Bo Schembechler, the winningest active coach in Division 1-A football,
has been unable to match his regular season success in Bowl games.
Is he jinxed, or just a victim of circumstances?
By Adam Martin
T HREE WINS, 10 LOSSES. The record stands
alone like a pariah. It fits Bo Schembechler
and Michigan football about as well as a tie-
dyed T-shirt fits a 1980s yuppie. But no
matter how awful the record looks, it is Bo's
to keep, the product of three glorious New
Year's Days and 10 hellish nightmares.
Glenn E. "Bo" Schembechler, the heart and brains of
Michigan football for the last 18 years, has one, or make that
10, noticeable blemishes on his 166-39-4 career record at
Michigan. Bo has seen unparalleled success in his 24 years of
coaching, but after 10 post-season losses, he may forever go
down in history as the victim of The Bowl Jinx.
The whole thing is kind of ironic. Six times
Schembechler has traveled to Pasadena to meet the best of the
PAC-10 in the Granddaddy of 'em all, but only once has
everything come up roses. In six other Bowls - The
Orange, Gator, Bluebonnet, Sugar, Holiday, and Fiesta -
Bo has done better, but only by one; his Wolverines won the
Bluebonnet Bowl in 1981, a 33-14 victory over UCLA, and
last year's Fiesta Bowl, a 27-23 come-from-behind win over
Nebraska. Meanwhile, Schembechler became the winningest
active coach in Division 1-A football.
Explaining Bo's Bowl losses is like explaining the origin
of life on earth. No one knows exactly why Schembechler
has lost so often on Jan. 1, but the defeats are facts. The
Bowl Jinx, on the other hand, is the creation of self-professed
sports experts. It is a man-made product of losses so painful
that Schembechler will live with it until he stops coaching.
"It's there, it's been established," Schembechler said with
a chuckle, accepting the fated hex as if he were a witch
doctor's kewpie doll. "We're doing everything we can. We
upped the record to .300 last year. Maybe we can do a little
better and improve that percentage of victories this year."
Michigan will have a decided advantage compared to past
Rose Bowls when it meets Arizona State in a neutral site
Jan. 1. No Trojans or Bruins will fill the Rose Bowl with
80,000 faithful breathing hatred for the animal from the East.
Not this time. This time the Sun Devils (the Sun Devils?),
are the foe.
In the past the Wolverines were not so lucky. The home-
field, grass-field advantage was not the deciding factor in
Michigan's six Rose Bowl defeats, but it did not make the
Wolverines' task any easier. In 1977, after losing to
Southern Cal 14-6, Schembechler reportedly barked: "I'd like
to see them come out here for two weeks to prepare to play
us in Michigan Stadium. That was a home game for them.
Maybe playing on natural turf made a difference."
Because of the Rose Bowl's proximity to PAC-10
schools, the Granddad of New Year's Day will never be a
home game for Michigan. But that's hardly an excuse
because Michigan had a decent chance to win every Bowl
game it has played during Schembechler's tenure, with the
exception of the 1983 Rose Bowl when an injury to starting
quarterback Steve Smith forced the untested, inexperienced
Dave Hall into the post-season fire. Expecting Hall to win
the game for Michigan was like "Expecting Luke Skywalker
to conquer the Empire with a paper clip," quipped Michigan
Daily columnist Barb Barker.
Michigan lost 24-14 to UCLA that year. The Wolverines
had little chance to capture Schembechler's second Rose
Bowl victory when, after Michigan made it 10-7, the Bruins
jumped to a 24-7 lead in the fourth quarter thanks to the
quarterbacking of Tom Ramsey and a Blanchard Montgomery
OS ANGELES HOUSES two perennial football
powers, and although UCLA is Michigan's most
recent nemesis, its most hated is Southern Cal.
The year was 1970. In his first season at the
Wolverine helm, a young Schembechler muzzled his
detractors by beating his former mentor Woodie Hayes and
earning a trip to Pasadena. Then tragedy struck. New Year's
morning the Wolverines were informed that their beloved
coach, the emotional backbone of their team, had suffered a
heart attack. There wasn't time to recover and win it for
Schembechler. USC's "Wild Bunch" defense, perhaps the
toughest unit Michigan had faced all season, stifled the
Wolverines, and the Trojans came away with a 10-3 win.
Michigan held tough, but seemed indecisive without its
captain running the ship.
"On New Year's Day 1970, the Wolverines lost their first
Rose Bowl game ever... and truly proved themselves to be
the Champions of the West," wrote Daily columnist Bill
The "Victors" returned to Pasadena in 1972 to face not
USC nor UCLA, but the Stanford Indians, who then Daily
Sports Editor Mort Noveck called "the West Coast
Schembechler left Pasadena with an 0-2 Rose Bowl mark
after Stanford kicker Rod Garcia booted a 31-yard field goal
which lifted the Indians to a 13-12 triumph. Many called the
loss intolerable because Stanford, which ranked football
below intellectual pursuits, had upset the 11-0 Wolverines.
In the end, however, Stanford, without a centerfold, had
beaten Michigan at Michigan's game - football.
Schembechler had a chance to redeem himself and his team
in 1976 when Michigan met Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
Earlier in the day the Wolverines had watched UCLA upset
first-ranked Ohio State, so when kickoff came around that
evening in Miami, Michigan and Oklahoma were playing for
the national championship.
By midnight the Sooners were the best team in the
country. At the time Schembechler said the Wolverines were
not good enough to beat a team the caliber of Oklahoma, but
that didn't make the 14-6 loss any easier.
"We had been very good in '72, '73, and '74 but never
went to a Bowl game," remembers Jack Harbaugh, father of
current Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh and former
defensive back coach under Schembechler from 1973-79.
"Finally (in 1976), we went to a Bowl game, and except for a
play or two, we could have won."
Excepting a play or two, Michigan could have won many
more than three its last 13 Bowl games, but as Harbaugh put
it, "The problem was we didn't do the things we needed to
One of those things was pass effectively. In the 1970s
Schembechler's teams relied on a well-developed running
attack. Yet each successive Bowl loss left fans and writers
clamoring for a passing game that could overcome defenses
which stopped the Wolverines on the ground.
Against Oklahoma Michigan completed 10 percent of its
passing plays, two of 20 to be exact. Freshman quarterback
Rick Leach led the Wolverines that year, and four Bowls later
Leach was still engineering the Michigan offense but he left
Ann Arbor without a Bowl victory.
In 1977, 1978, and 1979 Michigan made three consecutive
trips to the Rose Bowl, and Schembechler extended his Bowl
record to 0-6 after sandwiching a loss to Washington between
two losses to Southern Cal. Harbaugh recalls the first USC
defeat in 1977 as the most painful.
"We had been on such a high, everybody, after beating
Ohio State 22-0," he said. "Then we came in and we lost, and
I don't remember ever going from such a high to such a
Just like the year before, Michigan lost 14-6, only this
time to their fated rivals the Trojans. A year later the
Wolverines found themselves in a 24-0 hole against
Washington, and it was this game Harbaugh felt Michigan
should have won above all others.
In 19 minutes Bo's boys scored three touchdowns and
nearly won. But a dropped Leach pass and a Leach
interception ended it for Michigan, and once again
Schembechler flew home without a Bowl victory.
The gutwrenching pain of injustice singed the Wolverines
in 1979 when Charles White's Phantom Touchdown lifted
USC to a 14-3 lead in the second quarter, and proved to be
the winning score. Though everyone connected with
Michigan football dicounted the defeat, White's apparent
fumble at the two-yard line did not faze Schembechler.
"The misconception is that we would have won if White
had not fumbled," he said. "We would have had the ball at the
one or two-yard line and we hadn't been killing USC that
What White's fumble-non-fumble did was add to notions
of Bo's Bowl Jinx, a spell he temporarily broke in 1981 with
a 23-6 victory over Washington in the Rose Bowl after an
injury-marred Gator Bowl loss to North Carolina the year
before. "The best one was the one we won," Bo recalled. "All
those years of losing and we finally got one."
Schembechler made it two before the end of the year,
trouncing UCLA 33-14 in the 1981 Bluebonnet Bowl, but
his winning ways came to screeching halt the*next year
against UCLA when Smith hurt his shoulder in the Rose
The Jinx had returned. Bo's next two Bowl games, the
Sugar vs. Auburn and the Holiday vs. Brigham Young, were
winnable, but in both games Michigan could not hold its
lead nor prevent game-winning, final-drive scores by the
opposition. Auburn, despite a stalwart Michigan defense,
managed a 19-yard Al Del Greco field goal with 0:23 left on
the clock to insure a 9-7 win. Brigham Young, powered by
Robbie Bosco's passing, sent Bo home with a 2-10 Bowl
record after successive drives of 80 and 83 yards gave the
Cougars a 24-17 victory.
NEW YEAR'S DAY Schembechler can increase his
post-season winning percentage to .400 with his
second career Rose Bowl victory. A win against
Arizona State would detract from the ill-fated Bowl
Jinx, at least until next year.
Some, including Jack Harbaugh, deny a jinx exists.
Harbaugh considers each of Michigan's Bowl losses as just
one game at one particular time in history. "That we got
there" was enough, he said.
But Harbaugh admits that earning a Bowl berth doesn't
really suit Schembechler, a man, a myth, who wants to win
above everything else.
"There has never been a game that he hasn't competed
every time out. Never mind if it's the Rose Bowl or a game
of touch football out back with the kids," Harbaugh said.
With such a competitive edge, is there a chance Bo will
ever raise his Bowl record to a respectable .500?
"The answer to that is no," Schembechler said. "I'll go
down as a losing coach. How in the hell in would you make
up all those losses?"UN
Fiesta Bowl Victo
'It's there. (The B
can. We upped tI
year. Maybe we (
improve that per(
Martin is a Daily Associ
PAGE 8 WEEKEND/DECEMBER 5, 1986
WEEKEND/DECEMBER 5, 1986