Michigan quarterback John Navarre celebrates with junior kicker Philip Brabbs after Brabbs drilled the game-winner from 44 yards out with no time left on the clock to beat Washington.
ANN ARBOR - Philip Brabbs. Who knew him? He's a walk-on placekicker for Michigan who never even attempted a placekick in a game in three previous years.
Philip Brabbs. Who wanted to know him after he missed first-half field goals of 36 and 42 yards against No. 11 Washington yesterday in Michigan Stadium?
Philip Brabbs, a name that will be eulogized, at least as far as Michigan football lore is concerned.
The fourth-year junior from Midland, Mich., kicked a 44-yard field goal on the last play of the game to give the 13th-ranked Wolverines a 31-29 victory over the Huskies in an unbelievable game that had more improbabilities, unbelievable theater and twists than Chubby Checker.
“When you consider two teams that gave it everything they had, truly Washington didn't deserve to lose and I don't think we deserved to lose,” UM coach Lloyd Carr said. “It was just one of those games ... Philip Brabbs, thank God, made one of the greatest clutch kicks I've ever seen.”
Brabbs said he was calm when he went onto the field for the game-winner, easily forgetting his two misses.
“It was almost like there was a written script to that,” he explained. “I really trusted God. He had my name and my number and he knew that was how the game was going to end, so I had confidence in him that I was going to come through.
“I just wanted an opportunity. I had a feeling at halftime that I was going to have an opportunity to win the game. Honestly, kicking in front of 100,000 people, you would think you'd be anxious or something, but on all three kicks I was really calm.
“That was the opportunity every kicker in America wants, the chance to put everything on your shoulders and pull it off for your team. As a kicker you see everyone working so hard in practice and in the games and you just want the opportunity to give something back to them.”
Brabbs' plight in the first game of the season for both teams was one of the most inconceivable things that happened during this extraordinary game that saw six lead changes in the second half.
After missing the two field goals, he was replaced by Troy Nienberg, of Glandorf, Ohio, who kicked the extra point following a UM touchdown early in the fourth quarter that gave the Wolverines a 28-23 lead.
Washington regained the advantage at 29-28 on a touchdown just over four minutes later, missing on a two-point conversion attempt.
The Wolverines drove to the Washington 10-yard line where they were stopped with 1:29 to play when tailback Chris Perry slipped to the ground, failing to get the one yard UM needed for a first down.
Nienberg, who had transferred from Dayton, got a chance to possibly win the game with a 27-yard field goal from the middle of the field. But he missed and lost his job in the process.
The last place Michigan wanted the most pressure was on its totally untested kicking game.
Michigan's defense, which gave up 318 passing yards and 399 total yards, finally stuffed the Huskies on their next possession at their own 15-yard line.
Washington punted and Michigan started at its own 42-yard line with 57 seconds to play. Three plays netted just eight yards and ate up 32 seconds. UM was looking at a fourth-and-two situation at the 50-yard line.
Michigan quarterback John Navarre passed eight yards to sophomore wideout Braylon Edwards, who caught the ball, was hit hard and stood and watched as the ball fell to the ground. Edwards thought it was an incomplete pass.
But fellow receiver Tyrece Butler saw it differently and ran almost 15 yards to pounce on the loose ball with everyone standing around. It was ruled a catch and a fumble and Michigan had the ball at the UW 42-yard line with a first down and 17 seconds to play.
Navarre threw two incomplete passes when Washington called a timeout for an injury. When play resumed, Navarre passed incomplete and UM was looking at the possibility of a 59-yard field-goal attempt.
Brabbs said he could make it, after easily making some 57-yarders in pregame practice. Carr said it would have been. “A miracle kick.”
When the Huskies came out of the timeout, they had 12 men on the field as Navarre's last pass went way over the head of Edwards.
Washington was penalized 15 yards for illegal participation, putting the ball at the 27-yard line with six seconds left. Michigan, with no time outs, quickly lined up and Navarre spiked the ball with four seconds to play.
On came Brabbs.
“I wanted Troy to make that kick,” he would say later. “As I said, it was almost like a script. If I hadn't missed those two field goals in the first half and if Troy wouldn't have missed, it probably wouldn't have come down to a game-winning field goal.”
The “ifs” in this game were way too numerous to count.