Bo Knows Rose Bowls, and This One’s the Real Thing

Hand him a whistle.

Let him run the show.

Give him one last crack at USC.

It isn’t going to happen, we know.

Bo Schembechler is 74, not 44. He was lucky to have coached Michigan from 1969 through 1989 but, after surviving a heart attack and two bypass surgeries, he is even luckier to be alive.

“I’m hanging in there for an old man, not bad,” he said Sunday at Rose Bowl media day.

Schembechler led more teams into this game, 10, than any coach in history. Sunday, he roamed the ancient grounds of Arroyo Seco like a soldier revisiting an old haunt.


He suffered more wounds here than any coach, winning only two times in 10, yet you sensed Schembechler was soaking in every last ounce of his allotted media-day visit.

He did everything but bend down to sniff the flowers.

Michigan versus USC, now this is a Rose Bowl.

“The way it’s supposed to be,” Schembechler said.

The bowl championship series?

Well, old Bo has pretty strong opinions on that.

Basically, he says any system that prevents the Pacific 10 and Big Ten conferences from meeting in the Rose Bowl every year on Jan. 1 ought to be taken to a back field and put out of its misery.

Miami against Nebraska for the national title in 2002?

“Didn’t watch it,” Schembechler said.

Oklahoma versus Washington State last year?

“Didn’t watch it,” he repeated. “Think about that. I didn’t watch it. I protested it. When there’s no Big Ten team in it, I’m not watching it.”

In 1998, the Rose Bowl underwent a severe pruning when it agreed to join the BCS. It forfeited its annual guarantee of pairing the Pac-10 and Big Ten champions for the alleged and larger good of bringing order to college football’s chaotic postseason.

Some order.

Six years later, the No. 1 team is in the Rose Bowl and No. 2 is in the Sugar.

So why did we do this again?

Bo wants to know.

“It just bothered me that we caved in,” Schembechler said. “The Pac-10 and the Big Ten caved in. We were still the most dominant bowl game there was, the greatest matchup of two great conferences. It was what college football was all about, and we caved in. We joined the BCS. We didn’t have to do that.”

Bo knows what he would do when the BCS contract expires at the end of 2005.

“Just let it run out,” he said. “That would suit me fine.”

You wonder how a guy who went 2-8 in the Rose Bowl could cling to these memories and consider them cherished.

Shoot, Schembechler almost died here.

The night before his first Rose Bowl game, Jan. 1, 1970, he suffered a heart attack at the monastery where Michigan was staying.

From his hospital bed, Schembechler was drawing up plays when the doctor entered the room and made a game-time decision.

Schembechler remembers the conversation being short.

Doctor: “You’re out of the game, Coach.”

Bo: “No, I’m not.”

Doctor: “Yes, you are.”

“Next thing I know I have a needle jammed in my arm,” Schembechler recalled, “and I was out of the game.”

Michigan players found out they were going to be head coach-less as they boarded the team bus for the game.

“They were stunned by it,” Schembechler said. “We had battled hard to get there. They really got to the point where they believed what I said.”

Assistant coach Jim Young took over the team, and Michigan lost to USC, 10-3.

Bo’s Rose Bowl experiences advanced quickly from heart problems to heartbreak.

Michigan lost by a point to Stanford in 1972, by eight points to USC in 1977, by a touchdown to Washington the next year. In 1979, USC defeated Michigan, 17-10, by the margin of a touchdown tailback Charles White probably still hasn’t scored, the line judge controversially ruling White had crossed the goal line before he fumbled.

Schembechler got his first Rose Bowl win on his sixth try, a 23-6 victory over Washington in 1981.

Yet, Schembechler did not sound Sunday like a man who failed here more than he succeeded.

He sounded like a man who might think this wouldn’t be a bad place to push up roses.

If only he could turn back time, one more time.

Boy, this would be the game too, with all this talk about USC this and USC that.

You’d think with all the hype surrounding USC, and the presumption of the Trojans’ gaining a share of the national championship, that their opponent was Eastern Michigan, not the winningest team in the history of college football.

There is nothing that raises the hair on Schembechler’s neck like Michigan’s getting short-circuited in the respect department.

To review, USC, Louisiana State and Oklahoma are all vying for pieces of the national title in the Rose and Sugar bowls.

“They only talk about three teams,” Schembechler huffed. “They don’t talk about you. You’re just the fourth team.”

Memo to Bo: With two losses, Michigan can’t win the national title.

Still, you think Schembechler wouldn’t have reminded Michigan players that USC had to defeat the Wolverines first before making claims to any title?

“I would have played it to the hilt,” he said, almost devilishly.

You think Schembechler wouldn’t have tacked every article regarding USC’s foregone-conclusion Associated Press national title on the Michigan bulletin board?

“I think everyone assumes, and probably USC themselves, that they’re going to win the game,” he said.

You think Schembechler would not have squeezed out every ounce of this underdog story line?

“I love it.” he said. “You’ve got to understand. Michigan, back in the Big Ten, we don’t go into any games where we’re not favored.”

That’s the coach in Schembechler talking.

He won 234 games in his career.

There isn’t going to be a win No. 235.

He had his time ... they are now his memories.