The University of Michigan football program has more victories on the gridiron than any other school in the history of the sport. Here are the greatest moments in their long and glorious history.
The Greatest Moments in Michigan Football History
Welcome Home Coach
During the week leading up to a night game in Ann Arbor against Penn State in 2014, maize t-shirts with blue lettering were being sold on The University of Michigan campus that read “Harbaugh Now, Enough Is Enough. “
The frustration with the fanbase after the Rich Rodriguez years and the likely pending termination of the current head coach at the time, Brady Hoke, had reached a fever pitch. However, pressure from the faithful wasn’t going to be enough to bring the coach to Michigan. While he was coaching at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh had alienated many in the Michigan community with comments he made about the school’s admissions standards for football players. Even former Michigan running back Mike Hart, known for his “little brother“ comments directed at Michigan State, said he wished that Harbaugh had never attended Michigan. Hart later backed off that statement.
Enter interim athletic director Jim Hackett, himself a Michigan Man. Tasked with evaluating the football program, Hackett quickly dismissed head coach Brady Hoke right after the conclusion of the 2014 season. Initially working back channels to gauge interest from Harbaugh and the school, Hackett also flawlessly accomplished the necessary mending of fences.
After intense speculation about whether the coach would be hired to lead the men in blue and wall-to-wall media coverage — especially after the San Francisco 49ers parted ways with Harbaugh — a small private jet carrying the Harbaugh clan landed in Ann Arbor. James Joseph Harbaugh had come home.
A Trio Of Trophies
Michigan has three Heisman Trophy winners. It’s not a record for the most from any school but each one of them is special.
The first was Tom Harmon, also known as “Old 98”. His jersey is retired except for the 2014 season when several retired jerseys were worn. Harmon played for Michigan from 1938-1941. He played running back, kicker, punter, and kick returner. Harmon also threw more than his fair share of touchdown passes for a non-quarterback. If all of that wasn’t enough, he also played defense. In his final game suiting up for the Wolverines, he ran for three touchdowns, passed for two, and had three interceptions on defense all while handling the kicking duties. When they make movies about a football player, you know they’re one of the great ones.
The second Heisman winner for Michigan was Desmond Howard. The second Wolverine to win the award was primarily a wide receiver. However, he also ran the ball often and was a great punt returner. When he won his Heisman, he received 85% of the first-place votes which was a record at the time. Seeming to know he was going to take home the hardware, Howard displayed an iconic Heisman pose after scoring a touchdown late in the season. He even won a Super Bowl MVP award in spite of a pro career that didn’t meet expectations.
Finally, the most recent Michigan Man to win the award is Charles Woodson. Primarily a defensive player who also played sporadically on offense as well as handling punt return duties, Woodson is the last defensive player to win the trophy. Regarding his capabilities as a shutdown corner, it’s been said that water covers 70% of the earth and Woodson covers the other 30%.
In 1969, Ohio State came into the annual showdown with Michigan undefeated and ranked #1 in the nation. Many referred to the Buckeyes as the greatest college football team of all time. Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler was in his first season leading the team and was still in the process of establishing an identity for himself and the team. Michigan was ranked 12th in the country but few gave them a chance to win. Ohio State was also the defending national champions and brought a 22-game winning streak into the game.
At the outset, it appeared the Buckeyes would continue their streak. They marched down the field on their opening possession and took an early 6-0 lead. But Michigan came right back and scored a touchdown to take a 7-6 lead, the first time Ohio State had trailed all season. The teams traded scores and Michigan led 14-12 with only a few minutes left in the first half. They then scored 10 points late in the quarter and took a 24-12 to the locker room.
The second half saw numerous missed opportunities to score by both teams and when it was over the Wolverines had earned a 24-12 victory in front of a then-record crowd of over 103,000 at The Big House. Pandemonium ensued and the fans stormed the field. After a down period for the program, Michigan was back and The Ten Year War had begun.
42-27 & 45-20
After a decade and a half of losing 15 of 16 games to the Buckeyes, it was starting to look like it wasn’t a rivalry anymore. A few of the games were close, but many were blowouts. Ohio State had the advantage in talent most of those years. Jim Harbaugh had been hired to reverse the trend but hadn’t had early success against the hated Buckeyes even though he won a lot of games and turned the program around.
This time, Michigan was on even ground from a talent standpoint. On November 27, 2021, Ohio State traveled to Ann Arbor for the annual version of “The Game “. Michigan controlled the game throughout even though they didn’t put the Bucks away until late. It was the first time in many years that Michigan seemed able to score at will against their hated rivals. Running back Hassan Haskins led the way with five touchdowns in the 42-27 victory. The most memorable moment of the day may have been after the game on the field when Michigan head basketball coach Juwan Howard was holding Harbaugh’s face on the field after the game and both men were smiling ear to ear.
For good measure and to prove that 2021 was no fluke, Michigan went into Columbus in 2022 and beat the Buckeyes again, 42-20. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy had his best game in a Michigan uniform to date and running back Donovan Edwards sealed the deal with two long touchdown runs in the fourth quarter. It was good to be a Michigan fan again.