Colorado 27 Michigan 26. A few recollections from the game:
The context is important if you are to understand just how deflating the conclusion of the game was. Michigan had beaten Boston College in the opener with an epic display of 34 unanswered points after they spotted the Eagles a 12-0 lead. Then, Michigan went on the road and did this to bete noire Notre Dame:
(It gets really good at the 4:45 mark.)
Losing on a Hail Mary is one thing; losing on a Hail Mary as the #4 team in the country the week after an epic win over a hated rival is something else. (Incidentally, does anyone remember what it used to be like when major college football teams would play out-of-conference schedules like BC-Notre Dame-Colorado? I digress.)
Colorado dominated the early stages of the game, confirming every fear of Michigan's fans about containing the option (Kevin McDougal had ripped Michigan to pieces during the previous season) and about the amount of talent on the Colorado offense. The Buffs had beaten defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin 55-17 in the previous game, so the fears were somewhat valid. Michigan had a brief hot spell in the first quarter when Colorado hit the crossbar on a long field goal and then Tyone Wheatley made his first appearance of the season after missing the first two games and change with a separated shoulder, but it took a late Michigan touchdown just to get back to 14-9 at the half.
The third quarter was possibly the most frenzied, exciting quarter I saw at Michigan Stadium in four years of college, which probably isn't saying much with the Big House's reputation as a somewhat sedate place to watch a game. Michigan went from 14-9 down to 26-14 up in an avalanche of defensive stops and big plays on offense, including a double reverse and a long touchdown pass to Amani Toomer(?). Michigan was driving again in the fourth quarter with a 12-point lead when Che Foster decided to become a historical footnote by fumbling deep in Colorado territory when it appeared as if Michigan had broken Colorado's will. Colorado then dominated the fourth quarter in the same way that they had dominated the first and some of the second. They drove to the one before Kordell Stewart fumbled trying to score a touchdown, then they drove for a touchdown to close to within 26-21. Michigan recovered the onside kick, at which point someone near me started singing "Goodbye." I scolded this individual, then proclaimed that it was OK to sing once Michigan got its punt off and left the Buffs on their own 15 with 14 seconds to go. (Incidentally, another footnote from that final sequence: Michigan had a makeable third and three, but a false start penalty destroyed the opportunity.)
As for the play itself, I don't have much to add to the thousands of words that have been used to describe it, except to say that the sight of Kordell Stewart throwing the ball roughly 80 yards in the air is still one of the most majestic sights I've ever seen in a sporting event, ranking right up there with Barry Bonds homering off of John Smoltz in Game Two of the 2002 NLDS. It's hard to describe how eerie the post-game reaction was. Ivan Maisel touches on this in his article, but the sudden hush of 106,000 people is difficult to properly convey. People just stood dumbfounded for minutes on end, struggling to comprehend what they had just seen. There were barely any comments from anyone on the walk back to campus. The experience was that flooring.
In retrospect, the game might not have been as significant as it appeared that day. Michigan had a badly flawed defense, regardless of the outcome of the Colorado game and they were not going to win a national title, although it's not inconceivable that Michigan could have beaten Penn State and won the Big Ten that year without the hangover from the Colorado game. That Colorado team was better than Michigan because they could stop the run and they deserved to finish #3. If they got Nebraska at home, #1 would not have been unlikely. My anger about the game has subsided, although I won't lie that I enjoyed the downfall of a number of Colorado's participants in the game:
Rick Neuheisel - Vilified by Colorado and Washington fans for running both programs into the ground. Fired for lying about participation in a final four pool.
Kordell Stewart - reduced to tears by Bill Cowher. Epic meltdown in 2002 AFC Championship Game.
Michael Westbrook - Coldcocked Stephen Davis for no apparent reason.
Rashan Salaam - Epic NFL bust.
Rae Carruth -