Life isn't always fair. Ask Scott Dreisbach: What's it like to be a 19-year-old kid making your college football debut in front of 101,444 impatient, sweaty fans? What's it like to be 13 minutes from suffering the ultimate humiliation—a home shutout at tradition-rich Michigan? What's it like when your backups are the son of an NFL Hall of Famer and the son of your head coach?
Life isn't always fair. Ask Lloyd Carr: How does it feel when you're given a one-year contract and feel that nothing short of the Rose Bowl will be good enough to renew it? How does it feel to replace Gary Moeller, still revered by his players even now, four months after his sudden ouster?
Life didn't seem fair to 14th-ranked Michigan in last Saturday's Pigskin Classic. With 12:55 to go, the Wolverines trailed 17th-ranked Virginia 17-0. Michigan was on the brink of losing for the fourth time in its last six home games and knocking itself out of national championship contention before Sept. 1.
Time was running out on Carr, and the boos were getting louder. Replacing the freshman Dreisbach, who had thrown two costly interceptions, seemed like a logical option. The first pickoff had set up Virginia's first score just 16 seconds before halftime; the second had snuffed a Michigan drive in the end zone after the Wolverines had reached the Virginia six late in the third quarter. Sophomore backup Brian Griese, the son of Hall of Fame signal-caller Bob, had even taken it upon himself to loosen his arm, helmet on and all. Would Carr pull the plug on Dreisbach? No way. "I told Scott all week, 'Don't look over your shoulder, because there's no one there,' " Carr said.
It proved to be Carr's first great coaching decision. Dreisbach led his troops on a pair of scoring drives to cut the deficit to 17-12, then got the ball back again, on his own 20 with 2:35 left.
The Wolverines' 16-play drive would prove to be more Pollock than Picasso, but with 18 seconds left, Michigan had a first down at the Virginia 15. Dreisbach overthrew tight end Jay Riemersma. Then he missed wide receiver Amani Toomer. On third down he made a freshman mistake, throwing a pass toward wide receiver Tyrone Butterfield at the 11. Michigan was out of timeouts, and a well-covered Butterfield would have had little chance to score or get out of bounds to stop the clock. But luckily for the Wolverines, the ball slipped through his hands. Four seconds remained.
Carr called a double-post corner route, and wideout Mercury Hayes broke sharply toward the right corner of the end zone. Dreisbach lofted a perfect spiral to Hayes, who somehow managed to get his left foot in bounds with no more than a nanometer to spare. "It seemed like five minutes," Dreisbach said, "before the referee put his hands in the air." Final score: 18-17.
No Michigan quarterback had ever brought a team back from more than a 14-point deficit to win a game, and Dreisbach had done it in 13 minutes of the fourth quarter. He had also thrown for more yards (372) in a game than any Wolverine quarterback.
What of the near-tragic preceding play? Butterfield, who had dropped two passes earlier, said afterward, in effect, that life isn't necessarily fair. "Someone said it was the greatest dropped pass of all time, but it wasn't; it was a knockdown," he said as he lobbied for his place in Michigan history while signing autographs in the stadium parking lot after the game. "Nobody believes me." But no Michigan fan will argue with the result.