Late last Saturday afternoon an ecstatic old grad leaped shouting to his feet in the Michigan stands and with a grand gesture pulled off his gray fedora and sent it soaring out over the crowd. Down on the field Michigan End Tom Maentz had just caught a pass and sprinted 25 yards for the key touchdown of his team's stirring last-quarter rally that beat Iowa 33-21.
The game was enough to make anyone flip his lid. Coach Forest Evashevski had his big Iowa players so emotionally high for the game they might have flunked the saliva test en masse. As a national audience gaped at its TV sets, Iowa's robust linemen shoved favored Michigan all over the field in the first two periods, left the field with a 14-0 lead. On the sidelines Michigan Coach Bennie Oosterbaan chewed gum, smoked cigarettes and morosely stalked the grass.
As the Michigan band imitated an auto assembly line at half time, a lot of people said aloud what they had been thinking all season: Oosterbaan's team was overrated. Michigan had squeezed past Michigan State by one touchdown, struggled with weak sister Northwestern and beaten Minnesota by a single point. Now sturdy Iowa was popping the Michigan myth.
In the dressing room at half time Oosterbaan talked mostly about plays and then said quietly that Michigan could still win. Iowa scored only once more, while Michigan exploded an awesome offensive for five touchdowns in 23 minutes. "We knew we had to get hot to win," said Halfback Tony Branoff. "We just jelled, that's all."
The team that jelled Saturday afternoon as the nation watched is resourceful and resilient. All season long Michigan has made the big play—a blocked placement, a recovered fumble, a long pass. Fielding Yost, the father of Michigan football, had an axiom for this type of play that Oosterbaan still quotes. "Backbone," Mr. Yost would say, "is better than wishbone."
The backbone of Michigan's attack against Iowa was its magnificent ends—Ron Kramer and Tom Maentz, who must be the best pair in college football. Playing together for the first time this season because of injuries, Kramer caught one touchdown pass and Maentz caught two as Michigan suddenly developed a passing offensive. Up front the two fine Michigan lines finally wore down weary and outmanned Iowa.
Looking back, Michigan's 14-7 victory over Michigan State early in the season may be the key to the Rose Bowl. Since that game Michigan State has been superb. Coach Duffy Daugherty has fashioned the best backfield in the conference, knocked off Notre Dame 21-7 and last Saturday trounced a good Wisconsin team 27-0. But when the two met, Michigan was more resourceful, turned a blocked punt and an intercepted pass into touchdowns and took a giant step toward the Rose Bowl.
Michigan plays three more conference games. By winning two of the three, Michigan is almost certain to go to the Rose Bowl, even if Michigan State also finishes the season with only one conference loss. Big Ten athletic directors would undoubtedly choose Michigan because of its earlier victory over State and the fact it played seven conference games to State's six. Even noncommittal Bennie Oosterbaan admits Michigan has quite a team. Did his boys finally reach their full potential in the rally against Iowa? Oosterbaan grinned broadly. "Let's say," he said, "that they played a fine second half."