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"Idiots" can kill you quick
Edwin Shrake
October 25, 1976
...AND SO CAN NO. 1-RANKED MICHIGAN, AS A LOT OF TEAMS HAVE FOUND OUT LATELY. BUT AT NORTHWESTERN THEY LIVED AND DIED WITH THE POINT SPREAD
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October 25, 1976

"idiots" Can Kill You Quick

...AND SO CAN NO. 1-RANKED MICHIGAN, AS A LOT OF TEAMS HAVE FOUND OUT LATELY. BUT AT NORTHWESTERN THEY LIVED AND DIED WITH THE POINT SPREAD

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Dyche Stadium broke up with noise. Far to the south you could see the skyline of Chicago wobble as the reverberations busted into the smog. Over to the east the whitecaps on Lake Michigan shuddered.

"They ought to call this place the Windy City," said Big Tom the bookie. His nose was blue from the cold but his heart was warm from the day's work. Big Tom had booked the game. Most of the action that came into his office on State Street was giving the points. The score was 38-7, Michigan. Giving the points was a loser.

But those who took the points, or even those who were interested in the metaphysical implications of scoring a touchdown against Michigan after all these years, were winners. Long into the night they whooped and chatted. "Never have I seen so many people claim a team that got beat 38-7 done so good," said Big Tom. "On the other hand, never have I heard so many people who give the 33 points bitch that their side wasn't trying to throw the bomb on the last two plays of the game."

Bo Schembechler, the Michigan coach, was not trying to hold down the score, if that is consolation to those on the wrong end of a wager. Because Bo used to be a roommate at Miami of Ohio of Northwestern Coach John Pont doesn't mean Bo froze on the trigger. Michigan had beaten Stanford 51-0 and Navy 70-14 and had outscored the opposition 234-51 heading into the Northwestern game. Near the end of the first half, leading Northwestern by 31-0, Michigan called a time-out with eight seconds left on the clock and tried a 55-yard field goal. That does not sound like cooling it with the scoreboard.

Neither does keeping most of the Michigan first team on offense in the game deep into the fourth quarter. Bo did yank the defensive first team with a mere 38-0 cushion. But he thinks that may have been a mistake.

"I probably should have taken out the offensive first unit and left the defense in there to hold Northwestern back," Schembechler said.

To preserve the shutout? "I don't care that much about shutouts," he said. To protect the point spread? "What point spread? I don't pay any attention to point spreads," he said.

Schembechler was grinning and nodding and drinking a soft drink out of a can. His yellow shirt was smudged. He had his meet-the-public face on. But you could see he was tired and bothered by the way he would duck his head and his eyeballs would sink for a moment. After all, this is Bo's first time to be No. 1 in the nation, right from the opening forecast straight on through more than half the season. And Bo is a certified heart case. Bo had his heart attack the day his Michigan team went to the Rose Bowl and lost, in 1970. The old blood pump is still tricky enough that Schembechler had to lay out of spring training this year. If he sat by himself for a while on a locker room bench after the Northwestern game and allowed his head to dangle and his eyes to shut who should be surprised?

His quarterback, Rick Leach, had spent much of the spring playing baseball and there was no question his attention was divided. As a high school senior in Flint, Leach was said to have been offered a $100,000 bonus to sign with the Phillies. To get him to Ann Arbor, Bo had to promise Leach that he could play baseball, too. Last year as a freshman it was said of Leach that his passing style belonged in the other sport. In the spring Leach cut loose with a hard, low, one-bounce throw from center field to third base to catch a runner. "That's the way you throw a football," somebody yelled from the stands. "One bounce!"

Last year Michigan went ahead of Ohio State 14-7 in the fourth quarter, but Leach threw a couple of interceptions and Michigan lost. Then Leach did not complete another pass until the fourth quarter of an Orange Bowl loss to Oklahoma. In the Orange Bowl, Bo had Leach throw nothing but long passes for fear of interceptions. Now Schembechler says Leach has become something of a passer, at last. Against Northwestern, Leach threw seven passes, completed three and had two intercepted. At one point Leach threw passes two plays in a row. "We were afraid he might get a sore arm," Bo said. But Leach's three completions covered 101 yards, scored one touchdown and set up another. Besides, it is Leach's shorter passes, his pitchouts, that are vital to the Michigan offense.

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