Before Tom Brady became Gisele-marrying, Super Bowl-winning, Movado-endorsing Tom Brady, and before Nick Saban's restoring Alabama to the top of college football's elite, Michigan and Alabama played in an epic Orange Bowl match-up in 2000. If there was a way that Brady could suit up against 'Bama today, the sheer force of their combined star power might short-circuit the entire football universe.
But nearly 14 years ago, Brady was perhaps best known for being the guy who climbed six spots on the Wolverines' depth chart to beat out NFL quarterback prospect Drew Henson for the starting QB job. The highest honor he had earned up to that point was an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team. In fact, the Heisman candidate playing in the game was actually on the opposing sideline in the form of All-SEC running back Shaun Alexander. NFL MVP awards and romances with supermodels and actresses were not yet in the cards. He was just a scrappy kid from Northern California who threw a great ball.
As for Alabama, it was working its way through a post-championship era that lacked the recognition and accomplishments of previous Crimson Tide teams. The Tide won a championship in 1992 under Gene Stallings, but had failed to win another under new head coach Mike DuBose and had been dethroned by teams like Florida State, Nebraska and Florida.
While both teams were ranked in the top ten (Alabama was sixth and Michigan was eighth), they had the distinction of playing the number one and two toughest schedules in the country, respectively. That they survived with enough wins to face each other in a BCS game is a testament to each team's toughness. They were both prepared for a dog fight in the Orange Bowl, or as star Michigan wide receiver David Terrell would say after the game, "Everything is not rose petals when it's a street fight."
The street fight ended up being the BCS' first overtime game, with Michigan coming back twice from 14-point deficits to win. The instant classic featured outstanding performances by two future stars in Brady and Alexander.
Brady threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns, with three of them going to Terrell. Alexander rushed for 161 and three touchdowns, including a 50-yard game breaker. Michigan was down 14-7 at halftime and Alabama's offensive and defensive lines were controlling the game, bottling up Michigan's running game while opening up enough holes for Alexander to bust through for some big runs.
"We've got to be able to throw the football better," Coach Carr said in his halftime interview with Lynn Swann. "We're obviously having a hard time running it. We're gonna have to play our best half of football."
Bob Griese, who was working the game, said that the offenses weren't playing well and that the defenses would have to step up for each team.
"The defenses are going to have to turn the ball over to help the offenses if the offenses don't improve," he said in his halftime analysis.
Griese was likely echoing what both coaches were preaching in their halftime talks, and both offenses listened, exploding in the third quarter for a combined 35 points. However, that offensive outburst was then followed up with zeroes by both teams in the fourth quarter leading into overtime.
On the first play of overtime, Brady hit tight end Shawn Thompson off a play fake for a 25-yard touchdown to give the Wolverines a 35-28 lead. It only took Alabama two plays to score their own touchdown, when 'Bama QB Andrew Zow threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Carter.
The stage was set for each team to throw knockout blows for at least one more OT, but then, the unthinkable happened: Alabama's placekicker Ryan Pflugner pushed the extra point wide right, giving Michigan the win.
While euphoric celebration broke out on Michigan's sideline, announcer Brad Nessler described it best for Alabama: "Fate has dealt them an ugly blow in this Orange Bowl."
For Michigan star Tom Brady, however, fate was just beginning to smile on him.
-- Jon Finkel is the author of The Dadvantage: Stay In Shape On No Sleep With No Time And No Equipment. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Finkel.