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Posted on Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 12:01 p.m.

Brady Hoke on Michigan-Nebraska split 1997 national title: 'We were the better team'

By Nick Baumgardner

Michigan football coach Brady Hoke admits he has a bias, but when it comes to who deserved the 1997 national championship, he holds zero doubt.

"We were the better team, but you're going to be biased," Hoke said Thursday in a weekly radio appearance on 97.1 The Ticket.

Hoke served as a defensive line coach on the Wolverines' 1997 unbeaten squad, the same team that ultimately split a national championship with Nebraska.

Michigan will welcome the Cornhuskers into Michigan Stadium on Saturday (noon, ESPN).


Charles Woodson returns a punt for a touchdown against Ohio State in November 1997.

File photo

The 12-0 Wolverines defeated Washington State in the Rose Bowl, were led by Heisman Trophy winning cornerback Charles Woodson and finished the season No. 1 in The Associated Press' Top 25 poll.

The 13-0 Cornhuskers knocked off Tennessee in the Orange Bowl to give legendary coach Tom Osborne a victory in his final game on the sidelines. After the season, Nebraska was tabbed as the No. 1 team in the coaches poll.

The following season, the Bowl Championship Series debuted.

"We had some tremendous guys that represented this program well," Hoke said. "We had an awfully good football team and, obviously, people thought they had a good football team."

Nebraska's unbeaten season almost didn't happen, though, as the Cornhuskers relied on a last-second kicked-ball touchdown catch from receiver Matt Davidson to force overtime with Missouri.

The Cornhuskers ultimately prevailed, preserving their perfect year.

Hoke had a tie to that game as well. His brother, Jon, was the defensive backs coach at Missouri that season.

"If his guys would have broke on the ball a little better, things may have been different," Hoke said.

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan sports for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.



Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 8:37 p.m.

Bill said: "Why does nobody talk about the five downs they got at the end of the Colorado game? " Really? That was 1990 and it was Colorado against Missouri.


Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 8:37 a.m.

I for one am very excited to share the banter with Nebraska fans on a yearly basis. I cannot think of a better addition to the B1G than Nebraska. A class institution, a class football program (as well as athletics department) and fans that are classy. It is the day of the first of many, many, many classic match ups that will be settled on the field and then debated throughout the interweb for 364 days following. This is a historic day for both schools and fans alike. Here's to a hard fought well played game that is hopefully injury free for both sides. One thing is certain, the best team today will win. Welcome to the B1G Nebraska so very glad to have you on board. Go Blue!


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 5:46 p.m.

Nebraska in 97 was a one dimensional team. It had a huge O Line that ran over the wimpy SEC style D line of Tennessee and those of the Big 12. Michigan had great success shutting down one dimensional teams in 97 and would have dominated Nebraska. In those years especially, the Big 12 was a second rate conference.


Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 9:09 p.m.

What kind of "dimension" you are is irrelevant. If it was, then somebody should be able to stop a team that's one-dimensional. I mean, if NU was, then you're expecting them to run. Shouldn't be a problem But being "multi-dimensional" isn't good enough if you can only score 34 points against a ranked team or 38 against an unranked team.


Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 8:59 p.m.

LOL! Let's look at how the biggest game of the year went: their bowl games. Tell me how the performance went. OH, WAIT! MIchigan fans don't want to talk about that.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 2:31 p.m.

How about that Colorado game where they got five downs from the one yard line? They should have lost two games that year. Michigan had no flukes all straight forward, with the right number of downs. Nebraska was playing against those stellar defenses of the Big 12, and finished with a Peyton Manning Tennessee team that couldn't beat Florida. We all saw how good that defense was the year before when the whole Florida team couldn't tackle Tommy Frazier. Defense wins Championships and Michigan had that defense.


Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 8:40 p.m.

Defense wins championships. That's why Nebraska had 3 of them in the 90s. But you need an offense, too. And when you squeek by #7/8 WSU by 5 but Nebraska pummels #3 Tennessee, that's elementary math, but no Meechigan fans want to talk about that spread.

Larry Weisenthal

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 9:45 a.m.

There's always a tendency to value offensive production more than defensive performance. Yet the two are clearly of equal importance. That's why margin of victory is such a misleading metric. Nebraska avoided a loss by one of football's all time greatest flukes, to a Missouri team which eventually finished 7-5. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Advance to 45 seconds and watch the slow motion. Last play in regulation. The respective bowl games are misleading. No team is the same, following a 6 week layoff, than it was at Thanksgiving, and, absent a head to head playoff, the teams must be graded by overall body of work. It's also not true that Nebraska had a more fearsome schedule: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Here's a pretty decent story about the controversy (although I disagree with the author's final conclusion): <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> I tnink that 1997's best defense would have shut down a good Nebraska offense and Woodson and Griese would have got it done. Alas, it wasn't until the next year that the first BCS championship game was played. - Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA


Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 8:42 p.m.

LOL, &quot;respective bowl games are misleading&quot;. Michigan fans don't want to talk about the point spread, but you have to include it. Nobody shut down NU's offense. Michigan wouldn't have.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 1:56 p.m.

There's no way Michigan's offense would've scored 27 points on Nebraska's defense. Maybe 10 or 13 at most. Nebraska's offense would've scored close to 20 if not more on Michigan's defense(which is pretty low considering the Husker's ppg average was 42) Nebraska would've won that game. End of the conversation.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 4:32 a.m.

Since the game was not played, a good measurement would be which team turned out pro players that played for 5 years or more. Michigan is the winner.


Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 8:49 p.m.

LOL! OK, let's talk about the QB of the other team you played. Michigan (and their AWESOME defense) played against Ryan Leaf. Nebraska (and their average defense) played againt PeytonManning. NU wins. Thank you for playing by your own rules. Your &quot;measurement&quot; doesn't work. If you use how someone performs when they get to the pros, then you need to take away the Heisman trophies from Danny Wuerffel, Ricky Williams, Charlie Ward, Troy Smith. This is COLLEGE performance, not NFL.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 1:46 p.m.

Lol...That would have no bearing on the best college team in 1997.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Now that sounds


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 3:17 a.m.

<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> This is a quick and easy way to compare these two teams...Statistically, Nebraska is the superior team...However, they had a couple close games...just as Michigan did...but for some reason, a 42-17 victory over Tennessee compared to a 21-16 victory over a clearly inferior Washington State team somehow discredits the Husker's argument for a National Title to being a &quot;parting gift&quot; for Tom Osborne. I guess my point is that Nebraska deserved the trophy every bit as much as Michigan did...And if you really don't agree with that, you should be evaluated by a psychiatric professional...


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 3:14 a.m.

You want to talk about &quot;doing the math&quot;? #1 Michigan plays a #8 Washington State team and barely squeaks by with a 21-16 win. On the other hand #2 Nebraska plays a #3 Tennessee team with a quarterback you may have heard of.....Payton Manning, and gives them a good old behind the woodshed 42-17 beating. Oh and might I mention the fact that Nebraska actually had to play an additional game as well (Conference Championship) in which they beat a #14 Texas A&amp;M team 54-15. I think the math clearly states Michigan just might have received a harsh lesson on who should have been sole champions had they had a chance to play. Just Saying


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 3:08 a.m.

Nebraska was the better team in 1997. Look at the entire body of work and the overall talent on both teams. Michigan's offense was slightly better than pedestrian and they were coming off a 4 loss season in 1996. Nebraska finished 1997 not having lost 4 games in FIVE years! The Huskers went 60 and 3 from 93 to 97. Where was Michigan's big win in 1997? Was it the Penn State game? Michigan scored 30+ points 3 times in 12 games. To their credit they only gave up 20+ once. The average margin of victory was 17.3. Michigan beat winning teams by 10.8 a game. Michigan averaged 26.8 a game and gave up 9.5 Nebraska scored 46.7 and gave up 16.5. They beat teams with winning records by 24 points. Michigan beat 3 teams that finished in the top 25. Teams that finished 9th,12th and 16th. Nebraska beat 5 teams that finished ranked. Numbers 7,8,18,20,23. Michigans best offensive game ended with 38 points. Nebraska scored 38 or more 9 times. So, Michigans best game was Nebraska's 9th. What's Michigans' argument again? Because some guy said so at a championship rally at a basketball arena? Umm..ok. Huskers will forever be the better team. Michigan fans are so passionate about this argument because basically what other season did they even get close in the past 50 years?


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 5:55 p.m.

&quot;Where was Michigan's big win in 1997?&quot; Ummm, you want just one? I can immediately think of MSU, PSU, and OSU. There might have been more. Also, I haven't read all the comments yet and somebody may have already brought this up, but do you think any team could have beaten FSU at their place in that season? I don't think anybody could.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 2:37 p.m.

Why does nobody talk about the five downs they got at the end of the Colorado game? Nebraska should have had two losses not just one that is critical in the ENTIRE BODY OF WORK. Another part of this work is the BIG 12 defenses, or actually lack there of.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 3:12 a.m.

Steve, we think alike! Go Big Red!


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 12:13 a.m.

Eric Mayes at Crisler Arena said it best: &quot;they give out 4 national championship trophies. 3 of them are here. You do the math.&quot; Michigan vs. Nebraska - Any Where, Any Time


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 2:40 a.m.

Yes, I'll do the math. Michigan barely squeaked by a Washington St. team that was ranked 7th/8th, 21-16. I won't say who WSU's QB was because his NFL career is irrelavent. Nebraska BEAT DOWN a Tennessee team that was ranked right behind them, 41-17. I won't say who Tennessee's QB was because his NFL career is errelavent. The most points Michigan could score on a ranked opponent was 34., non-ranked opponent was 38. Nebraska bested that 3 out of 4 times against ranked teams, the most being 56 and scored over 38 10 times against non-ranked teams Michigan had 1 shut out, Nebraska had 2. Nebraska set a still-standing record of averaging 5.5 rushing TDs a game not counting their bowl game. Michigan didn't even average 4 TOTAL TDs a game. The coaches based their opinion on how both teams played. YUP! I can do the math!

Lorain Steelmen

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 9:41 p.m.

I remember that '97 team as well, and watching my two daughters, one who was a senior, and one who was a freshman, joining thousands, as the students all rushed the field, after the ohio game...20-14. Awesome! I kept thinking how great it was to see my girls, being a part of this great tradition!!!! That '97 game, and the 1969 'ohio' game, when I was one, of those students, rushing the field, as Bo's first UM team beat, 'the greatest team in college football history', 24-12! The thing I liked most about that '97 team, was that, the team, was just a bunch of 'gritty tough kids', with a great attitude. They were 'buggars', and they had the audacity, to go for it all....and to pay the price. I remember watching the '98 rose bowl, and the tv shots, of Bo up in the press box, with Cathy, watching as the minutes ran down against WSU. I am sure he was VERY proud, of the '97 team's 'mental toughness'. And Hoke, was down on the sidelines 'in the middle of it all. What most people may have forgotten was, that when Bo won that '69 game, versus 'ohio', he rec'd a hand written letter, from Fritz Crisler, congratulating Bo on the work he had done in '69, and how proud Fritz was, of Michigan. This team has the chance to take a big step on saturday, and again, on the 26th. Brady knows that there are NO shortcuts, and that mental toughness, discipline, and perseverence will be required to win the next two games. If this team is able to do that, we can again say that, ...This IS Michigan.... Good luck Wolves, ...he strength of the Wolf, is the Pack....the strength of the Pack, is the Wolf. Go Blue!


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 11:10 p.m.

You know LS: When we aren't arguing over &quot;you know who&quot;, we agree on just about everything :)

Blu Man

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 8:37 p.m.

They also handed out 4 trophies that year from various organizations for the National Championship. Michigan won 3 of the 4!

Blu Man

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 8:30 p.m.

Let's rember what really happened in 97. Prior to the bowl games the coach's poll was split between Mich and Nebraska. Both teams were undefeated so naturally each team was voted either #1 or #2 by every coach. Then they held the Heisman voting and Woodson won the award over Peyton Manning from Tennesee. Tennesee's coach good ole Phil Fulmer is so ticked his boy didn't win, he does not vote Mich. #1 or #2 or even #3. He votes them #4!!!! Because of this childish act Nebraska is 1st in the coach's poll and Mich #1 in the AP poll. So technically a split National Championship. If Fullmer would have voted Mich even #2 behind Tennesee Mich would have had a unified National Championship.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 1:46 a.m.

A bit of a correction, Michigan was #1 in both polls prior to the Rose and Orange Bowls. Nebraska jumped Michigan in the coaches poll. Thank you Phat Phil. And say Scott, how did that NFL career turn out?


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 11:01 p.m.

J, I heard that rumor about Cooper as well. That whole vote was a sham. UM went into the bowl games ranked #1 in both polls, won the Rose Bowl, then only retained the AP vote. No matter, though. Like Hoke says, we know who was the better team.

David Vande Bunte

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 9:11 p.m.

Will never know, unless he admits it. While the total votes are public, which coach voted where is kept secret.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 8:56 p.m.

I'd also heard that John Cooper didn't vote for UM -- any truth to that, or bitter-grapes urban legend?

David Vande Bunte

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 8:38 p.m.

If the refs had called the illegal kick in the Missouri game, we wouldn't be having this discussion, regardless of what Fat Fulmer did with his poll.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 8:23 p.m.

I remember leaving Beaver Stadium after a big time beatdown on PSU, happy as a clam (or Wolverine) and somebody had a TV showing that Nebraska game. Couldn't believe it. That day, though, the entire nation knew who the best team in the country was. I think had Michigan beaten WSU by more than 5, they would have gotten both polls, but the way those Nebraska guys whined, and the way coach Osborne lobbied, it was indeed a parting gift.


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 3:02 a.m.

Tom Osborne's comment after the game: &quot;We played them all, we won them all&quot;. Hardly lobbying. Osborne NEVER lobbied after a game, but as far as whining, you're showing it. Try to beat an 8th/7th ranked team by more than 5. Nebraska showed you how by beating a 3RD ranked team by 24. HAA HAAA!!!


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 1:43 a.m.

It was Scott Frost nearly in tears begging for votes that I found sickening. I don't know if it was a gift for Osborne, but it was no surprise that Phat Phil voted Michigan #4. I'll bet he still tastes bile everytime he hears or reads about Woodson winning the HT that year.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 11:09 p.m.

I seem to recall him lobbying, but maybe I'm just confusing Osborne for the players. I don't even remember who the QB was offhand, but he was just flat out obnoxious after they wiped out Peyton Manning in the bowl game (again). Either way, it was one of those things that will be forever talked about.

David Vande Bunte

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 8:36 p.m.

it wasn't really Tom Osborne lobbying. As far as I recall, Osborne was actually surprised that Nebraska was Lou Holtz on the CBS pregame show who practically begged the coaches to &quot;reward coach Osborne&quot;. It's one of the main reasons I absolutely DESPISE Lou Holtz.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 7:50 p.m.

I have a lot of admiration for Tom Osborne and the Nebraska program in general ... but I don't think there's much doubt that half of the national championship was awarded to Nebraska as a parting gift by his fellow coaches. Osborne was well regarded as a good man and a great coach. I can't believe that was 14 years ago!! Where has the time gone? :-)

David Vande Bunte

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 8:23 p.m.

Two words: Flea Kicker. Nebraska should have lost against Missouri, and we all know it. The rules were ignored to grant Nebraska that TD that allowed them to force OT. The player that did it (Shevin Wiggins) even admitted that he kicked it intentionally. Michigan not only should have not had to share, but Nebraska should never have been in contention for the National Championship. It was an illegal play, and they even admitted it.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 8:04 p.m.

agreed Don as far as the parting gift to Osborne...


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 7:31 p.m.

I remember watching that Rose Bowl vs Wash State on the BTN earlier this year,shortly after Brady was hired as HC,and when the clock ran out in the 4th qtr, guess who was the first to rush the field ? none other than Bo I mean Brady Hoke ! TiM GO BLUE..