Take a chill pill, Michigan fans. We know your Wolverines shut out Notre Dame 38-0 in the Big House last Saturday. But let's all take a deep, cleansing breath and try to have some perspective. It's not as if this hasn't happened before. The Maize and Blue whitewashed the Fighting Irish as recently as 1902.
The truth, of course, is that this is now officially a Michigan team worth getting excited about. After outscoring their first two opponents, Central Michigan and Houston, by 95-10, the Wolverines were expecting their first stern test of the season. A year ago, with many of the same players who made the trip to Ann Arbor last week, Notre Dame beat Michigan 25-23, on the margin of a safety the Irish were awarded when a Wolverines offensive lineman was called for holding in his own end zone. That cruel and unusual punishment was of a piece with the bizarre events that have made this series so maddening for Michigan through the years. We're talking blocked field goals. Phantom touchdowns. A fierce wind that died, Wolverines fans swear, the moment Irish kicker Harry Oliver lined up to boot the winning 51-yarder in 1980. Notre Dame has made a habit of derailing Michigan's national-title hopes in September.
Not this year.
On a day that saw Wisconsin embarrassed at home by UNLV, Michigan State edged in the final seconds by gutsy Louisiana Tech, and Purdue and Ohio State almost beaten by ACC teams, the Wolverines established themselves as the class of the Big Ten. They did it with a mobile, attacking defense that held poor Carlyle Holiday, the Irish quarterback, to a single passing yard in the first half. Michigan's quarterback, Douglas C. Neidermeyer look-alike John Navarre, was as sharp as a pledge pin, completing 14 of 21 passes for 199 yards, a touchdown and no picks for the game. He got help from a breathtaking punt returner named Steve Breaston, a redshirt freshman who's a Rocket Ismail redux, and from a tailback who has people around Ann Arbor asking, "Maurice who?"
The Wolverines also did it against a team that seems to have run low on mojo. Besides having nothing remotely resembling a passing attack, Notre Dame has lacked, of late, a bona fide Heisman candidate. Which is not to say that the school with seven of the stiffed-armed statuettes has no influence on who wins the award. The Irish, you will recall, practically tied a ribbon around Carson Palmer's Heisman last November, allowing the USC quarterback 425 passing yards and four touchdowns in a 44-13 rout. So there was Michigan tailback Chris Perry, using the Notre Dame defense as a handy trampoline for his '03 Heisman campaign. The senior from tiny Advance, N.C., rushed for 133 yards, caught passes for another 44 and scored four touchdowns.
On one highlight-reel play, Perry thrilled the crowd of 111,726, the largest in NCAA history, by gathering in a screen pass, turning upheld and hurdling Irish cornerback Jason Beckstrom. With 549 yards in three games, he is the nation's leading rusher, and possibly its most relieved: This is a guy who a couple of years ago was talking about transferring.
Back then he had been anointed by fans and the media as Anthony Thomas's heir apparent after the A-Train moved on to the Chicago Bears. But there was Perry in '01, splitting time with B.J. Askew. When Perry griped once too often about the number of touches he was getting, Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr, not known for his gentle bedside manner, said, basically, Kid, if you don't like it here, go somewhere else.
Who knows what Perry might have been expecting when he confided in his mother, Irene, that he was thinking of transferring. Maybe she'd send brownies, along with a list of schools for him to consider. What she actually said was, "I didn't raise a quitter. And besides, what are you going to do, start all over somewhere else?"
It was Irene who had decided, when her Christopher was in the eighth grade, that he would leave home for high school. "He wanted to be the Eddie Murphy of Advance, North Carolina," she says. "I thought, If I don't address this, it's going to get out of hand." She chose Oak Ridge (N.C.) Military Academy, but Chris, who didn't like the idea, fell asleep during the admissions test and was denied entrance. In the car on the way home from that fiasco he said, "Well, Mom, what are we gonna do now?"
"There are other military academies" came the reply.