HOUSTON — For a football program whose legendary head coach of yesteryear instilled the slogan that it would be known for, “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions,” the Michigan football team saw one of Bo Schembechler’s most notable protégés, as well as 44 seniors, stay the course in Ann Arbor to finish a job that they came agonizingly close to achieving over the prior two seasons.
The third time was the charm for the Wolverines on Monday night, and everyone wearing maize and blue can now, and forever, call themselves national champions.
Running back Blake Corum ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns to culminate a dominant game on the ground for the Wolverines, as top-ranked Michigan defeated No. 2 Washington 34-13 to win the College Football Playoff Championship inside NRG Stadium in Houston. The Wolverines are national champions for the first time since the 1997 season, and in his ninth season back at his alma mater, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh finally brought that much-awaited title back to Ann Arbor.
“That man, he’s the reason we’re here today,” Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy said about Harbaugh.
That same man was at the center of a firestorm that brought controversy and galvanized the team during the season. Harbaugh served two different three-game suspensions, a school-imposed ban for potential recruiting violations and ta Big Ten-imposed ban later in the season due to a sign-stealing scheme that led to the resignation of a staffer. Harbaugh claimed his innocence, the players turned the season into “Michigan vs. Everybody,” and every opponent bore the wrath of the punishing style of football the Wolverines pummeled opponents with down the stretch of the Big Ten season.
“It went exactly how we wanted it to go to win every game. The off-the-field issues, we’re innocent and we stood strong and tall because we knew we were innocent,” Harbaugh said. “And I’d like to point that out. And these guys are innocent. And overcome that, it wasn’t that hard because we knew we were innocent. So yeah, that’s really what I wanted to say. It went exactly how we wanted it to go.”
That dominance finally turned into College Football Playoff success after semifinal losses in each of the last two seasons. A thrilling victory in the Rose Bowl against Alabama last week thrilled many Midwesterners who long have held a grudge against anything involving glowing talk about the Southeastern Conference, and it led to a not-as-suspenseful game against a traditional foe for a Big Ten champion, as the Pac-12 champion Huskies were playing the final football game that any team representing the legendary conference will play before the league’s imminent dissolution before the start of the next school year.
As for the present, Michigan stands at the top of the college football world, a near-Sisyphean task for Michigan’s veterans that has them now on top of college football’s Mount Olympus.
“For me, when we all decided to come back, we knew what it took to get here, right? And when we all said we were coming back, and the guys that had no other choice but to come back, we had to pay attention to details,” said Corum, the game’s offensive MVP. “And our strength coach actually hit on it last night when he was talking to us. But it’s the little things, the details. We really locked in on those details all the way back to winter workouts, summer workouts, we were trying to execute at a high level and pay attention to detail. I think that’s what separated us a lot.”
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Monday evening’s game, with all photos taken by Detroit-area photographer Aaron J. Thornton. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 29 pictures in total.