The Wolverines were sky high returning from Iowa City after their blowout victory. Ann Arbor was cold and there was snow on the ground when the Wolverines returned. Then came Monday for practice. The players were huddled, but warm inside their building. Looking out, they expected that they would have to clear the snow off the playing field. However, to their surprise, it was the coaches that were clearing the playing field for their players. That act symbolized how much the coaches were behind their players and made a mark in the player’s psyche.
At practice during that week, the players were focused, high and excitable. They practiced like no other week. The players blocked hard, tackled hard and ran their plays with heightened enthusiasm. In fact, Coach Gary Moeller was concerned about the amount of effort and focus by the players, and he was afraid they were going to burn themselves out and play their game on the practice field. Coach Moeller went to Bo and shared with him, his fear. Bo, the other hand, reassured, Gary Moeller and said “let them go.” And go, they did.
Friday, prior to Saturday’s game, the team stayed at the nearby Sheraton Hotel. Then a peculiar thing happened. There was a fire alarm. Players were taken from their slumber and had to take their blankets with them to the lobby of the hotel to cover themselves. And with all the commotion they didn’t get much sleep that night. Was that fire alarm a blessing? It was simply a distraction. Everyone knew about the importance of that first meeting between Bo and Woody. No one had to say the word-they all knew.
Then, the next morning as the Michigan players were ready to go on the playing field, there was Woody and his team warming up and practicing on the Michigan side. Bo went nuts. In the locker room, Bo made it clear they were the number one team in the country and they took three quarters of our playing field during pregame practice. Bo said “they disrespected you. We are going to show them. Let’s go get them.” Bo, being excited pounded his fist into the blackboard exploding it. Then, the seniors got up and started throwing chairs around. It was a chaotic atmosphere and the discharge of energy was unchecked.
As the players started to go through the rather narrow tunnel a fight that broke out likely started by Cecil Pryor. That added commotion of the heightened moment prior to the big battle. Then, Captain Jim Mandich leading his troops turned around and faced them. Jim, with tears, spittle, as well as hands and fists shaking in the air started shouting unintelligible words to his faithful teammates. His teammates will never forget about Mad dog Jim Mandich the captain and leader at that moment in time.
The players remembered that week in practice; time spent at the Sheraton; Bo’s pregame speech in the locker room; the eruption that followed; gliding as if on air propelling them through the tunnel; and witnessing their leader Jim Mandich’s entire body full of pent-up impulses discharging like missiles.
This sequence of events has never been duplicated at Michigan, or even at the professional level. This was an once-in-a-lifetime experience only remembered by those who were there. They can talk about it as its left its indelible mark on each and every psyche. In fact, Captain Mandich stated that playing in the Super Bowl, and playing on an undefeated Miami Dolphins team takes second fiddle to the University Michigan experience on November 22, 1969.
Without a doubt, Bo Schembechler’s mark on college football was made when his team beat the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes coached by his mentor Woody Hayes on that cold November Saturday at the Big House. Make no mistake about it.