Why Does Everyone Forget The 1989 Michigan Wolverines?

There is a question mark in my mind. It unravels every once in a while in an attempt to let me enjoy life's scenery without thought exhaustion. When it comes back every March, it remains unanswered. It's of little importance, yet it nags at me. My query goes unsolved for reasons unbeknownst to me.

Why doesn't anyone acknowledge the 1989 men's basketball national champion Michigan Wolverines?

At a year and 11 months old, my recollection of the team, tournament and final game are nonexistent. Perhaps that's why the question frazzles me. The analyzed possibilities always come up short. It's unimportant, and yet, at the same time, it is extremely important.

There are champions we remember who are etched in memory banks. How could anyone forget Christian Laettner's shot that propelled Duke to a Final Four appearance and subsequent title? If we had a dollar for each time we've seen Michael Jordan's jump shot at the Superdome or Chris Webber's lapse in judgment there 11 years later, we'd all be living well.

Those champions were defined by moments. Their importance is not lost on the college basketball world. It doesn't take much to comprehend Villanova's phenomenal run or what made Jimmy V's confused sprint so confused. We know these teams were left for dead, and their success paints the portrait of what we believe March to be.

Perhaps Michigan's problem was the year before, when Manning and the Miracles, well, miraculously beat Oklahoma. The year after, Jerry Tarkanian's Runnin' Rebels put on an awe-inspiring show in a rout over Duke. It's possible that the Wolverines get lost in a void between the years - like they were never there at all.

It's easy to understand why someone would fail to mention UConn and Butler's title game in 2011. It was boring, slow and unattractive. The UConn win over Georgia Tech in 2004 also disappointed. When Kentucky beat Syracuse in 1996, it was a foregone conclusion, like North Carolina's 2009 win over Michigan State.

Sometimes, a superstar like David Thompson becomes the storyline after toppling UCLA. Or, one of the superstar Bruins and their miraculous run are enough to stop and think about. It's easy to remember Mateen Cleaves' phenomenal court presence in a win over Florida in 2000. Somewhere, we'd like to believe he's still smiling.

The aforementioned champions and lackluster title games give us an understanding of what we like and how we like it. Why our selective memory forgets Michigan is what bothers me.

We can't say that the Wolverines didn't have a tremendous backstory. Coach Bill Frieder was fired the week before the tournament started after secretly accepting the job at Arizona State. Michigan Athletic Director and former football coach Bo Schembechler famously announced that "a Michigan man will coach Michigan."

Steve Fisher was the interim coach, and not much of a Michigan man at all. He took the reigns in an unenviable situation and rode the team to the Final Four. Most importantly, he rode Glen Rice.

It was Rice who set the NCAA Tournament scoring record that year, with 184 points in six games. His 30.6 points per game clip seems enough to loft him into celebrity status. If a player did that today, we would heap praise on him until he was deified. I suspect even Skip Bayless would have trouble weakening Rice's display.

So, it's clear that the team had the backstory and the star player. What about the game itself? It seems as if it was one of the greatest title games yet. It took overtime and a junior's two free throws to win the game late. What's more is that Rumeal Robinson was a 65-percent free throw shooter. Even more impressive, the Wolverines trailed by one point when he went to the line.

Michigan 80, Seton Hall 79. Final - OT.

As one of only six final games that went to overtime, it's clear the game itself is not reason enough to dismiss the champions. There, we find another dead end in pursuit of truth. The most reasonable explanation is that the Fab Five and its baggy shorts and black socks and shoes overwhelmed the public's image of Wolverines basketball and Fisher.

Although the Fab Five's societal importance is hardly overstated, the team's accomplishments were. The Fab Five never won a title. They got close, but so did Seton Hall in '89. In fact, the Pirates were even closer than Webber, Juwan Howard and co.

Their Final Four appearances have since been vacated. It feels as if they were vanquished to the land where memories of the '89 team exist. It would make sense that the team that won a title would be promoted even more in the fallout of the Fab Five scandal. As with the first nagging question, it refuses to conform to logic.

Wherever there are college sports fans who breathe, there are people who hate Michigan. While not Duke, the school's bravado and history certainly rubs some the wrong way. This is not a cry to them for support and remembrance. They could very well be the reason why no one remembers. Maybe they don't want to remember.

During the highlight reels that will play through every commercial, intro and outro on four stations throughout March, look for Robinson's free throws. Try to find Rice's big shots and the mention of how many he hit that year. You may find it harder than previously expected. Or, you may be reading this and figuring out that the Wolverines won it all in '89.

In Seattle's Kingdome, a team overcame a late-season loss of its head coach and won the national championship. They were led by a player who had a solid NBA career. That player set the record for most points in one NCAA tournament. But, he didn't clinch the game. Instead, a junior who was a 65-percent free throw shooter made the game-tying and game-winning free throws in the final seconds of overtime for the title.

That sounds like a story worth repeating. It's a shame nobody else seems to think so.

6 Replies to “Why Does Everyone Forget The 1989 Michigan Wolverines?”

  1. I am most definitely a Michigan hater, being a Penn State grad and all, but this really is baffling. It almost has to be that the Fab Five hijacked everything Michigan basketball. It's kind of like Jalen Rose said in the Fab Five 30 for 30: tell me who won the championship 20 years ago, who won 10 years ago, who won 5 years ago. You can't off the top of your head for the most part, but you always remember the Fab Five.

    It's a shame that a team that overcame such a dramatic change - fired head coach right before the tournament - and won the whole damn thing gets lost in the shuffle, especially with the insanity that was Glen Rice that March. Never have and never will like Michigan, but I always liked watching Glen Rice shoot the rock.

  2. There is no legitimate reason why college hoops fans overlook this team especially considering the high level talent they had beyond Glen Rice; 4 future NBA players in Mills, Robinson, Vaught, Sean Higgens and a coach in Steve Fisher, who even though was at the center of the Fab 5 Scandal, is enjoying success out at San Diego St.

    I guess its easier for some to relegate U-M to being a football school that had some tainted success with a group of brash cocky freshmen who were really overrated and didnt win anything.

    but as a U-M fan the '89 team is more reveared in my mind because they actually won the 'chip and until the split national title of 1997 that was something the football team hadnt been able to say in a very long time.

  3. A week ago, my roomates and I were naming all of the NCAA champions and got all the way back to 1990 but couldn't get the 1989 game.

    Also, breathe if you hate Michigan!

  4. There's a champion every year, some are bound to be forgotten. Who won the 2005 World Series? The '07 Stanley Cup? The '04 NBA finals? These are all in the past ten years and I bet most sports fans would struggle to come up with an answer (White Sox, Ducks, Pistons which you knew).
    What about the '97 Arizona Wildcats? Mike Bibby and co. defeated what? 3 number 1's on their way to the title? They came back from being down 16 to beat Vince Carter's North Carolina. Against Kentucky in the final, they didn't make a single field goal in overtime and still won. That' a story. How often do you hear it brought up though? No often, and I would argue less often than Michigan in '89.

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