The Wolverine

January 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 59 of 67

60 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2020 BY JOHN BORTON D eWayne Patmon helped put out plenty of fires for Michigan de- fenses from 1997-2000, highlighted by a phenomenal freshman experience. He's dousing even bigger flames these days. A Los Angeles County firefighter, he marches into the battle against some of California's raging in- fernos. "I'm loving it," Patmon said. "The fire service and being on the team, it's eerily similar. That's why I gravitated to the fire service. It's being part of something bigger than yourself." The native Californian discovered very quickly how big Michigan is, back in 1997. He picked the Wolverines over Notre Dame, Texas and his local schools, sensing Lloyd Carr's program was on the rise. He watched them when his cousin — former Wolverine defensive back Alfie Burch — competed for U-M in the early 1990s. Patmon expected much at Michigan — he just didn't know how soon. "It was the foresight of, this could be something special, even though we didn't realize it was going to be the fol- lowing year," he said. "Looking back on it, I didn't realize the magnitude of what that [1997] season brought for a lot of people, myself included. It was a storybook year." Patmon wrote his name into the sto- rybook. He joined two other freshman defensive backs — James Whitley and Will Peterson (now Will James) — in not just going along for the ride, but actively participating. Patmon found himself on the field to start the Colorado game, launching Michigan into an undefeated season. He took the field in a package with ex- tra defensive backs and helped throttle the Buffaloes in the 27-3 declaration to the college football world. "I was out there," he said. "My first actual game at Michigan Stadium, I was out there playing in front of 100,000 people. Looking back on it now, it's surreal." The nation's best defense surren- dered a mere 9.5 points per game. Start to finish, it beat back the opposi- tion with NFL talent and defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann's zone-blitz schemes. "It was infectious," Patmon recalled. "Coach Herrmann, Coach [Brady] Hoke, Coach [Vance] Bedford, even the seniors made the point — 'You're a freshman, but when you get a chance, you make a play, and you celebrate with your team.' You wanted to do your job. "Charles [Woodson], Dhani [Jones], Glen Steele — when they made plays, it was infectious — you wanted to make a play. We got to the ball fast, we rallied around each other. The offense, as good as it was, leaned on us. We were the focal point of that team." The '97 crew held off Ohio State 20-14, despite scoring just one offen- sive touchdown. Woodson's 78-yard punt return TD and Andre Weathers' interception-return touchdown lifted the Wolverines to 11-0, heading into a showdown with Washington State in the Rose Bowl. "Ohio State was a championship game," Patmon noted. "It won us a Big Ten championship. We still had work to do. We still wanted to win. But it seemed like our momentum was at an all-time high. "We weren't going to lose to Wash- ington State after all we'd been through." They didn't. Employing the multi- ple-defensive-backs scheme against WSU's deep and talented receiving corps, the Wolverines emerged with a 21-16 victory and earned a national championship. Patmon knew it was a big deal then. At 40, he understands much better now. "You can win at a lot of places," he said. "You can even win a national championship at a Pac-12 school. But there are very few schools that, when you win, it's that important to the school, the town and the legacy. It's special." It's also not easy. Patmon and the Wolverines found that out the fol- lowing season, losing their first two against Notre Dame and Syracuse, be- fore rebounding with a second straight Big Ten title. "Not that we were complacent, but you realize how tough it is to win at that level," he said. "Every week, people are going to bring it, especially after you win. "We always had a true belief, and rightfully so, that we should win every game. When we dropped a couple, it was a gut check." Patmon started on the '98 squad, after then-captain Marcus Ray got suspended. The sophomore never left the starting lineup, and despite some individual game ups and downs, he won three Big Ten championships and never lost a bowl game. In '98, Patmon made a crucial pickoff at the goal line in U-M's 29-17 win over Michigan State. "Good memories," he said. "A lot of good memories." Those included taking down Ar- kansas in the Citrus Bowl 45-31 before launching into the 1999 season with a loaded roster. That season could have turned out just like 1997 were it not for a fortnight of frustration in the middle of the year. Back-to-back narrow losses to Michi- gan State (34-31) and Illinois (35-29) kept the 10-2 Wolverines from perfec- tion. Patmon is tied for sixth in program history with 11 interceptions. He tied for the team lead in picks (four) in 1998 and led the way the following year (three), and also paced the squad in tackles (86) in 2000. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHY   WHERE ARE THEY NOW? DeWayne Patmon Is Still Playing Good Defense

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - January 2020