In chilly, damp Ann Arbor last Saturday afternoon Texas A&M seemed in a dandy position to upset Michigan. The Aggies had trounced highly rated Texas Tech in Lubbock the week before to become the fifth-ranked team in the national polls. They had an improving defense and, more impressively, enough offensive weapons to make NATO envious: David Walker, a heady senior quarterback; Curtis Dickey, the leading all-purpose runner in America (172.3 yards a game); Tony Franklin, who was averaging three field goals a game and was a threat to kick the ball through the uprights and all the way to Kalamazoo; and George Woodard, a massive fullback who blasts into the line with the impact of a boulder hurtling down a steep slope.
Moreover, the Wolverines, ranked No. 1 the first two weeks of the season, had been so unimpressive in beating Duke 21-9 and Navy 14-7 that the pollsters had demoted them to third. Why, against Navy it appeared Michigan's best executed play was something called "delay of game."
Yet, before a "regional" TV audience that covered most of the country and an in-person crowd of 104,802 (the third largest in Michigan Stadium history), the Wolverines survived a first-half game of giveaway and came back in the last 30 minutes to batter A&M 41-3.
Rumor has it that the conservative coaches at schools like Michigan won't even let the players pass the potatoes at training table; they must slide the platters instead. But, while A&M was repeatedly firing the 272-pound Woodard into the line, Michigan Quarterback Rick Leach passed 18 times, almost one-third of the Wolverines' offensive plays. Never mind that Leach only connected on six. By the long-established standards of Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler, 18 passes constitute a mad aerial display.
"Against A&M you've got to be ready to throw," said Schembechler after the game. Then, tongue in cheek, "Just like every game, we came out throwing.
"I'm not a conservative guy. I wish you people would understand that. We have the most dangerous offense there is—lateral passes. Now, today we just threw forward passes."
Leach, the junior who has been doing the passing, both lateral and forward, ever since his first game as a freshman, was born to play for Michigan. In fact, he was born in the University of Michigan Hospital. His father, Richard Sr., and his Uncle Bob were baseball lettermen at Michigan and played on the Wolverines' first NCAA championship team in 1953.
Rick himself is one of the finest all-round athletes to come out of Flint, Mich. He played on the national championship Connie Mack baseball team in 1974, was first-team all-state in football, baseball and basketball and turned down a big bonus from the Philadelphia Phillies to go to Michigan.
In Ann Arbor he has continued to be Merriwellian, leading the baseball team two straight years in hitting (.345 and .316), throwing out runners from center field with his strong arm and performing such feats as playing in a spring football game, then playing in the second game of a baseball doubleheader and driving in the game-winning run.
Leach's parents sit behind the Michigan bench at every home game, and so does his 72-year-old grandmother, who is a deaf mute (Rick is fluent in sign language). What they have seen in three years of Leach's field generalship is a gradual expansion of Michigan's offensive arsenal.