Picture This: Illinois Eyes Victory Over Michigan
Sept. 22, 2000
By JOHN KELLY
CHAMPAIGN, Ill.- Rocky Harvey hung a poster of himself in his room on campus.
He pinned another copy in his locker at Memorial Stadium. And, he admits, at his parents' house, too.
Nobody, especially the player in question, can resist the image of Harvey diving like Superman into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown at Michigan last season.
The photograph, along with the 35-29 win over Michigan, has come to define the resurgence of Illinois football under coach Ron Turner. With No. 10 Michigan in Champaign to open the Big Ten season Saturday, last year's big moment is hardly forgotten.
"We needed proof that all of that stuff that had happened to us meant something," defensive end Fred Wakefield said.
The Illini went 0-11 in Turner's first year, then 3-8 in 1998. They started 1999 better, defeating the first three opponents, but stumbled and lost three straight Big Ten games.
The last loss was a 37-7 homecoming defeat to Minnesota. Turner reacted by doing something he's never done before. He put the team in pads Sunday for a full-contact scrimmage, not a popular move.
"I didn't like the look in their eyes," Turner said. "I didn't like the attitude. Yeah, I took a bet on them responding to that. And they did."
So at 3-3, and fresh off Turner's remedial lesson in work ethic, Illinois packed its gear for Ann Arbor to play then-No. 9 Michigan. The Wolverines were favored by more than 24 points and jumped ahead 27-7. But Illinois came back, scoring four straight touchdowns in the final 18 minutes.
"We just had that feeling that we couldn't be stopped," quarterback Kurt Kittner said.
The go-ahead score came on a broken play, when Kittner dumped the ball to Harvey.
"When I caught it, I kind of flinched because I thought someone was right behind me about to hit me," Harvey said. "Then, I pretty much ran for my life."
He ran 59 yards, diving in just out of reach of the closest Wolverine chaser and putting Illinois up 28-27 with 2:42 left. An interception killed Michigan's next drive and two plays later, Harvey ran 54 yards for another score that put Illinois ahead 35-27 with less than a minute left.
Michigan mounted one last drive, but it ended with a frenzied interception-fumble play in the end zone that was ruled a safety - preserving the Illini upset.
"It was building for two and a half years before that game," Turner said. "Even when we were going 0-11, we kept telling the players that we were doing the right things."
Illinois has lost just once since. It finished 8-4 in 1999 and started this season 3-0, producing a seven-game winning streak. The game gave Illinois confidence but not something anyone will dwell on.
"I'm not sentimental," Turner said. "I don't look back at that stuff."
But Harvey's big touchdown dive became a trademark - for him and for Illinois football.
The university built a promotional campaign. Everywhere he goes in Champaign-Urbana, Harvey sees himself plastered on walls, store windows and billboards.
"It kind of makes you a marked man, too," Harvey said. "I'm sure their coaches keep rubbing that in their face. They've probably got pictures of that too hanging around - just to make them mad."