The 30th Anniversary of Michigan’s 1980 Championship Football Team


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Michigan's 1980 Big Ten Championship Football Team

I'm not sure exactly what to expect on the gridiron for the Michigan Wolverines in 2010.

More wins, I guess.

I do know one thing I definitely want to see.

The 2010 football season marks the 30th anniversary of the Wolverines' 1980 outright Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl championship football team.  If they haven't done so already, somebody within the University of Michigan administration and the athletic department needs to organize a commemorative event during the course of the 2010 football season to recognize Michigan's great 1980 Big Ten championship football team.

What made Michigan's 1980 football team so special?

The First of Only Two Teams Under Schembechler to Ever Win an Undisputed Big Ten Championship AND a Rose Bowl Victory
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Bo Schembechler's First Victory Ride in Pasadena, January 1, 1981 (AP Photo)

Winning a conference title in the Big Ten started to get a whole lot tougher around 1979.  Before that Ohio State and Michigan pretty much ruled the league with impunity.  Under head coach Bo Schembechler, Michigan won a lot of Big Ten championships in football: Five of them undisputed outright titles and 8 shared titles where the Wolverines finished tied for first in the conference standings.  The 1980 Michigan football team was Schembechler's second undisputed Big Ten championship team (1971 was the first), and it was the first Wolverine squad to hand Bo a bowl game win. This victory just happened to take place in the 1981 Rose Bowl - mostly a Wolverine graveyard since 1964 - over a talented 16th ranked, 9-2 Washington team.  Schembechler would repeat this feat only one more time in 1988, when the Wolverines would finish 7-0-1 in conference, win the Big Ten title outright and win the Rose Bowl game (over USC 22-14).

Bill McCartney's Scoring Defense: 22 Quarters Without A Surrendered Touchdown


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Bill McCartnery, Michigan Defensive Coach between 1974-1981

From local, little-known Michigan high school coach to one of the best Michigan's best defensive coordinators ever

Bill McCartney had become a defensive assistant at Michigan in 1974. Most Michigan fans kind of forget that McCartney was the only high school football coach ever hired by Bo Schembechler.  McCartney is probably most widely known for his head coaching exploits later on at Colorado.  But while working alongside Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr (Carr's first season at Michigan was 1980), Bill McCartney was arguably one of the best defensive coordinators in Michigan football history. In 1980 Michigan returned with only 5 starters on defense and would have to replace two of the most prolific defensemen ever to ever strap on a winged helmet: inside linebacker Ron Simpkins and defensive tackle Curt Greer.  McCartney would also have to rebuild the entire Wolverine secondary with the losses of FS Michael Harden, CB Mike Jolly and SS Mark Braman.  They'd also have to find a way to replace the other veteran and starting DT Chris Godfrey.  The 1980 replacements on defense were a less experience group on paper, but became a pleasant surprise by season's end.   Michigan's defensive line saw a tremendous amount of flexibility with a 3-4 alignment.  Winfred Carraway, Jeff Shaw, Cedric Coles and Mike Trgovac were all stalwarts along the defensive front.  During spring practice, the idea of trying to replacing Simpkins at linebacker must have been seen by McCartney as an impossibility. By season's end, however, Michigan's linebacking corps of Paul Girgash, Mel Owens, Andy Cannavino and Robert Thompson had all picked up the slack and much more.  Perhaps McCartney's greatest accomplishment, however, was getting a very young Wolverines secondary ready to play against some of the best quarterbacks and passing offenses in the Big Ten and the PAC10 in 1980: California (Rich Campbell), Illinois (Dave Wilson), Indiana (Tim Clifford), Purdue (Mark Herrmann) and Ohio State (Art Schlichter) and Washington (Tom Flick).  Michigan's defensive backs in 1980, Marion Body, Brian Carpenter, Keith Bostic and Tony Jackson, kept plays in front of them and pretty much shut down these opponent passing attacks outright.  This was an unexpected result following Michigan's 1979 campaign that fielded a much more experienced secondary with superior talent.  McCartney's "Monsters" of 1980 gave up a paltry 11 point per game. The one thing for which the 1980 Michigan defense is probably most remembered is that fact that for 22 straight quarters of play, starting with the Indiana game in Bloomington on November 1st all the way through to the Rose Bowl win versus Washington, three straight opponents were held scoreless and no one crossed the Wolverines' goal line.

A Trio of Tailbacks and A Dominant Offensive Line

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Butch "Don't-Call-Me-Harold" Woolfolk

When your football team fields three (count ‘em, three!) running backs that rush for over 900 yards each and about 7 touchdowns on average each, well, that's the sign of a a run-centric football coach, an incredible offensive line, or both.  In 1980 Michigan scrapped most of its option run plays because it's quarterback John Wangler was recovering from knee surgery.  The Wolverines moved to a Multiple I attack with some two split back pro set formations as well.  Butch Woolfolk, Stan Edwards and Lawrence Ricks were excellent runners and alternated at tailback.  In 1980 Woolfolk racked up an impressive 1,073 yards and 8 TDs, Edwards had 916 yards and 8 TDs and Ricks gained 904 yards and 6 TDs.  Behind Michigan's massive offensive line, it didn't really matter which running back was in there.  All three backs were now big enough to serve as excellent blockers for Wangler on play action passing downs too. Jerry Hanlon, Michigan's offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, was fortunate to return 4 of the 5 front lineman from 1979 in tackles Bubba Paris and Ed Muransky, center George Lilja and offensive guard Kurt Becker.  In 1980 John Powers would replace senior John Arbeznik at guard and do a fantastic job.  Offensively, Michigan averaged 27 points per game that season.

Anthony Carter


As if three Wolverine tailbacks marching up and down the Tartan surface of Michigan Stadium for almost 3,000 yards on the ground in 1980 wasn't bad enough, Wolverine opponents struggled to put any plan in place to neutralize this 5 foot, 11 inch tall, lanky-legged sophomore receiver from Florida who donned a menacing No. 1 jersey. 

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A.C.- Nobody Does It Better

Michigan's wide receiver Anthony Carter played a position known as "Flanker" for the Wolverines, because that's what he did.  He flanked you, among other things.  While Schembechler's off-tackle traps and tailback counters were softening opponent front lines and sucking in opposing safeties, he'd call a deep out or a post pattern throw to Anthony Carter with max protection for his quarterback Wangler.  The results were shocking.  Half of Wangler's completions ended up in Anthony Carter's mitts for either an acrobatic 1st down catch or a touchdown.  Of John Wangler's 16 TD passes, 14 went to Anthony. 

For Schembechler, the advent of Anthony Carter in the offensive attack in 1980 reminds me a lot of the part in the Christmas Carol when Scrooge, realizing he had survived the night's haunting, couldn't help himself but maintain the evil façade for a few moments the next day to fool his employee Bob Cratchett, only to finally let go and reveal his new redeemed persona with kindness and joy.

So it must have been both difficult and yet strangely uplifting for a guy like Schembechler to finally be able to break free from his Hayesian instruction and actually throw the football on something other than 3rd down and then witness either the same or better result compared to that trusty 38 cross buck counter play.  Only Anthony Carter could have wrestled loose the "Three yards and a cloud of dust" ideology from Bo's gray matter - though it would never leave Schembechler entirely. 


It remains to this day a worthy subject of study just why Anthony Carter only caught 51 receptions in 1980.  If you are a head football coach today, and you know that from a statistical probability point of view that every 4 times one of your players (Player X) touches the football, he ends up trying to make it rain in the opponent end zone....well, that was Anthony Carter:  51 receptions. 14 touchdowns, 818 yards and 16 yard per reception average.

 

Overcoming A 1-2 Start

Michigan started out the season with a lackluster win at home against the Big Ten's worst team, Northwestern, 17-10, and proceeded to lose two straight games at Notre Dame by a last second field goal and again at home versus one of the best South Carolina football teams ever (Heisman tailback George Rogers, quarterback Gary Harper). A lot has already been written by Mitch Albom and others about the turnaround of the 1980 season, the revolt brewing by some of the players,  etc. Michigan had every opportunity to implode after that 14-17 defeat to the Gamecocks.  I won't go into it all again. It's enough to say that  the1980 football team was one of Michigan's best ever.  I wrote a brief comparison of the 1980 team to some of Michigan's other greatest teams entitled The Magnificent Seven at my previous blog.  The 1980 team really was one of Schembechler's finest. Not the biggest group of kids. Not the fastest. Not even the most talented.  But they did go through a hellish start only to come together in the end, never looking back only to dole out some memorable punishment on the opposition all the way to a 10-2 final record. 

If you're a Michigan football fan, I highly recommend viewing some of these 1980 season football games posted on youtube from Wolverine Historian. Watch how the Michigan defense seemed to feed the offense, and vice versa, in these games. Watch how the Wolverine defensive players would celebrates a big stop as a team, smacking each other around joyously after the play.  It might have gotten a flag by today's standards.   Here is the 1980 roster and starting lineup.

It is most interesting to me to think that one of the best Michigan football teams ever was not a perfect one.

So I'm hoping something special will be planned this fall to remember the 1980 football season.  I don't know what they'll do.  Something cool hopefully.  Bo and Ufer are gone, but the memories still remain. It's thirty years later, that 1980 championship team deserves a standing ovation from the Michigan faithful in the Big House once again.

No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 16 Purdue, November 16, 1980 (courtesy of Wolverine Historian)


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