"That wasn't my understanding of the conversation," said Hutchison later. "Art told me he'd go to practice and then take care of the contract." When Whittington didn't show for the workout—or at the Invader offices where his attorney, John Maloney, had gone—Ralston assumed that Whittington was AWOL. On Saturday morning, after Oakland had worked out at the Silverdome, Ralston and Whittington had a 40-minute confrontation. Ralston wouldn't talk about it afterward, but Whittington would. "He told me I wasn't going to play," Whittington said. "I'm a professional athlete, been one for six years [five in the NFL]. They're being childish and acting like this is college. They don't want to win. If he comes and tells me now I'm going to play, I'm not."
The Invaders kept insisting that Whittington remained questionable because of cracked ribs that had kept him out of the two previous games. Not so, according to Whittington, who said, "Oh, I can play with sore ribs."
Whittington did play, but not until late in the second quarter, just about when the Panthers' active four-man linebacking corps began running amok. In the first period Oakland Quarterback Fred Besana had used up more than seven minutes in a 78-yard touchdown drive for a 7-0 lead. But the Invaders needed four cracks to push the ball in from the Michigan two, and the Panther offense seemed inspired by their defense's stubbornness. After the ensuing kickoff, Hebert found Holloway over the middle for 40 yards, setting up Running Back John Williams' five-yard scoring run. With matters tied, the Michigan defense hunkered down.
"Our defense [a 3-4] is a linebacker's defense, geared to mobility," says Tipton. "The three down linemen are supposed to cause enough interference in the offensive line to let the linebackers move in and make the play." The starting backers had 17 tackles, seven assists, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a sack and an interception; Invader running backs Ted Torosian, Louis Jackson and Whittington combined for only 19 yards on 18 carries. The interception, by Kyle Borland, led to a 38-yard field goal by Novo Bojovic, a Yugoslav emigrant who has gained some notoriety this year by keeping a clove of garlic in his right shoe for good luck.
So Michigan is a team whose flavor is a little Gallic and a little garlic. Hebert finished with 18 completions on 27 attempts for 295 yards. He also threw a goofy interception, a swing pass that Oakland Linebacker David Shaw ran 19 yards for the Invaders' second score. But Hebert laughed it off afterward, pointing out that in this Sunday's championship game in the Mile High City, the same pass would be an overthrow because of the thin air. "And where I come from," he added, "it's below sea level."
In any case, a mile high is far from the epitome of the pits.