By GEORGE WINE
Editor’s Note: The following story was written by former University of Iowa sports editor George Wine and first published on hawkeyesports.com on Nov. 19, 2006.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The sudden death of (former Michigan head football coach) Bo Schembechler brought back distant memories — some good, some not so pleasant.
Schembechler coached Michigan football for 21 years, beginning in 1969. In his first 12 seasons, the only teams to win Big Ten titles were Michigan and Ohio State. Sportswriters accurately referred to our conference “the Big Two and Little Eight.”
Iowa played Michigan four times during that period and none of the games were close. The Wolverines won by the combined scores of 147-13, and those results were partly responsible for the firings of Iowa coaches Frank Lauturbur and Bob Commings.
Hayden Fry became Iowa’s head coach in 1979 and Michigan was off the Hawkeye schedule his first two seasons. By 1981 Hayden had a good club that was winning with a stingy defense and exceptional special teams.
Among Iowa’s early-season victims were Nebraska and UCLA, both ranked No. 6 in the nation when they visited Kinnick Stadium. The results of those games got national attention and for the first time in 20 years, the Hawkeyes were ranked in the polls.
When Iowa traveled to Ann Arbor in mid-October, unbeaten Michigan held the No. 6 spot in the national rankings and was a solid favorite to beat the 4-1 Hawkeyes, who hadn’t won there since 1958.
Fry’s game plan was simple and it worked beautifully. He used the powerful leg of Reggie Roby, the best punter in college football, and his strong defense, led by Andre Tippett, to win the battle of field position.
Schembechler’s defense limited Iowa to three field goals by freshman Tommy Nichol, but that was enough scoring to give the Hawkeyes a 9-7 upset victory. When the polls came out two days later, the No. 6 team in the nation was Iowa, which went on to share the Big Ten championship and play in the Rose Bowl.
The second memorable Fry versus Schembechler game was played four years later, in 1985. Iowa was ranked No. 1 and Michigan No. 2 and the contest received national attention that was nearly suffocating.
To add to the drama, Musco Lighting was brought into Kinnick Stadium for the first time. The nationally televised game was scheduled to start in daylight and end in darkness.
As usual, Schembechler had a tremendous defense that had not allowed a touchdown in its previous four games. Fry’s offense, featuring Chuck Long and Ronnie Harmon, was one of the most potent in college football. The immovable object was about to meet the irresistible force.
The Hawkeyes had no trouble moving the ball — they finished with 422 yards total offense — but they could not find the end zone. Michigan was leading 10-9 when Iowa got the ball 82 yards from the goal line and little time on the clock.
Long demonstrated his all-America skills by taking his team on a 16-play drive to the Michigan 12-yard line. With only seconds remaining, Fry called timeout and asked Rob Houghtlin to kick his fourth field goal of the game.
Then Schembechler, in an attempt to unnerve Houghtlin, called consecutive timeouts. “Can you believe it, coach?” Houghtlin asked Fry. “They’re trying to ice me.”
When the teams finally lined up for the field goal attempt, the stadium was eerily silent. When Houghtin’s kick split the uprights the place exploded.
Against a dark sky, the scoreboard glowed the final score: Iowa 12, Michigan 10. There was bedlam on the field. University security estimated 30,000 fans spilled out of the stands and things got a little scary.
The Hawkeyes celebrated by piling on Houghtlin and his holder, Mark Vlasic, who was hurt and missed the next two games. The goal posts were ripped down and some fans were injured.
“This game, with its dramatic ending, ranks No. 1 in my coaching career,” said Fry. “It had a huge buildup and a great impact on the national polls. It was one of the few times that the game exceeded the hype.”
Iowa went on to win an outright Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth.
Hayden and Bo faced off nine times and many of the games went down to the wire. One that didn’t was the 26-0 victory by Iowa in 1984. That is the worst loss ever administered to a Schembechler team.
During the 1980s, as they matched wits from across the football field, the two coaches became good friends. Their admiration and respect for one another was obvious.
Fry, the old psychology major, liked to play with Bo’s head. Schembechler was one of the first coaches to complain about the visitors’ pink locker room at Kinnick Stadium. He had his student managers cover the pink walls with white butcher paper.
Hayden would just laugh and tell Bo, “Gotcha!”
Schembechler is among the greatest coaches in Big Ten history. He won 85 percent of his conference games. No other coach is close to that figure. He won or shared 13 Big Ten championships. He had 16 teams ranked in the Top Ten.
Schembechler and Woody Hayes dominated the Big Ten during the 1970s, but Fry put a stop to that. Fry showed that it was possible for someone other than Michigan and Ohio State to win the championship. Other coaches took his cue and the league became much more competitive and interesting.
When Fry was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame a few years ago, he requested that Schembechler be the person to present him the plaque at an on-field ceremony at Kinnick Stadium.
One Hall of Famer honoring another. What could be more appropriate?