Sunday, December 9, 2012

The day "Super Mario" made his mark

Michigan Stadium in 2005
October 15, 2005 is the fondest memory I have of Michigan Stadium.  Michigan vs. Penn State.  Ann Arbor, Michigan. The emergence of Mario Manningham.  Michigan sat at 3-3 going into the game against the undefeated and then ranked 8th Nittany Lions.  There was no margin for error if Michigan wanted to salvage a season that started miserably.

The game was close throughout its entirety, but the real drama didn’t start until there were 53 seconds left.  Penn State had just scored to take the lead 25-21 and they were set to kick-off.  Unfortunately for them, they forgot that Steve Breaston returned kicks for Michigan.  The kick-off was straight to Breaston, and he made them pay.  After a few dynamic cut-backs, Breaston returned the kick all the way to midfield with under 50 seconds left.

From left: Jake Long (LT), Chad Henne (QB), Mike Hart (RB)
Now the game was in Chad Henne’s hands.  The true sophomore quarterback needed to silence his critics and put an end to the chatter about a “sophomore slump.”  Henne drove the Wolverines all the way to the Penn State 10 yard-line with one second left.

This was it.  The anxiety level within Michigan Stadium was the highest it had ever been.  No one could stand still.  Others turned away or covered their eyes.

Henne took the snap under center.  Mike Hart was in the backfield, but more importantly, Mario Manningham was split out right.  Henne dropped back, found a window on the right side of the field and hit Manningham on a skinny post in the south endzone of Michigan Stadium.

The celebration after the score was unbelievable.  I was holding a program before the pass was thrown, and as soon as the catch was made, the program was long gone.  Strangers were no longer strangers; they were hugging each other as if they grew up and went to preschool together.  People were running down rows high fiving anyone and everyone.

The celebration on the field was even better.  The players sprinted the length of the field to the north endzone where the students were partying harder than anyone.  Everyone believed Michigan was still Michigan: the winningest program in NCAA football history.

Any thoughts that Michigan football was beginning to fade out of the national spotlight were gone for those unforgettable minutes.  No one could take this moment from Michigan.  Or from me.

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