Sept. 28, 2011
By Bruce Madej
When John Navarre is honored on Saturday afternoon (Oct. 1) during the Michigan-Minnesota Little Brown Jug game, a ton of memories will cross his mind, but none will stand out more than the 21-point comeback the Wolverines completed against the Gophers in Minneapolis in 2003.
"That is one of the most exciting and most memorable games I have ever played during my career," said Navarre. "It was one of the few games in my career that I can vividly remember.
"I can barely remember some things that happened in 90 percent of the games since they all start to run together, but in this game I can remember specific moments and what I was thinking at that time. There were so many unique things attached to this matchup and then the comeback, it was amazing."
Michigan was ranked 19th and the Gophers 13th. The game was originally scheduled to be played on Saturday but due to the Minnesota Twins postseason schedule, the game was moved to Friday night.
"First, the game had to be moved," said Navarre. "That didn't settle to well with the university administration and especially with our coaching staff.
"They were a good team and it was big crowd and they were loud in the Metrodome."
Minnesota led 14-0 at the half and 28-7 after three quarters.
"The ability to adapt to change is what won the game for us," said Navarre. "The coaching staff scrapped the game plan much quicker than anticipated and we went to a two-minute hurry up offense and just spread everyone."
Navarre said he was "just chucking the ball all over the place" and making things happen.
"The coaching staff left their comfort zone and that allowed us to win the game."
There were plenty of plays Navarre remembers, but the one play that really sticks in his mind was a screen pass to Chris Perry late in the fourth quarter.
"I was kind of scrambling and I probably could have run for a TD or at least got a first down, but I couldn't believe what I just did," said Navarre. "I could have lost the game for us right there because I kind of jumped and threw a circus pass just out of the reach of a defensive player and Chris caught the ball and took off.
"We were taught to play with discipline and within a structure and you get in trouble when you start adlibbing," said Navarre. "From my knowledge of our system and the fact I might had 15 hitches (thoughts of passing), I should have kept the ball and ran or just threw it out of bounds. Over 90 percent of the time you could have been burned and we would have lost the game right there."
But Navarre didn't get burned, and instead he led Michigan to one of the most amazing Wolverine wins in the history of the Little Brown Jug as Garret Rivas kicked a 33-yard field goal with 47 seconds left to give the Wolverines a 38-35 win.
"One thing I will never forget is how the life went out of the stadium as we walked into the tunnel after we won the game, " said Navarre. "It was the coolest thing in the world. We were headed back up the locker room and looked around and it was like, this is what we were supposed to do and we should do it all along, it was fun."
U-M went on that year to win a Big Ten championship before the fourth-ranked Wolverines lost to the eventual national champions USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl, 28-14.
While Navarre is second all-time at Michigan in passing yards (9,254), attempts (1,366), completions (765), and touchdowns (72), the most interesting stat is that he started at least one game at quarterback in each of his four years at Michigan (2000-03).
Navarre always knew he wanted to play football at the University of Michigan, but his trek to Ann Arbor was not quite as straightforward as one would have expected for the Cudahy (Wisc) High School all-star. He was heavily recruited by Penn State, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Northwestern, and the one thing he was going to do in college was play quarterback.
For Navarre, what he heard from head coach Lloyd Carr was not expected.
"He told me I need to be groomed to be a Big Ten quarterback," said Navarre. "I needed to get better and then compete for the job. I didn't listen."
Navarre then visited Northwestern and was told he would start. Gary Barnett was the head coach and rumors then started to circulate that he might be headed off to take the Colorado job. That didn't sit well with Navarre and they went back to square one.
On the recruiting trip back to Ann Arbor, Navarre's father Larry told his son not to make any hasty decisions.
"Take in the entire recruiting experience and then see if you like it," said his Dad.
Navarre nodded in agreement. The problem was 10 minutes into the opening conversation with Carr, Navarre told the U-M head coach he was coming to Michigan.
"I always loved Michigan from day one," said Navarre. "That's where I wanted to go and I was convinced that I could play as a freshman from day one.
"I don't think my Dad was real happy with me," Navarre now laughs. "I think things worked out quite well."
Despite the fact he was never told he would start, Navarre found himself as the starting quarterback as a redshirt freshman against Bowling Green in 2000. Drew Henson suffered an injury in pre-season practice and Navarre went out to throw four TD passes, tying a U-M record and leading Michigan to the 42-7 win.
"I don't think my feet touched the ground all day," said Navarre. "I was just out there making rookie mistakes and throwing the ball around having a blast."
He hit 15 of 19 passes for 265 yards and was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week .
"When I left the locker room," added Navarre, "I saw my Dad and we just hugged each other and couldn't stop crying."
After three years of NFL play with the Arizona Cardinals and one on the practice squad with the Indianapolis Colts, Navarre quickly found a job with ALRO Steel.
Now the 31-year-old Navarre is back in his home state of Wisconsin with his wife of six years, Courtney, and their four-year old daughter Morgan. He is also an assistant general manager for ALRO Steel Milwaukee Branch, managing 45 individuals.
"Football taught me how to be a leader, how to communicate the right way and how to properly give orders," he said. "I need to tell them what to do to get respect and I need to have respect for what they do.
"There is so much planning and preparation that goes into a football game and season, it helped me learn to do the same in my job," Navarre added. "Stay regimented, stay on task and have personal pride to get things done. I grade myself and my performance because I know I will be graded.
"You have to keep competitive and keep going if you are going to be successful."