"I remember standing by the tunnel, trying to soak it all up," Spielman says. "We were finished. We could have gone to a bowl game, but there was no one to coach us. So that was it. I'd played my last game for Ohio State, and there was Earle, getting carried off the field. I can still see the smile on his face. What a way to go."
There is much to be said for a graceful departure. Ask John Navarre. Rushed into the starting job three years ago when Drew Henson left to play baseball, Navarre was immobile, inaccurate and confused, and he was not well received by Michigan fans. Despite steady improvement last season, the 6'6" native of Cudahy, Wis., had a few rough patches in September and early October, in losses to Oregon and Iowa. The Wolverines seemed assured of a third loss until Navarre rallied them from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to win at Minnesota on Oct. 10. In the next four games he completed 74 of 119 passes for eight touchdowns in victories over Illinois, Purdue, Michigan State and Northwestern.
Few people on the Ann Arbor campus much cared about Navarre's numbers. They didn't care that his name was all over the school's record books, or that he was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. They knew that he was 0-2 against the Buckeyes, and they were withholding judgment. Fair or not, Navarre knew going in that this Big Game would determine his legacy, or, as he put it, "would define me."
Navarre quickly got busy on his legacy on Saturday, directing the Wolverines to touchdowns on four of their first six possessions to go up 28-7. Navarre was crisp, accurate and authoritative, decisively outplaying his counterpart, Craig Krenzel. Inevitably the Buckeyes clawed their way back into the game, pulling to within 28-21. On the following possession Navarre threw an interception. Earlier in his career that might have rattled him. This time, after the defense forced a punt, the fifth-year senior dropped back on a third-down play and lofted a sweet, 30-yard touch pass into the arms of tight end Tyler Ecker. That set up Perry's second score, midway through the fourth quarter, which effectively dethroned Ohio State.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, roses appeared, as if by magic, in the hands and behind the ears and clenched in the teeth of the Michigan players. Two thousand miles away, in Rancho Mirage, Calif., a 90-year-old Wolverine permitted himself a subdued celebration.
Ford's most famous quote, as President, followed his pardon of Nixon: "Our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works." Even as they failed to extend their streak over Big Blue to three, the Buckeyes clarified the national title picture. Looks as though it'll be Oklahoma and USC in the Sugar Bowl. Paraphrasing President Ford: Michigan's brief regional nightmare is over. The BCS works.