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Michigan Football: 10 Most Memorable Plays in Wolverines History

Zach DirlamSenior Analyst IIMay 23, 2013

Michigan Football: 10 Most Memorable Plays in Wolverines History

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    The Michigan football program has been around since 1879, which means plenty of memorable plays have taken place over the past 134 years. Out of all them, though, there are 10 that stand out from the rest.

    Game-winning plays are more difficult to forget than many of the highlight reel catches and runs. Unexpected special teams touchdowns have often led to a Wolverine locking up the Heisman Trophy. The end of one of the most unlikely of upsets will not soon be forgotten either. Doing all of this against a rival makes it all the more memorable. 

    Not surprisingly, the Big House has played host to several of the most memorable plays over the years, as making memories for 100,000-plus fans is just what Michigan standouts have done for decades. 

The Catch (1995)

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    Acrobatic or one-handed catches are great highlight reel material, but game-winning catches make for lasting memories. Need proof? Ask a Michigan fan whether they remember Marquise Walker's snag against Iowa, Adrian Arrington's ridiculous behind-the-back catch or Mercury Hayes' toe drag in the corner of the end zone to beat Virginia.

    More times than not, the answer will be Hayes' grab. Not only did the 15-yard touchdown reception cap a 17-point comeback, it helped Lloyd Carr ditch the interim head coaching tag after the 1995 season. The 18-17 thriller was Carr's first game at the helm of the Michigan program after Gary Moeller's dismissal.  

    To this very day, Carr believes erasing the deficit and topping the Cavaliers on a last-second catch helped him remain at the helm until 2007.

    "My guess is had we not won that game I would have never become the head coach at Michigan," Carr told Michael Rothstein of ESPN's Wolverine Nation.

    What a difference timing makes.

Mario Manningham's Coming out Party (2005)

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    The Michigan Wolverines are not used to playing the underdog role. Against the Penn State Nittany Lions in 2005, though, Michigan appeared to be overmatched on paper. Penn State had won its first six games, while the Wolverines stumbled to a 3-3 record out of the gate. 

    For the first three quarters, the game was fairly uneventful. Only 13 points were scored between the two teams. Everything changed in the final 15 minutes of action. Penn State piled up 22 points, but Michigan needed just 17 points to pull out a 27-25 upset victory. The final play of the game will be remembered for years to come.

    With just one second left on the clock, the Wolverines had one last chance from the 10-yard line to get above .500.

    Thanks to Lloyd Carr's lobbying earlier in the quarter, two seconds were added to the clock after he thought extra time ran off during a timeout. The officials put the time back on the clock, and Joe Paterno considered pulling the Nittany Lions out of the Big Ten Conference as a result.

    Sophomore quarterback Chad Henne used the final second to deliver a strike to Mario Manningham in the back of the end zone. Manningham and Henne would go on to be a dynamic quarterback-wide receiver connection over the next two seasons.

    No catch in Mannhingham's career was more memorable than this one, though.

Desmond Howard's Diving Grab (1991)

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    There were plenty of highlights during Desmond Howard's pursuit of the Heisman Trophy in 1991. Two plays in particular stand out from the rest. The first is none other than the fourth-and-one diving catch against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

    Michigan had lost four straight games to Notre Dame, which is not something anyone in Ann Arbor cared to discuss. 

    With time running out in the fourth quarter and a three-point lead, though, the losing streak appeared to be nearing its end. The Wolverines faced a fourth-and-one from the Notre Dame 25-yard line. Convert and the game is likely sealed. Fail to gain the necessary yardage and the Fighting Irish could steal a win with a late score.

    Head coach Gary Moeller took a gamble no one expected. Elvis Grbac pump-faked and lofted a deep pass toward the corner of the end zone. The pass appeared to be overthrown, but Howard laid out and made one of the greatest plays in the history of Michigan football.

    Howard's catch propelled the Wolverines to a 24-14 victory. Making the diving snag undoubtedly won Howard some Heisman votes later in the year as well.

The Heisman Pose (1991)

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    Prior to 1991, no one had struck the iconic Heisman Trophy pose. Enter Desmond Howard. 

    The Michigan Wolverines had already clinched a Rose Bowl berth and at least a share of the Big Ten title, but a fourth straight victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes would have been icing on the cake. Howard made sure the Wolverines finished with an 8-0 record in league play.

    After fielding the punt inside his own 10-yard line, Howard made one defender miss. Another fell victim to a Howard juke a little less than 10 yards later. Once those Buckeyes whiffed, Howard simply had to outrun the rest of the punt coverage team. No one came close to catching the Cleveland, Ohio native.

    Moments after Howard crossed the goal line, he stood at the back of the end zone and struck the Heisman pose. Michigan went on to defeat Ohio State 31-3. 

    This play is not only one of the most memorable events in the history of Michigan football, but college athletics as a whole. 

Roy Roundtree's Catch Under the Lights (2011)

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    Lloyd Carr is not the only one who managed to start his head coaching career at Michigan in dramatic fashion. In just the second game of Brady Hoke's tenure, the Wolverines capped off a comeback for the ages against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

    Oh, and did I mention it was the first night game in the history of the Big House? It is hard to think of a game that could have christened those brand new permanent lights better than this one. 

    Entering the fourth quarter, Michigan trailed 24-7. Its offense had been stifled and the defense could not slow down Michael Floyd or Cierre Wood. Things looked grim, to say the least, for the Wolverines.

    Slowly, Michigan began to chip away at the lead. A pair of touchdowns in the first five minutes of the final frame pulled the Wolverines within one possession. With 1:12 remaining, Michigan took the lead for the first time on a 21-yard screen pass to Vincent Smith.

    Notre Dame answered right back 42 seconds later. Tommy Rees made the Wolverines pay for their jailhouse blitz and hit Theo Riddick for the go-ahead touchdown.

    The final drive of the game produced yet another unbelievable turn of events. Jeremy Gallon found a soft spot in Notre Dame's coverage and torched its defense for 64 yards. This set Denard Robinson and Co. up at the 16-yard line with eight seconds left.

    Hoke elected to take a shot at the end zone before kicking a field goal to send it to overtime. Robinson found Roundtree in the corner for his only catch of the game. Talk about saving your best for the end, huh? 

Braylon Edwards Takes Control (2004)

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    Having to pick one of the three game-changing plays Braylon Edwards made in the 2004 battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy is almost unfair. Edwards, along with some great lobs from Chad Henne, helped Michigan erase a 14-point deficit in the final seven minutes to beat in-state rival Michigan State 45-37 in triple overtime.

    Forced to pick, though, the game-tying touchdown grab stands out from the pack. Sure, stealing away a jump-ball from a Spartan defender is quite impressive, but had the Wolverines lost, no one would have thought much of it. Knotting the score at 27-27 with a catch in traffic, though, is something the Maize and Blue faithful will never forget.

    Skip to the 1:49 mark in the video above to see the play. Edwards judged the ball correctly, while the Michigan State defensive back flailed hopelessly after he misplayed it. 

    Three overtimes later, Edwards hauled in a slant over the middle of the field for a 25-yard touchdown. Michigan's defense kept the Spartans from scoring again, which sealed the victory.

    Those corners at the Big House sure have hosted plenty of memorable plays over the years.

Charles Woodson's Punt Return (1997)

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    Arguably the greatest player in Michigan football history, Charles Woodson made plenty of dynamic plays during his time with the Wolverines. A 78-yard punt-return touchdown against the Ohio State Buckeyes stands out from just about all of them, though.

    During Woodson's Heisman Trophy campaign in 1997, Michigan was making some history of its own. The Wolverines were undefeated and hoped to end a 49-year national title drought. Woodson made sure Ohio State would not wreck Michigan's chances to do so.

    The special teams score helped Woodson become the only defensive player ever to win the Heisman. It also allowed the Wolverines to top the Buckeyes 20-14.

    Weeks later, Woodson played a critical role in Michigan's 21-16 Rose Bowl win over the Washington State Cougars to ensure a share of the national title.

Michigan Finishes the Upset of the Century (1969)

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    This is more of a memorable moment rather than a particular play. Even so, the Maize and Blue faithful will never forget when Michigan could finally run out the clock on Ohio State's perfect season in 1969. First-year head coach Bo Schembechler secured his first Big Ten title by defeating one of the greatest teams in the history of college football.

    "This game was against a team that Woody admittedly said was the best team he ever had," Schembechler said in an ESPN Classic documentary about the game. "All of the knowledgeable sportswriters around the country called it the greatest team of all time. It was generally thought the only team that could compete with them were the powerful Minnesota Vikings."

    Not too many people outside of Ann Arbor gave Michigan much of a chance to win the game. Thanks to seven turnovers, six interceptions and one fumble, the Wolverines were able to dismantle Ohio State 24-12.

    This win is also responsible for sparking the Ten Year War between Schembechler and legendary head coach Woody Hayes. Click here to read more about how this classic matchup impacted the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.

Anthony Carter Beats Indiana (1979)

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    Legendary Michigan football broadcaster Bob Ufer was right about one thing: Johnny Wangler to Anthony Carter will be remembered for another 100 years. 

    With a tie all but certain, the Wolverines had one final chance from the Indiana 45-yard line to break a 21-21 game. There was time for just one play. All former head coach Bo Schmembechler could do was call a play with underneath routes and hope somebody made a play. Carter made his coach look like a genius.

    "By this time when you know you only have one play left, they obviously played a cold zone defense and sat back there. The ball had to be completed underneath," Schembechler said in an interview about the play. "If you're going to complete the ball underneath the three-deep coverage, who on your football team would you want to have the ball? Without question Anthony Carter."

    The dramatic victory helped Michigan remain undefeated in Big Ten play. Unfortunately, the Wolverines lost to both Purdue and Ohio State to close the regular season.

    Carter and Wangler came back the following year and led Michigan to a conference title and won the 1981 Rose Bowl.

Woodson's One-Handed Interception (1997)

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    Words cannot describe the freakish athleticism Charles Woodson put on display against the Michigan State Spartans in 1997.

    Todd Schultz did what all quarterbacks are taught when a play breaks down and the defense is closing in. He threw the ball away.

    Not in a million years did Schultz believe Woodson could have leaped into the air, snagged the ball with one hand and then come down in bounds. Everyone except for Woodson likely thought the same.

    The punt return against Ohio State is a memorable play, and Woodson's efforts on the offensive side of the ball helped him win the Heisman Trophy. However, this interception is without a doubt the greatest play Woodson made in a Michigan uniform.

    When this type of athleticism is put on display, one cannot help but sit back and watch in awe. Fans lucky enough to have seen this play are unlikely to forget it.

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