The Wolverine

September 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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SEPTEMBER 2021 THE WOLVERINE 61 BY JOHN BORTON R ose Bowls, wins over Ohio State and Big Ten championships feel a bit like time capsule material these days. Alan Mitchell's Michigan teams (1977-80) certainly did their share in adding to that buried treasure. Mitchell, a wide receiver from the Detroit area, played his high school ball at Novi Catholic Central. He grew up captivated by the annual Michigan- Ohio State showdowns, recalling the infamous 10-10 tie in 1973 like it was yesterday. He idolized U-M wideout Jim Smith, and some encouraged him that he'd be Smith's successor if he headed to Ann Arbor. U-M's biggest challenge in the recruiting process involved Il- linois, where Michigan assistant Gary Moeller went to become head coach. "Mo was like, 'Mitchell, if you go to Michigan and don't come here, you'll never play,'" Mitchell recalled. "Well, my junior year, guess who came back to the University of Michigan? I said, 'Hey, Mo, how you doin'? You said I'd never play.'" By then, Mitchell proved the future Michigan head coach wrong. But along the way, the young receiver learned that nothing came easily, personally or team-wise. The 10-Year War was winding down in 1977, Mitchell's freshman season. But the Wolverines were finishing off a three-game win streak that gave Bo Schembechler a 5-4-1 victory over his mentor, Woody Hayes, in that decade- long struggle. The Wolverines — who went 10-2 and tied for the Big Ten championship — pulled even in the War with a 14-6 win over the Buckeyes in Michigan Stadium. The biggest play in that game made for an indelible memory in the mind of a freshman. Ohio State appeared to be march- ing toward Pasadena, driving from its own 10-yard line to Michigan's 8. A tie would have sent the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl. But Michigan defender John An- derson delivered a crushing blow to option quarterback Rob Gerald, sepa- rating him from the football and the Buckeyes from victory. "They were threatening," Mitchell recalled. "He optioned the ball to the short side of the field. "He got hit, and bam! We jumped on the ball, and when that happened, I'm telling you now, the stadium shook! Aw, man, it sent a chill up my spine. The noise and the pounding and the cheering — the stadium just erupted, and it shook! "Jay Allen and I looked at each other and we said, 'Did you see that! The stadium shook!' I'm this freshman standing on the sideline, in one of the greatest rivalries in the history of col- lege football. That's a deep memory." It provided a memory for a camera- man as well, whom Hayes punched in the direct aftermath of the play. That game proved the culmination of a rookie year in which Mitchell learned what a different level of foot- ball he found himself. "They coached us hard!" Mitchell stressed. "Never in my life had I been coached like that! Every play in prac- tice, you were coached up. It scared the hell out of me when they were coming at us and coaching us. "Technique, what to do in what situ- ations. Coach [Tirrel] Burton, Coach [Jerry] Hanlon, Bill McCartney — they coached us hard! They coached us up every play." Mitchell caught one pass that year, a 33-yard touchdown throw from John Wangler against Northwestern. The freshman came out the following year determined to build on that first sea- son. Schembechler's team churned out a repeat of 1977, record-wise, finishing 10-2 overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten. Mitchell became more grounded in Schembechler's system, splitting time with teammate Rodney Feaster. A 24- 15 loss to Michigan State introduced the greatest moment of adversity in the march toward the Rose Bowl. "I remember Bo coming into the team meeting room and putting MSU on the chalk board, and then crossing it out and saying, They ain't goin' no- where!" Mitchell recalled. "They were on probation for recruiting violations. "[Wideout] Kirk Gibson and [quar- terback] Ed Smith carved us up. They played great football, and you've got to give them credit for that." Michigan played great thereafter, winning its next six, including a 14-3 victory over Ohio State in Columbus. It became Hayes' final showdown with the Wolverines. "God bless him, he's not with us anymore, but Rodney Feaster caught a slant pass from Rick Leach that was the clincher," Mitchell noted. "What a game! A classic Michigan-Ohio State battle. "That was the year Coach Hayes got kicked out for jacking [Clemson's] Charlie Bauman. They weren't a great, great team, but they were ready for us, as usual." Ready in many ways. Michigan mysteriously wound up with no hot water at the Columbus Holiday Inn where the Wolverines stayed. "That just pissed us off," Mitchell as- sured. "It was done intentionally. Both years we were there, both even years, the hot water mysteriously went out. "I remember Rodney's catch, and the intensity of the game. It was a very hot, intense game." So was the Rose Bowl against USC, a 17-10 loss in which the Phantom Touchdown by the Trojans' Charles White made the difference. "I was standing right there on the goal line," Mitchell recalled. "Ron [Simpkins] ripped that ball right out of White's hands. I remember saying to Bo, 'Coach! He's saying touchdown!' Mitchell caught 26 passes for 439 yards and two touchdowns in his career with the Wolverines. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN ATHLETICS   WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Alan Mitchell Enjoyed Buckeye Beaters And Bo's Breakthrough

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