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Great Moments in Iowa-Michigan History, #4: Iowa 24, Michigan 23 (1990)

Iowa-Michigan week is upon us, and in celebration we're hopping in the way-back machine to check out some of Iowa's most glorious moments in their long history with the Wolverines.

Gigantic shoulder pads! Bad astroturf! Ah, those were the days...

For our second trip in the way-back machine we're going back to Ann Arbor and another clash with a top ten-ranked Michigan squad (10th). In 1990, the glories of the early-mid '80s had started to recede; those steady 8-10 win seasons had given way to a 6-4-3 mark in 1988 (lots of sister-kissing that year) and a 5-6 record in 1989 (Iowa's first losing record since 1980). Those two Rose Bowl trips (1981, 1985) were looking farther and farther away. 1990 opened with a big win over Cincinnati (63-10) and a shootout win over Iowa State (45-35), but that early momentum ground to a halt after a 48-21 curbstomping on the road at Miami. But they rebounded from that game with a big win over Michigan State (12-7) and a thumping of Wisconsin (30-10), putting them at 4-1 (2-0) and ranked (23rd) headed to their big Ann Arbor showdown with Michigan.

Michigan jumped out to a 14-7 halftime lead behind some accurate passing from the one and only Elvis Grbac (he completed 70% of his passes) and some powerful running from the nation's leading rusher at the time, Jon Vaughn. Michigan extended the lead to 20-10 in the third quarter, but from that point forward, the game was all Iowa. Iowa held Michigan to three first downs in the second half and Iowa QB Matt Rodgers led two long scoring drives, one at the end of the third quarter to draw the Hawks to within 20-17 and the game-winner after Michigan had kicked a field goal to make it 23-17 with just over four minutes remaining. Rodgers was damn near perfect on the final drive, going 5/6 for 67 yards before Paul Kujawa rammed in the game-tying score from a yard out with a hair over a minute to play. Rodgers' stats for the full game were pretty salty, too: 17/27, 276 yards passing, 2 TD (1 rushing), 0 INT. In fact, the final score was the only stat of note that was even close in the game:

This victory was no fluke. Iowa beat Michigan in first downs (24-11), total yards (367-236) and time of possession (33:18-26:42).

After such a ho-hum win, Hayden was predictably subdued:

"Can you believe it," yelled Iowa Coach Hayden Fry after he escaped the delirium in the U of I locker room. "Two wins in the state of Michigan in the same year. Woo-eee! First time ever."

"I’m happier than if we won the Big Ten championship or a bowl game," crowed Fry. "Just incredible."

... or not. This game was selected as part of BTN's Greatest Games series a few years ago, and for good reason: it was a thrilling game between two really good teams. Unfortunately, it's not available on Hulu anymore, but it periodically pops up on BTN during Iowa-centric days of programming.

Unlike the '81 triumph, Iowa didn't immediately follow this big win with a faceplant; they throttled both Northwestern (56-14) and, rather famously, a top five-ranked Illinois squad (54-28). (Hayden's best Iowa teams were usually really good against top ten-ranked foes... up until the Rose Bowl, anyway. Sigh.) Disaster struck in the following game against those notorious season-wreckers, Ohio State, in a game that was also part of BTN's Greatest Games series (although only the most masochistic Iowa fan would want to relive that game, which also came down to the wire). Iowa also lost to Minnesota at the end of the season and wound up in a four-way clusterfuck of teams at 6-2 in the league; somehow Iowa emerged as the Rose Bowl pick*. Sadly, the 1991 Rose Bowl didn't go much better for Iowa than the 1982 Rose Bowl... and it remains the last time Iowa made it to the Rose Bowl. But 1990 was still a mighty fun season and the win over Michigan was pretty damn exciting.

* In a strange bit of trivia, every year but one that's finished with an Iowa trip to the Rose or Orange Bowl has also included a win over Michigan; 1956 remains the only exception.

NEXT: "Say hello to the bad guy!"