[A repost on the anniversary of ‘The Catch’.  A thanks once again to Coach Moeller for sitting down and doing this with us.]

I mentioned earlier this week that Ira and I recently sat with Coach Moeller, who will be honored Saturday at Michigan Stadium, in studio at WTKA.  This was my favorite part and it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.  We methodically mo catchstepped through the headset audio from The Catch (recall that the athletic department released it last year in the UTL ND game program).

As a bonus – I’ve included a second clip of the man on the other side of the field.  Writer John Kryk interviewed Lou Holtz for his book Natural Enemies, the definitive tome on the U-M-ND rivalry, and he was kind enough to share this clip from his archives.  It’s Holtz discussing the defensive play call and their strategy.   It’s a little scratchy but I sent it over to Ira who cleaned it up a bit.

The Moeller clip is over 17 minutes long so give it a chance to load up and we cover just about everything that is said on the recording and more.  Holtz is just over a minute (that’s Kryk asking the questions).

A crude diagram:
The Catch options
What you can’t see is the Irish safety, who is back and over on the left side of the defense (toward Desmond) but immediately goes to double cover Howard when the ball is snapped.

Listening to the clips basically you learn that Notre Dame called the right defense to stop this, and more importantly, they successfully disguised the formation enough to get Grbac to believe ND would leave just a single defender on Desmond Howard (I love how Coach Lou calls him his full name) and thus call the pass.   If Elvis knew ND intended to swing the safety over to put double coverage on Howard, he would have checked to the 29 toss to Ricky Powers (or possibly the Caesar off tackle) to move the chains.   As Holtz said, they basically conceded the first down if Michigan ran the pigskin and you can see on the clip they would have struggled stopping the toss.

One thing I think Holtz denies or didn’t recall (or he’s just stubborn)—on the replay (see the endzone view later in the clip below) it does look like the Grbac pump does made the safety take a step in before adjusting and heading to the end zone to try to break up the play.  That change may have provided Desmond just enough of a window to make the play.

Either way, the bottom line here the Irish were in the right coverage but the execution of the pass and catch trumped the Notre Dame defense.

Video clip:

A big thanks to Ira for running the 1s and 2s, to Kryk for the Holtz clip and of course to Coach Moeller for walking through this with us.   Also thanks to pink shorts guy in the end zone:

pink shorts guy

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[Ed. You know I’m a huge fan of Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis & he’s featured here each postgame with Dr. Sap’s Decals.  You might know that his detailed knowledge of uniform tweaks since the Bo era helped spearhead the Uniform Timeline.    Bottom line – the Sap mind blended with the Sap archives is a Wangler-to-Carter-esque combination.    Here’s another great Bo-era story from the mind of Sap.] 

Guest Post by Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis

After Bo Schembechler left U-M to become the president of the Detroit Tigers he met Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley.  Finley liked to dabble in the unique as he was the inventor of the high visibility yellow baseball as well as the green and gold tunics the A’s wore in the ‘70s.

The two talked about Finley’s new football invention – the reverse dimple football.  Its enhanced grip was supposed to improve the accuracy of throws and increase the distance it was kicked. [more on the patent here.]

The grip enhancement looked much like a golf ball’s surface and the leather looked something like this:


Bo was intrigued and told Finley to go see U-M equipment manager Jon Falk in Ann Arbor…and that’s exactly what he did in the spring of 1990.  The two hit it off and Falk agreed to try the new ball that Rawlings now dubbed the “Double Grip Football” with the 1990 Wolverines.

Everybody liked it.  The quarterbacks liked the grip and felt more accurate throwing it.  The receivers liked the tackiness and the kickers felt it sailed longer when booted. 

Falk wanted to use the new pigskin against  Notre Dame to start the 1990 season, but had to wait and use their existing ball, the Wilson 1001 AFCRT, until the new Rawlings ball was
accredited by the NCAA Rules Committee.  That didn’t happen until late October, which meant the Purdue contest on November 3rd, 1990 was the first time the Reverse Dimple Rawlings Double Grip Football was used in an NCAA game.  Michigan won 38-13 in West Lafayette that afternoon.

While U-M was the only school to use the ball during the regular season, it was used in several bowl games later that year.  Air Force defeated Ohio State in the 1990 Liberty Bowl while using the Double Grip football.  Washington would use it for the first time against Iowa in the 1991 Rose Bowl and trounced the Hawkeyes.

Of course we all know what Michigan did in the 1991 Gator Bowl.  Over 700 yards of total offense in a 35-3 beat down of Ole Miss was enough to convince everyone watching that the Rawlings Double Grip Football was no one-hit-wonder.

In the second game of the 1991 season, the Double Grip got even more publicity and exposure thanks to Desmond Howard and Elvis Grbac.
That diving catch in the endzone made by Howard against Notre Dame?

clip_image004That’s right. It was made with the Rawlings Double Grip Football.

While Grbac would become the first Michigan QB to be the nation’s most efficient passer, Howard would go on to win the Heisman Trophy that year.  Rawlings took notice and even issued a Press Release in December of 1991 saying its new ball resulted in greater accuracy, a higher percentage of completed passes, longer passes, a better grip in cold or wet weather and was the best ball for quarterbacks with small hands.

clip_image005”Howard caught 19 touchdown passes while Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac led the nation in passing efficiency and 24 TD passes–all with the Rawlings ‘Double Grip’ ball,” it read.

Here is Howard striking another pose – this time with the Rawlings ball on the cover of Beckett football card monthly:

desmond howard beckett

But much like the old saying goes, what goes up, must come down.   And in 1992, that’s exactly what happened.

Grbac would go on and become the nation’s most efficient passer again, this time without Howard’s heroics. Michigan would win their 5th consecutive Big Ten Championship but would finish with an awkward 8-0-3 regular season record.  Three ties were strange enough, but the one tie that took all the air out of the Rawlings Double Grip ball was the Illinois game on November 14th, 1992.

The weather conditions were typical for Ann Arbor in November: 32 degrees, 65% humidity and a 10-15 mph wind blowing from the southwest. It had snowed the night before and would do so occasionally throughout the game.  There was some concern about how the ball would hold up as this would be the coldest weather it would be used in.  Even in their wildest dreams, #3 Michigan could not have expected a nightmare like this.

When it was all said and done, the 22-22 tie knocked U-M out of the national championship race and the turnover stats line read like a horror show:

  • Fumbles – 10 (12, if you include two bobbled kickoffs)
  • Fumbles Lost – 4
  • Dropped Passes – 4
  • Interceptions – 2 (1 off a muffed reception)
  • 1 botched PAT snap/hold that was bobbled by the holder (Jay Riemersma)
  • 1 kick that hit the upright (no good)

And it was not like this 1992 U-M squad was a turnover machine – quite the opposite.  In the previous 9 games, Michigan had fumbled only 15 times and lost 7 of them.  Illinois, which used the traditional pebble grain Wilson 1001 AFCRT ball, had just 1 fumble (which they recovered) and 1 interception (from a dropped pass) along with 1 missed PAT kick.  It was a damning stat line for the Double Grip and one that caused Falk to take a closer look at the ball Michigan would be using going forward.

He studied the game tape and he told me that he noticed the ball became hard when the temperature dropped. The leather lost its tackiness and it became slick and difficult to handle.  While Rawlings claimed the ball would provide better grip in cold weather, it appeared as though that might not have been the case.

With the weather the following week in Columbus expected to be in the mid-50s, Falk gave the Rawlings ball one last chance against Ohio State.  Even though Michigan would not fumble the while using Double Grip against OSU, Falk officially pulled the plug on it after the game.

The guy who gave Finley’s invention the green light a few years earlier, was now putting the kibosh on it and gave Coach Gary Moeller the cold, hard facts.

“I told Mo that we had to change it up for the Rose Bowl against Washington,”  Falk said.  He said, ‘Ya. Let’s do it.’”

Michigan would switch back to the Wilson 1001 for the 1993 Rose Bowl and would use it until Rich Rodriguez took over in 2008.  RichRod preferred the narrower Wilson 1005 for his spread offenses. It is the ball Michigan continues to use to this day.


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Via the January 14, 1993 Michigan Daily:

DREISBACHIndeed, “Payton” considered Michigan along with Florida and his dad’s alma mater Ole Miss before committing to Phil Fulmer at Tennessee right around signing day.   

Bagging Manning put the Vols on top of most recruiting ratings for 1994, while Gary Moeller’s Michigan crew finished in the top three.   Dreisbach was joined by commits Marcus Ray, Sam Sword, Clint Copenhaver, Jay Feely, Chris Floyd, and Jerame Tuman.

So how would have history changed had Manning selected Michigan?  No idea, but I don’t think there are any regrets with either side.  U-M of course took the ‘97 national title, Tennessee netted a Heisman runner-up :) and the BCS crown in ‘98.

Related:  Hoover Street Rag explored the What If? Manning scenario back in March 2012.  


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HT: Buddy from Stunt3 – thanks for sending this over.

Did you catch the premiere of latest ESPN 30 for 30 film, this one on Bo Jackson?   I sat down with coach Gary Moeller a few weeks ago and he shared this story..thought it was timely:

MVictors: Is there an opposing player that you faced while coaching at Michigan that was really special—a guy you really had to gameplan for. Does anybody stand out?

Gary Moeller:  It’s always hard to pick one guy. There were two times I went to Birmingham, Alabama to scout the Alabama-Auburn game.  One time to scout Alabama when we played them in the Hall of Fame Bowl, and and another time, to prepare for the Sugar Bowl when we were to face Auburn.

The time we were going to scouting Auburn, this guy gets the ball and he starts to sweep to the left and it’s all bottled up. He turns around, reverses the field—he must have gave 10 or 15 yards—takes off down the other sideline for a touchdown.  It was the fastest thing; it was like he was shot out of a gun. He did it twice in the game, about the same distance from about the same spot for two long touchdowns. 

Bo Jackson.

That guy was unbelievable.  We were talking to each other, ‘How are we going to stop this guy?’ When we played them they stayed in the wishbone and we had a defense set to that position. 

We had two, to two-and-a-half, to three on him all the time. If he’d come across the field for a pitch or anything, we had an extra guy, always, coming up his way. They bled us a little bit inside with the fullback but we only gave them three field goals. That was a special game against a great player and a pretty nice kid.

bo jackson michigan sugar bowl Via Sporting News

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13. November 2012 · Comments Off on How Coach Mo Schooled the Detroit Lions · Categories: 2012 · Tags: , , , ,

Saturday at the Big House, longtime assistant and former headman Gary Moeller will be honored.   Last week I got a chance to sit down with Coach Mo and Ira over at WTKA.

Gary Moeller - MichiganWe did an interview but we also did something I’ve been waiting to do for a long time—we methodically stepped through the headset audio from The Catch (recall that the athletic department released it last year in the UTL game program).   I’ll post the clip of Moeller breaking that down a little later this week—I think you’ll like it.   Also, you can find a portion of the interview in Saturday’s Iowa game program.

Here’s a little bit from the interview:

MVictors: Michigan fans love to collect memorabilia. Is there anything, beyond your championship rings and all that, from your days at Michigan that you have hung onto?

Moeller:  Yeah, I’ve got a picture of Bo and I both pointing and hollering at the same time.   It would have been in the last three of four years of when he was the coach.   It looks like two older gentlemen [laughs].   When you go back to my playing days, which were in Columbus as you know and he was our coach there, and he really took me from my high school job in Bellefontaine and Miami of Ohio, and two years later I was up here with him. He gave me a lot of opportunities and a lot of great advice, and put me in a position where I could excel.  He’s just a special person to me.  I look at him as a friend…I just think there’s so much he’s done and what he thought of Michigan.

One of the greatest times I had after I came back was when we watched Michigan football together in the press box.  One day up there I found out how much he truly loved this university.  He said, “Hey Mo, come here. I wanna show you something.”  The band was already out on the field and the players were coming out of the tunnel, and they’re playing The Victors and all that stuff. Bo said, “Now there—isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in your life?  Look at the fans, look at band and look at this team coming out here. That’s what Michigan is all about.” It was as though he was just painting a portrait that was in his mind of something that he was so proud of.

And Bo knew how much he had to do with that.   I know there were some games when we first came in 1969, like against Washington, when we only had about 50,000 people in the stands.  He knows he helped..with a lot of other people, but he was a major part of filling those seats up. He was very proud of that.

MVictors:  Looking at football from a distance, is there a key to building a championship team?

Moeller:  The longer I’m out of football, the number one thing I look at is getting leadership on your team. There are so many teams, particularly in pro football, that don’t have great team leadership. You need a guy out there, or a couple guys that are leading that team, like a Drew Brees or like Ray Lewis with the Ravens. Some teams don’t have that and until you get that, you don’t get over that hump.   And we’ve always had good leadership at Michigan. Then you get success—it just works that way.

MVictors: As a coach, is your job to build leaders or to find the right guys and put them in a position to lead?

Moeller: Well this is what we do, and this started with Bo way back when. The seniors are the leaders. You can be the worst football player on the team. If you come to all of the workouts and you do everything you are supposed to do to be a part of that team—you are always on time, you are positive or whatever—when you become a senior you are one of our leaders.

You are not going to believe this. I’m in Detroit having just taken over the Lions. The first team meeting I have, and the kids always joke with me about this, I said, “OK, here’s what we’re gonna do.  I want all the seniors down here in front!”   [laughs] Well they all start laughing and saying, “Seniors? This guy still thinks he’s in college!”

But I had pretty good rapport and respect from these guys so I wasn’t worried about that.  So they laughed but I went on, “And the juniors sit next, and then the sophomores.  And I want all you damn freshman—you rookies–in the back of the room and you don’t talk.  You just stay there.”  Then I asked the seniors to stand up and face the team.  I told them, “These are you your leaders. We will be as good as these guys play and we were go as far as they can take us. They’re going to show us.  Watch what they do, because they’re the leaders.”

So every meeting that’s where they’d sit. I didn’t want them sitting off to the side with their buddy or whatever.   It kinda worked and they all appreciated it—and they liked the idea of being seniors and all that and they had fun with it.  It was no different then what we’d done in the early 70s at Michigan.


More later this week.


gary moeller

Coach Gary Moeller was at Schembechler Hall this afternoon.  Don’t know the circumstances for the visit, but the no doubt the he had a few words for the coaches and team about Ohio State.  Moeller is a Buckeye grad and captained Woody Hayes’s squad in 1963. 

Moeller went 3-1-1 against Ohio State.

Looks pretty good, don’t you think?