last weekend, for the first time in the history of Michigan football, they scheduled a night game, and invited Notre Dame to join the party.

But what if you had a night game, and nobody came? Well, that wasn’t the problem. The game attracted more than 114,000 people, another NCAA record.

To commemorate the event, Michigan wore “throwback jerseys” – which went back all the way to September 10, 2011. (Ask your grandparents.) Michigan’s jerseys have never had stripes – and when you saw them Saturday night, you appreciated just how wise Michigan’s founders had been. It was less about tradition than it was about trade.

But what if you invited the entire nation to watch your big game, and you laid an egg? In the first half, Michigan couldn’t have looked worse, trailing Notre Dame in first downs, 15-3. The only stat that was even close was the only one that mattered: the score. Notre Dame had completely dominated the Wolverines, but led only 17-7.

If lightning had been sighted near the end of the third quarter, with Notre Dame ahead 24-7, you could make a case for calling this game early, too.

Michigan started the fourth quarter with the ball on Notre Dame’s one-yard line – when running back Stephen Hopkins fumbled. If the ball had bounced toward the Irish, the fans would have headed for the aisles, with Michigan’s first night game declared a failure.

But on this night, the luck of the Irish had switched to the Wolverines. The ball bounced right to quarterback Denard Robinson, who did what he does: trotted into the end zone for an easy touchdown.

What happened next is hard to believe, even now. The same team that couldn’t do anything right for three quarters, suddenly couldn’t do anything wrong. The Wolverines caught fire, scoring touchdown after touchdown, taking the lead for the first time with just 1:12 left. The crowd erupted.

But Notre Dame finally woke up, and scored its first touchdown of the quarter, leaving the Wolverines stuck with a 31-28 deficit, and just 30 seconds left. It seemed like they had run out of tricks.

When you lose, no matter how heroically you played, people talk about what you did wrong. The critics would have asked what happened to the high-powered offense the team inherited, and why the defense wasn’t any better than the disastrous defense from the year before. But when you win, all people talk about is what you did right. And Michigan did a lot right in that fourth quarter.

Amazingly, with just eight seconds left, Michigan gave itself a chance to win the game. Roy Roundtree hadn’t caught a pass all night, but in the huddle, the normally unassuming man told Robinson, “Give me the ball.”

And that’s what Robinson did, sending a pass soaring to the edge of the end zone. The defender was all over Roundtree – but it didn’t matter. That ball was his. And when he grabbed it, the game was Michigan’s.

It’s fashionable to say Michigan Stadium is home to the quietest 100,000 people in the world. But thanks to a full day of partying, the new skybox acoustics, and the almost surreal feeling that night, no crowd, anywhere, could have been louder.

And the fans didn’t stop. Not when the players jumped into the student section to sing “The Victors.” Not when Denard actually skipped off the field. Not when he returned for a post-game interview. Not even when they turned out the lights. The fans just moved their celebrations elsewhere.

It hasn’t stopped all week. People are still buzzing about it.

Winning solves a lot of problems, but not all of them. This team has a lot of work to do. But, who cares? I can’t imagine the fans ever seeing, hearing, or feeling anything like they did that night in the old stadium again.

We don’t have to wait to gain perspective on this one. We can say, right here, right now, that that was the greatest finish in Big House history.

Don’t believe me? Just ask any of the 114,000 people who were there – or the half million folks who will soon be telling you they were.

About the author: John U. Bacon is the author of the upcoming “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football,” due out Oct. 25. You can pre-order the book from Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor or on

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