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Mark Snyder | Detroit Free Press | September 26, 2015

Michigan-BYU from 1984 memorable meeting for both sides

Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.

In the middle of the biggest night of his coaching life, LaVell Edwards took a break.

At the 1984 Holiday Bowl, Edwards' No. 1-ranked Brigham Young football team was clinging to a 10-7 halftime lead over unranked Michigan, 30 minutes from staying in the national championship discussion.

So what did Edwards do after giving his team a few words of advice? He stepped back toward the field to watch the Michigan band.

"Their band is worth going to bowl games just to watch and listen to," Edwards recalled this week, 31 years later, as Michigan and BYU prepare to play today for the first time since that day. "I stopped at halftime and took a look at them."

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Though that was far from a classic U-M team, the school's prestige resonated with him.

The interlude didn't rattle his team, which fell behind in the third quarter, only to storm back for a 24-17 win.

Two weeks later, when Edwards was on the practice field leading up to coaching the East-West Shrine Game, a reporter told him his team was voted the national champion.

Despite boasting previous star quarterbacks in Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Marc Wilson and a future Heisman Trophy winner in Ty Detmer, having the title remains a unique legacy for Edwards and his off-the-radar program.

Over the years that followed, he kidded his good friend, then-Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, about helping BYU win the national title.

That must have rankled Schembechler, who wanted to redeem his 6-5 season and win that Holiday Bowl so badly, he privately threatened the unthinkable almost a month before that game, hoping to make his staff work harder and change something from the disastrous season.

The Sunday morning after the Ohio State game, a 21-6 loss, Schembechler was two hours late to his weekly staff meeting before storming in.

"He said, 'Men, this is perhaps the worst coaching job I have ever seen,' " then-U-M assistant Bob Thornbladh recalled this week. " 'I've done a bad job, but you are the worst coaches in America. I'll tell you what I'm going to do: I'm not going to fire one man in here. If this doesn't change, if we don't get this back on track, I'm going to retire and none of you will get a job. Because it's obvious, you're the worst coaches in America.' "

The door slammed and the coaches looked at each other. A few popped up and said they were going recruiting. Days later, Schembechler calmed down and told the coaches to embrace the players and get them ready for the bowl game. But his point was clear, they were going out there to win and "redeem" themselves, Thornbladh said.

The Wolverines headed to the bowl game as they had the second half of the season without sophomore quarterback Jim Harbaugh, out with a broken arm.

Somehow they were competitive even into the fourth quarter, despite getting outgained in total yards, 483-202.

Behind tailback Bob Perryman's 110 rushing yards -- quarterback Chris Zurbrugg passed for only 82 yards -- Michigan played inspired against the eventual national champions. The game was tied, 17-17, until 11/2 minutes remained.

Even though the Wolverines were clear underdogs and had been through a rough season, Edwards knew it wouldn't be easy.

"What I said was, 'Don't pay any attention to what their record is, just look at the fact that is Michigan, it's one of the proud programs in the country and those guys, they show up to play, they're going to play hard and they're going to come at you,' " Edwards said. "I said, 'Don't let that fool you.' "

What was referred to for years as Michigan's "losing season" -- at 6-6, it was the only one of Schembechler's 20 years with fewer than eight wins -- always drove him crazy.

Yet there was some inspiration as well.

For the previous decade, BYU had ushered in a new era of modern college football, an alternative to the wishbone that dominated the sport.

And while Edwards, who said he plans to attend today's game in Ann Arbor, had visited Michigan a few years earlier for a coaching clinic and was close with Schembechler for years before, U-M's philosophy began to shift after that loss to BYU.

U-M's passing yardage rose the next two seasons. In Harbaugh's senior year, 1986, he smashed the school record with 2,797 yards, a mark that stood more than a decade, until Tom Brady's 1998 and '99 teams broke it.

"Bo wasn't going to make wholesale changes, but when he saw what LaVell did ... after he saw his football, Bo was anxious to incorporate some of those things and utilize Jim Harbaugh," Thornbladh said.

The stakes will be different today, as an early-season nonconference game in which the teams have similar talent, more than a generation removed from the current players. But if he thinks it can help right a past injustice, Harbaugh will use it as fuel.

"I remember it," he said this week of that Holiday Bowl. "We lost, I remember that."

Just don't expect him to spend halftime watching the band.

This article was written by Mark Snyder from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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