“Good morning, and welcome to the Michigan band’s first ever early morning postgame show.”
—Michigan Stadium PA announcer Carl Grapentine, just past midnight after Michigan’s victory over Notre Dame
Does anyone know what happened at the Big House on Saturday night? Did anything happen? Was it all just a dream?
This was the 10th Michigan-Notre Dame game I’ve attended and eighth in a row. The 2009 game was a classic; last year’s contest was unbelievable. They pale in comparison to what happened in Ann Arbor this weekend for the first ever night game at Michigan Stadium.
For the third straight season, the Wolverines beat the Irish in the final 30 seconds by four points, this time 35-31 in one of the wildest games in college football history.
Michigan’s leading receiver last season, Roy Roundtree, had just one reception but it was the game-winning touchdown with two seconds left. Of course most of the NCAA-record crowd of 114,804 thought the game-winner had come with 1:12 left when Denard Robinson dumped a screen pass to Vincent Smith, who weaved between defenders and blockers to score from 21 yards out and put Michigan up 28-24 after the extra point. And surely they thought the final score had come when Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees found a wide open Theo Riddick for a 29-yard touchdown with just 30 seconds left.
But just as Michigan had given the Irish too much time, ND had scored too quickly. After a kickoff for a touchback and an incomplete pass, Robinson connected with Jeremy Gallon, who was even more head-scratchingly open than Riddick. Gallon caught it near the right sideline and sprinted up and across the field, going out of bounds at the ND 16 with eight seconds left. That’s when Robinson hit Roundtree, defended by a cornerback who wasn’t looking at the ball—a theme of the night—to cap off the exhilarating evening.
The numbers are mind-boggling. Robinson completed just 11 passes but had 338 yards, over 30 yards per completion. He recorded 446 total yards after putting up 502 on the Irish last season (a figure Robinson himself didn’t believe when ESPN’s Chris Fowler informed him of the number in his on-field, postgame interview). He was pretty awful for three quarters but absolutely electric in the fourth, when he threw three TDs and ran for another as Michigan erased a 24-7 deficit.
For the first 45 minutes, the Irish contained Robinson on the ground and were content to let him self-destruct through the air (he threw three picks; his first two were of the “What was he thinking?” variety). But like last week against South Florida, Notre Dame had its gun aimed squarely at its foot, turning it over five times.
What won’t be recorded in the box score is the energy of the crowd. I can’t be upset if I never experience anything like that again, and I won’t be surprised if I don’t. Like so many others, I remained in the stadium for about an hour after the final whistle. I would have preferred not to hear the contrived Michigan football anthem that played twice (the lyrics include “Hail to the Wolverines”), but almost everything else was perfect. Sure the uniforms were a little silly but they didn’t look too bad over the pads and the players seemed to like them. Even if they don’t catch on I think an annual night game at the Big House will.
But none of them will ever top the inaugural game.