When you think of the worst season in Michigan football history, inevitably the 2008 season comes to mind. Right now, images of Toledo are clawing their way to the surface. Your left eye might be twitching at the thought of getting boat raced by Illinois or witnessing the horror of Terrelle Pryor running free, chased by Brandon Graham, the only competent defender on the team that year. Or perhaps you’re considering the epic battle for quarterback supremacy between Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan.
You might think that’s the worst season in program history, and you could easily make a case for it, but the 1962 Michigan Wolverines would like a word. The ’62 squad finished 2-7 in Bump Elliot’s fourth year as head coach and were outscored 214-70. It was a putrid season, with a lone bright spot. The second week of the year against the No. 10 Army Black Knights.
Michigan entered the game having lost to Nebraska the previous week. Army was the lone ranked opponent that Michigan would face that season. Based on the youth and depth of the team, Michigan seemed outmatched.
Michigan jumped out to an early 17-0 lead, shutting down Army’s vaunted ground game until the 4th quarter when they cut the lead to 17-7. Michigan would hold off Army’s comeback bid.
Michigan would be shut out three of their next four games, failing to score for three consecutive weeks against Michigan State, Purdue and Minnesota. Players from that squad didn’t know, at that time, that their victory over Army would be the high point of their season. Their sole other victory came against Illinois. They lost Paul Bunyan. They lost the Little Brown Jug. They lost The Game.
Eerily, the 1962 Michigan Wolverines paralleled that fateful 2008 squad. Mediocrity abound, the only blips of success seemed to come at the weirdest times. I’ll never forget Michigan’s furious comeback against No. 9 Wisconsin after falling 19-0. The furious comeback’s exclamation point of Threet galloping like a wounded gazelle through a hole in the Badger defense, the prototypical spread quarterback. Michigan would struggle thorough the rest of the year, outmatched by nearly every opponent they faced en route to a 3-9 record and their second worst season of the modern era of football.
RichRod was not given the patience that the administration had with Bump Elliot, who managed to survive 10 seasons despite only having one, real, great season. His teams were often mediocre and his 3-7 record against Woody Hayes’ Ohio State would get any coach fired in today’s arena.
Alas, when Michigan squares off against the Black Knights on Saturday, the stakes will be higher, and the looming nightmare of a dead season seems long in the rear-view mirror.