By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Where were you on Oct. 19, 1985?
Many Iowa fans probably could answer that question, especially if you remind them about the significance of that day almost 35 years ago.
That was the day that top-ranked Iowa, behind Rob Houghtlin’s 29-yard field goal as time expired, edged second-ranked Michigan 12-10 at Kinnick Stadium in a game that ranks among the greatest wins in the history of the Iowa program.
One versus two.
Hayden Fry versus Bo Schembechler.
Chuck Long versus the vaunted Michigan defense.
You name it, and Iowa’s much-anticipated showdown with Michigan in 1985 had it from a storyline standpoint.
I remember exactly where I was on that day, plopped in front of a television at my parents’ house in Des Moines.
I still vividly remember Houghtlin’s field goal clearing the uprights and then turning to my mother and seeing a look of pure joy on her face.
So as a way to rekindle that joy, Chuck Long and former Michigan running back Jamie Morris were both guests on the Hawk Fanatic-KCJJ radio show and podcast on Friday.
Long and Morris were both on at the same time and spent about 35 minutes reminiscing about a game in which they both made a huge impact.
Long was a fifth-year senior in 1985 and would go on to finish runner-up to Bo Jackson for the Heisman Trophy, while Morris was a sophomore and Michigan’s starting tailback.
“It’s hard to believe it was 35 years ago,” Long said. “I don’t know how Jamie feels, but when I watch games, or clips of myself, it’s kind of surreal because my body can’t do that today. So it feels like, man, is that a different person out there? It’s just a weird feeling to watch it. But it’s also a great memory, obviously, for us and the Hawkeye nation.
“I played in the NFL and coached for 20 years after that, and this is by far the greatest game I’ve ever been in as a player or as a coach. So it was obviously a fond memory for us.”
Michigan was in the unusual position of having to prove itself heading into the 1985 season because the Wolverines had stumbled to a surprising 6-6 record in 1984, which included a 26-0 loss to Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.
Some were actually questioning whether Schembechler still had what it takes to be effective and the Michigan players used that as motivation to prove the doubters wrong.
“They were people actually out there saying that Bo Schembechler had lost a step, that he didn’t know football, football had moved on to the young folks,” Morris said. “So in 85, we were justifying Bo Schembechler as one of the greatest coaches in Big Ten history, even the nation.”
Michigan scored the game’s only touchdown on a shovel pass from quarterback Jim Harbaugh to running back Gerald White, while Iowa countered with four Houghtlin field goals.
Morris helped to set up the game’s only touchdown by returning a kick 60 yards to the Iowa 30.
Long completed 26-of-39 passes for 297 yards, but he remembers that nothing came easy against Michigan’s vaunted defense.
“It was a catch and no after the catch,” Long said. “There was nothing after the catch. It was literally a catch and they were on the ground. That’s how hard it was to move the ball.”
Long was fortunate that his pass to running back Ronnie Harmon in the fourth quarter fell through the arms of Michigan All-America safety Brad Cochran.
Long knew he was in trouble almost immediately after throwing the pass, which was intended for Harmon on a wheel route. But Long credits the football Gods for being on Iowa’s side since the Hawkeyes had a potential touchdown taken away in the first half when the official ruled that receiver Scott Helverson was out of bounds in the back of end zone.
There was no review back in those days, but replay showed that Helverson’s foot was in bounds and that his catch in the back of the end zone should have been ruled a touchdown.
“When I released the ball, I went ‘oh, no,’” Long said of the pass that Cochran dropped. “As soon as I released it, he’s just standing there waiting for it, and I went, ‘oh, my God,’ and he dropped it and I couldn’t believe it.
“I said, oh, man, the football Gods are smiling on us today. But that was just an ill-advised pass by me and I was forcing it down the field because I had so much confidence in Ronnie.”
Iowa’s game-winning drive started at its own 22-yard line and included key pass completions to tight end Mike Flagg and fullback Fred Busch. Harmon also had some key runs against a Michigan defense that was allowing just 4.2 points per game.
The stage was set for Houghtlin, who ironically now lives in Michigan.
His game-winning field goal triggered a wild celebration on the field that actually became dangerous for the Iowa players who were at the bottom of the pile.
That included backup quarterback Mark Vlasic, who was Houghtlin’s holder for field goals.
“He was gasping for air,” Long said of Vlasic, who injured his knee in the pile up. “And we were trying to get everybody off of everybody. So it was kind of a little glitch at the end of the game, but we got everybody safely off the field.
“It was crazy down there, and it was fun to be down there during all of that.”
Iowa All-America linebacker Larry Station helped set the stage for his team’s game winning drive by stopping Morris for a 2-yard loss on 3rd-and-2 late in the fourth quarter.
Morris barely had time or space to take the handoff from Harbaugh before he was tackled by Station in the backfield.
“I think Jim thought Larry Station was going to come the other way,” Morris said. “And then when I was handed the ball, I went, ‘oh, bad call.’”
Morris still vividly remembers Schembechler’s post-game speech in the visitor’s pink locker room, which had been covered with white paper at Schembechler’s request.
“You would expect Bo Schembechler to say something and he did,” Morris said. “He told us to suck all of this in, bring it together and suck it all in and remember this because you never want to feel this way ever again.
“And he was right. It galvanized us. It was a great game and we went toe-to-toe with number one and we proved that we belonged.”
Schembechler’s post-game speech apparently had an impact because Michigan didn’t lost again that season, finishing 10-1-1 overall. Its only other blemish was a 3-3 tie against Illinois.
Iowa would go on to win its second Big Ten title under Hayden Fry and finished 10-2 overall, losing to UCLA 45-28 in the Rose Bowl.
Fry and Schembechler have both since passed away, while the players from the 1985 game are now in their mid-to-late 50s.
Time has certainly caused some of the memories from that game to fade, but much of what happened nearly 35 years ago will forever stay etched in the minds of the players from both teams.
Because it isn’t often that No. 1 faces No. 2 under any circumstance. This game not only had that intriguing storyline, but also a dramatic finish.
It was an instant classic, and that still is the case 35 years later.