The Wolverine

2021 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 29 My teammates were all over me, and the crowd was just crazy. You couldn't hear anything! "It was my final touchdown in The Big House. It was my senior year, the last game, the largest crowd ever assembled, at that time, to watch a collegiate game [104,016]. It was 'The Team, The Team, The Team,' but it was also my greatest individual moment." It was about to be one of Hayes' worst. Two minutes remained, giving the Buck- eyes time to tie it up or win the game. In- stead, Darden stepped in with a highlight still played over and over again. He read the eyes of OSU quarterback Don Lamka, who fired a downfield pass over the middle to end Dick Wakefield. Darden went up and over Wakefield, reaching down to snatch the football away for a scintillating interception. "The receiver was on our left, coming across the field to the right," Darden recalled. "Lamka was looking right at him, so I knew he was going to throw the ball to him. The ball was actually coming at a low trajectory. "To be honest with you, it wasn't like I planned it — it just happened. I thought I jumped over him, got my hands inside of his hands and just came up with the ball." Hayes insisted Darden actually committed interference, and Darden himself gave quiet thanks over being 188.7 miles away from Columbus, Ohio. "Thank God we were in Ann Arbor," Darden said. "If we were in Columbus, they probably would have called it interference." Hayes went crazy, in a response The Cleveland Plain Dealer described as "a dis- grace." He stormed onto the field, berating the referee, who then marched off a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Hayes only left the field when his players and backfield coach George Chaump sur- rounded him and escorted him away, a hu- man lasso around a Tasmanian Devil. Woody was just getting warmed up. He grabbed a down marker and tore it apart. He then fired the pieces onto the playing field, drawing delighted derision from the massive crowd. He ripped another marker away from the sideline crew, flinging it to the ground. "We all were pretty excited," Darden re- called. "And Woody's actions? I really didn't see it. I didn't see it until later, because I was running around, showing the ball to the officials. At first, they didn't think it was an interception. They finally called it an inter- ception, and he went crazy. I had my back to his sideline." Darden has witnessed the reaction often since. "Oh, man," he said. "They still run that thing every year. It's crazy. I see it all the time, especially that week. "It will be here for a while. People in Ohio still talk about it. I live in Iowa, and people out here talk about it. So people are still talk- ing about the play — more so, his reaction to it, I think." Imperfect Ending Those on the '71 team harbor their own bitter memory from the otherwise perfect season. Stanford pulled off one of the big- gest upsets in Rose Bowl history, rallying from a 10-3 fourth-quarter deficit for a 13-12 win, capped by Rod Garcia's 31-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining. Stanford's only touchdown occurred after U-M's defense had the Cardinal stopped. They moved the chains on a fake punt, and Michi- gan couldn't move the ball enough to win. "I was disappointed throughout the whole day," Darden said. "We were holding them on defense pretty well. Our offense just didn't do a thing." Two years earlier, Michigan lost another shocker of a Rose Bowl, when Schem- bechler sat it out with a heart attack from the night before. Many players thought they were actually being shielded from the fact that Bo was dead, Taylor recalled. Two years later, they lost another one, and remain convinced it should not have been so. "In '70, we would have won, if Bo was there," Taylor insisted. "We know that. We believe that. It's the way the football bounces. In the '72 Rose Bowl, we felt we had the better team — both times." The loss wasn't the greatest that week for Billy Taylor. "That was the last day I saw my mom alive," he said, quietly. She tried to console him after the game, following her first flight ever. She returned to Barberton, Ohio, and died of a heart at- tack, three days after the Rose Bowl. So the '71 season carried a January sadness for all, and much more for some. What they'll all remember, beyond the tears at the end, involves how good they were, and how they remained a team over the past half-century. "It was a good group of guys," Darden recalled. "We still communicate. We still have reunions. That team, our senior team, we still get together. It's been 50 years now. You don't see that too often. "I talked to guys who've been in school, and they don't have reunions. But that was a close-knit team. Ten guys got drafted off that team to the NFL. It was a special group." ❏ All-American Quartet All-American running back Billy Taylor's ups and downs in life beyond football could go into a book. In fact, they did. His mother's death, days after the 1972 Rose Bowl, preceded a series of tragedies in his life. He eventually slid into what his bio describes as "a long downward spiral of depression, drinking, drugs and encounters with the law." His book, Perseverance: The Story Of Billy Taylor, describes his way back. Taylor took time to describe himself and his fellow first-team All-Americans on the 1971 Michigan football squad. • Taylor on Taylor: "I was physical on offense. I didn't have the mentality that just because I'm on of- fense and a ball carrier, I'm an open target. You couldn't just hit me. I'm going to hit you first." • Guard Reggie McKenzie: "One of the greatest blocking guards in college football. He was a roommate and a friend. We still stay in touch. He went on with the Electric Company and Juice [O.J. Simpson] in Buffalo [with the NFL's Bills]. O.J. said to me later, 'I know how you got all those yards rushing, running behind Sweetwater.' "He pulled a lot. Especially on sweeps or draw plays, I knew there was going to be a hole. I knew who- ever was in front of him was going down, back, or to the right or left. There was going to be movement. I just made sure, when I looked that ball in, that I got right in his hip pocket." • Linebacker Mike Taylor: "One of the greatest linebackers in NCAA history. His nickname was 'Trailer.' That's the way he hit. When he hit you, you felt like you'd been hit by a trailer … the scout team, they didn't like running Mike's way. "In the games, when he came up and hit you, you knew it. He got bell ringers." • Defensive back Thom Darden: "He was a wolf man, kind of like a roaming 'backer, a corner — like three positions he played. One of the greatest defensive backs in NCAA history." — John Borton All-American defensive back Thom Darden intercepted a pair of passes against the Buck- eyes, including one with 1:32 remaining that sealed U-M's 10-7 win. PHOTO COURTESY BENTLEY HISTORICAL LIBRARY

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