4 - The Michigan Daily - SPORTSMonday - Monday, December 12, 1994
The play that changed the
1994 Michigan football season
Colorado quarterback Kordell Stewart spiked
the ball to stop the clock, and I walked out of
the press box, holding in my hand a notebook
with questions for Buffalo coach Bill McCartney.
How nice would it have been to come back to
Michigan and get a big win?
Why was the offense so great last week against
Wisconsin and not in today's loss to Michigan?
Do you think Michigan can win the national
I walked out of the press box elevator and heard
the screams of 100,000 fans,
thrilled that their team was about
to go 3-0.
The guard at the bottom of
the elevator handed me a card to
let me back into the press box.
"Pass Out," it read.
"What's the final score?" the
guard asked me. MICHAEL
"It's 26-21," I replied, "but ROSENBERG
there's one play left." Roses are
Little did I know. Two things Read
would happen before the end of
Colorado: pass. Michigan: out.
When they write the epitaph for the 1994
Michigan football season, all they will need is one
Six seconds away from being undefeated against
the toughest non-conference schedule in the country.
And the Wolverines ended up 7-4.
You can blame the lack of emotion. You can
scream about coach Gary Moeller's point-a-minute
defense. I remember Kordell Stewart's Hail Mary
pass to Michael Westbrook to give Colorado a 27-26
victory over Michigan.
After the play, I tried to make it through the
stands down to the field. The crowd was still. The
pass had frozen the stadium. It would be several
weeks before anybody realized the pass had stopped
the Michigan season.
In the wildly loud Colorado locker room after the
game, Stewart could only whisper, trying to piece
together the greatest moment of his life.
"The coach called this so-called play," he said. "It
Two days after the pass, at his weekly media
luncheon, Moeller was asked how long it would take
him to get over the Hail Mary.
"You never get over it," Moeller said. "It's a
Is that really true? Do the Wolverines still think
about that pass?
"Every day, every night," says defensive back
Chuck Winters, who tipped the ball into Westbrook's
hands on the play.
Michigan plays Colorado State in the Holiday
Bowl Dec. 30, three months after the pass. It's hard
to believe it's still the same season. These are clearly
not the same Wolverines.
"If we would have won that game, it would have
propelled us on," Winters says. "I think we would
have been like 10-1."
Michigan was never the same after that play. The
Wolverines did not have the confidence that they
showed in the win at Notre Dame or in the first 59:54
of the Colorado game. They were a deflated team.
"That was my worst experience at the University
of Michigan," defensive back Ty Law says now.
Two months after the pass, I stand on the 30-yard
line at Michigan Stadium, stand and squint at the
south end zone 70 yards away. Jeez, this is a long
way, I think to myself. A real long way.
A half-hour has passed since Michigan beat
Minnesota in its final home game of the season. The
Wolverines actually trailed the lowly Gophers at
halftime before coming back to win. In 1994, even a
home game against Minnesota was a chore.
I look around the old building. A few yards away
from me, a few little kids are throwing around a Nerf
football, pretending they are stars, pretending they
are making game-winning catches. Except for the
children, the stadium is empty now. The season has
left. I look one more time at the end zone, 70 yards
away. I shake my head.
Colorado's Michael Westbrook catches a Hail Mary pass from Kordell Stewart against Michigan Sept. 24. The
reception, which won the game for the Buffaloes, sent Michigan plummeting toward a 7-4 season.
SAN DIEGO STATE
Colorado State (104)
Continued from page 1
His participation on the high
school team introduced him into
Aliquippa's pantheon of football
greats, which includes NFL Hall of
Famer Mike Ditka, a host of current
Big Ten players, and Los Angeles
Ram Sean Gilbert. (Fans outside
California know the Ram from the
Russell Athletic television
commercial in which a five-year-
old fan swings him, hammer style,
into a chain-link fence.) Tony
Dorsett - a distant cousin of Law's
- graduated from nearby Hopewell
His school's history is not lost
on Law. "Any high school player
would love to experience
Aliquippa," he says. "We have such
great tradition there, similar to
Michigan. Once I achieve my goals
and get to where I want to be, I
want to get back to Aliquippa.
"Without Aliquippa and without
struggles, without the great tradition
of football and basketball (there),
where would Ty Law be today?"
It is a sobering question.
In a town in which front stoops
have become illicit marketplaces,
football is the saving grace.
Neighbors still rally around the high
school team as they would a
departing Army platoon. Through
the Quarterback Club, parents and
friends raise money to support the
costs of two gleaming weight
rooms, a pristine field and a
carpeted and sound system-
equipped lockerroom. For a serious
player, the school is an oasis.
For the others, it is just another
stoop. Six-year head coach Frank
Marocco says that of the 20 kids
who made the team as sophomores,
eight stayed on through this, their
senior year. "Two were kicked off
for disciplinary reasons; 10 are no
longer in school," he says.
With that background as
prologue, Law approached his
selection of a college with hungry
eyes. Thoughts of new clothes and
new cars in tow, he set about the
business of visiting schools. "I went
to (a highly respected program), and
the guy who hosted me was from
my high school. He said he got
t_. . -1 - -1 ____ ., _ . 1 .A _ 9, . .. . . _..
After all, it wasn't Law's fault that
at age 10 he and his mother almost
died when their duplex caught fire.
Their exit was blocked by the back
door, bolted because of a recent
robbery. "What if we would've
bolted the front door too?" he asks.
It is a wonder he ended up in
college at all.
Law survived that near-tragedy
the way he does all setbacks: by
gathering strength from his family.
Diane, 38, had Ty (born Tajuan)
while still in high school. His
father, who Ty considers more pal
than parent, was largely absent
while Ty was growing up. Much of
his rearing was done by Diane's
Nearly 11 years retired from
LTV, Ray is the oxygen in Ty's
existence. In essence, Ty Law is a
momma's boy. He may be a
generation and a gender removed -
a grandfather's boy - but the effect
is the same. To hear him speak of
Ray Law, you'd think Ty was
building a shrine. "It's like a God
looking over me when I know he's
there," the 20-year-old Law says. "I
feel like I have a halo around my
Ray's four daughters were the
only children in the family, so when
a grandson came along, Ray doted
on him. He went to every one of
Law's football games since age
Name: Ty Law
Height: 6 feet
seven. He worked on the high
school team's booster club selling
raffle tickets to raise money for
operating expenses. At every stage,
every down of Ty's young life, Ray
Once, when Ty didn't like the
condiments offered with his school
lunch, he called Ray at home with a
request: ketchup. "They had some
kind of off-brand," Ray says. "He's
a stickler for Hunt's and Heinz."
Calling home for ketchup?
"Well," Ray says, a twinkle in
his voice, "Maybe I did baby him a
But if Ty has Ray on a short
rope, Ty willingly tethers himself to
his grandfather. So it was only
fitting that he be present when Ty,
sitting in Aliquippa High's
principal's office, signed his letter
of intent. It's a 70-year-old man
fans have to thank for the Michigan
football team's star cornerback. It is
Ray who lived closer to Ann Arbor
than to Miami, Gainsville and
Clemson; he whose streak of games
attended would end if Ty ventured
too far from western Pennsylvania.
"Academics, football, tradition
.. I really didn't know anything
about the Michigan program. All I
knew about was Ray Law."
Ray was there when it happened.
September 24, 1994. Colorado vs.
Michigan. Six seconds on the clock.
26-21, Wolverines. He saw Buffalo
quarterback Kordell Stewart drop
back, the line of his shoulders
slanting toward his own end zone,
and heave a last pass. For five full
seconds the ball spun toward the
Michigan goal, brushed and dabbed
at least three Wolverine defenders,
and came to rest in the hands of
receiver Michael Westbrook. 27-26,
"I jumped," he says for the
thousandth time. "I tried to hit the
ball. Why should I be remembered
for losing the game when I put forth
my best effort?"
Coaches didn't blame him for
the play, but that didn't make its
aftermath any easier. "I walk in a
store," he says. "First time ever on
the cover of Sports Illustrated, it
looks like Ty Law's getting beat
man-to-man." That night, Law sat
in his darkened bedroom, thinking
"Could I have jumped a little
Today, he's beginning to make
peace with himself. "I realize that
one play didn't get me to the
University of Michigan, one play
didn't make me All-Big Ten, one
play didn't make me (a Walter
Camp) All-American, and one
play's not going to break me. I
know I can play. Half the people
who might blame that play on me
would probably love to have been
in my shoes."
Then, as if making a resolution,
he adds, "I'm blessed to be a part of
such a great play. I can say I'm part
Still, enhanced by the SI cover,
and the inside photo of Law
kneeling on the turf, Muslim
prayer-style, his story will remain
entrenched in sports lore. "Every
time I want to forget it, I get a call
from somebody who wants an
interview," he says. "They talk
about all the good things, then that
play comes up."
If the tendency to highlight the
negative is true for journalists, it is
even more so for Law. "I will
always remember that play before I
remember anything good that I did,
because I was in on that play. I
thought it was going to ruin all my
Ironically, perhaps the best play
Law ever made will be remembered
as his biggest mistake.
It was the first start of his
college career - he was a true
freshman - and it was in South
Bend. With Michigan up, 17-7,
early in the fourth quarter, Notre
Dame found itself in a third-and-
seven situation 12 yards from the
goal line. Fighting Irish quarterback
Rick Mirer faked a handoff then
threw to Lake Dawson. Law was
there, and swatted the ball away.
The ruling came up: pass
interference. With touchdown hv
Law's tenacity also allowed him
to intercept six passes for 79 yards
in '93 and make 56 tackles this
season. His six passes broken up -
17th in the Big Ten - is more
impressive when one considers the
fact that quarterbacks threw away
from him. Their respect explains
part of why, despite making only
one interception this season, Law
still made all-everything.
"He's come in here as a great
player and he's only gotten better,"
defensive backs coach Bill Harris
says. "He doesn't have a big
And now, Law realizes how
much football means to him.
"There are so many guys who
were all-this and all-that in high
school who can't even step on the
field in college," he says. "I was
blessed, and didn't appreciate it as
much as I do now. I'll never take
my ability for granted again. I know
that I'm the best cornerback in the
country. That's what keeps my
Says safety Chuck Winters,
"He's the type of person who
knows he's good."
So do the pros. Currently, Law
is grappling with the prospect of
entering the NFL draft. And with
Law, as with many escapees of
teenage poverty, appeals to team
loyalty and academic conscience
have grown obsolete. He has other
issues to consider.
"I know that if I went, I'd
probably feel more comfortable
about myself, and about my
family situation," he says. "I've
got to do what's best for my
family. I don't want to seem
selfish. I don't want to let the
team down. But it's something I
have to consider."
Whether he stays or goes, Law
already has triumphed over past
demons. "There were a lot of guys
who made it to a Division I
program, but they were home after
the first year," he says. Seeing the
pattern, Law says he vowed "to
make it through college, make it to ?-
the next level, to try to heli my
mother and my grandfather live a
Reflecting on his past, Law says
he might have done a few things
differently - for one, steering clear
of dns. But he has learned from
. . 0.,