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Great Moments in Iowa-Michigan History, #5: Iowa 9, Michigan 7 (1981)

Look, we know the Iowa-Michigan series isn't replete with moments of glory for Iowa football.  Michigan leads the overall series 40-11-4 and there any number of grisly stats you can use to highlight their dominance -- they've scored almost twice as many points as Iowa (1355 to 758), Iowa's never won more than two games in a row in the series (in fact, if they win Saturday it'll be only the third time ever that they've beaten Michigan twice in a row), Iowa once got beat 107-0 (damn you, 1902 Wolverines), and Iowa once went 34 years between victories (1924-1958, although it wasn't an every-year game then) -- but that doesn't mean there haven't been a few good memories, too. So with Michigan week upon us, why not hop in the way-back machine and join us on a trip back through some of those good times.

Back in 1981, Iowa was in year three of the grand Hayden Fry Reclamation Project and while the superficial details had changed (the tigerhawk, new uniforms, the infamous pick locker room, the swarm), the losing hadn't.  In his first two years Iowa went 5-6 and 4-7.  But then something weird happened in 1981: the Hawkeyes won a big game, knocking off 6th-ranked Nebraska, 10-7, in the season opener.  Then they won another big game, a 20-7 upset of 6th-ranked UCLA in the third game of the year.  (Sandwiched in-between those wins was a loss to Iowa State, proof positive that baffling losses to ISU aren't just a recent phenomenon.)  Then they rattled off two more wins (64-0 over Northwestern and 42-28 over Indiana) to lift themselves to a 4-1 record and a tie atop the Big Ten standings heading into their game in Ann Arbor against 5th-ranked Michigan.

What ensued was, well, the sort of game that should be eminently familiar to anyone who's followed Iowa football over the last ten years: 

 Iowa used a conservative ball-control offense, a big-play defense and the talented foot of freshman Tom Nichol to record a victory over a team ranked among the top half-dozen in the nation for the third time this season.

"Man, that was one great football game," exclaimed an ecstatic Fry in a postgame press conference. "I thought I fouled up a jillion times by playing it too close to the vest. But we put a lot of faith in our defense.


What do you mean, "wrong Bohannon?"

If offense is your bag, this wasn't the game for you; led by senior quarterback Gordy Bohannon (best known now for being the father of the basketball Bohannons who all spurned Iowa to play at programs that actually win games), Iowa got one field goal off a short field set up by a muffed punt and scored two other field goals off ground-churning, clock-consuming drives. To the extent there were big plays, they were made by the defense: 

And of course the defense, which has ranked at the top of the Big Ten most of the season, did its job again. There were three crucial points in the second half when the Hawks rose up to stop the Wolverines. Cole’s interception on a deflected pass with 8:19 to go in the third quarter was the first. A fourth-down stop by tackle Mark Bortz on flanker Anthony Carter early in the fourth quarter was the second. And, an Andre Tippett-influenced incomplete pass with 31 seconds left was the third, marking the end of the Wolverines’ hopes.

The win was Iowa's first over Michigan in almost twenty years (since a 28-14 triumph in 1962) and, added to the earlier wins over Nebraska and UCLA, gave Iowa three wins over top-ten foes in its first six games of the year.  (By comparison, Iowa has a total of five wins over top-ten foes in Kirk Ferentz's entire tenure at Iowa.)  

Alas, upon reaching such dazzling heights after spending the preceding two decades languishing in the Big Ten's cellar, a letdown was inevitable and they dropped a pair of games to Minnesota and OUR MOST HATED RIVAL, Purdue Illinois.  (Turns out we beat OUR MOST HATED RIVAL, so thank god for that.)  Fortunately, they rebounded to win their final three games of the season and, at 6-2 in league play, won a tiebreaker over Ohio State to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl.  That game didn't go so well, but for a team that hadn't been to the Rose Bowl since 1958 and that had endured two decades of losing, just getting there was pretty damn sweet.

NEXT: Ann Arbor's still a whore, but we'll take a win there anyway.