By Steve Kornacki
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- So much changed during 1969, the year Mike Lantry spent in Vietnam as a member of the Army's 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. Yet, two years later, he became a member of some of Bo Schembechler's most powerful teams. The Wolverines went 30-2-1 when Lantry lettered, 1972-74, on squads best remembered for being quarterbacked by elusive Dennis Franklin and never playing in even one bowl game.
Schembechler was nicknamed Bo "General George Patton" Schembechler by Bob Ufer, the legendary and excitable radio voice of Michigan football. Schembechler had also served in the Army, and was often compared to military leaders. So, I asked Lantry if the Army had prepared him for playing for the demanding Schembechler.
"No," he said, a wry smile crossing his face, "nothing prepared you for Bo."
He met Schembechler for the first time in a weight room at what was then called Crisler Arena.
"I became friends with the football players while living in the South Quad," said Lantry. "They convinced me to lift with them, and I started showing up for winter conditioning. I was running sprints, and Bo had that sixth sense that told him somebody who didn't belong was out there.
"Bo motioned me over and we walked down the concourse before we sat down in the arena. And he asked me, 'Don't you think that if you kind of want to go out for the football team, you'd want to talk to the football coach first?' I was speechless. But he invited me to his office, interviewed me and gave me an opportunity."
Lantry got a shot at running back and then defensive back before finding his niche as a kicker. He won the starting job in the spring game at the end of his freshman year.
Yet, he came to Michigan based on his friendship with long-time Michigan track and field coach Jack Harvey, who was an assistant coach at that time.
"Michigan wasn't even registered on my radar screen," said Lantry, "but Jack Harvey and I competed against one another as high school shot putters. He encouraged me to come and I used the G.I. Bill to come here."
Lantry became Michigan's career leader in field goals (21), extra points (113) and kick scoring (176 points), and was an All-Big Ten academic selection in 1972.
But the kicks he missed near the end of the Ohio State games in 1973 and 1974 left the most lasting impressions with fans. They resulted in a 10-10 tie and 12-10 loss that denied the Wolverines outright championships and Rose Bowl berths.
In 1973, Lantry missed a 33-yarder that resulted in the tie that forced Big Ten athletic directors to vote on the conference's Rose Bowl representative and surprisingly select the Buckeyes. Tom Skladany, OSU's All-American kicker, later told Lantry that he believed the kick was good after watching replays. He also thought Michigan was going to get the nod to Pasadena.
In 1974, Lantry, a left-footed kicker nicknamed "Super Toe," narrowly missed a 58-yarder and then was wide right on a 44-yarder at the end of the game.
"I missed a couple of field goals that could've solved the problem of us never getting to the Rose Bowl," said Lantry. "But it ended up being a great thing for football teams in the Big Ten. The next year was the first one in which conference teams were allowed to go to games other than the Rose Bowl.
"They are going to honor our '74 team during the (Indiana) game on Nov. 1. So, it'll give us a chance to get together again -- the guys from Dennis Franklin's class, the guys from my class. I was a Michigan Man with all of them, but was a member of the military fraternity before that."
According to Gerald Hoff, the chairman of the wheelchair game committee and a senior biller for the U-M Health System, Lantry was the only Michigan athlete to fight in that war before playing for the Wolverines.
When speaking to SVA members, Lantry picked out two special rings to wear for the occasion.
On his right hand was the '72 Big Ten championship ring with a likeness of Michigan Stadium. He sealed a share of that title by hitting a 30-yarder with one minute remaining for a 9-6 win over Purdue.
On his left hand was the '73 Big Ten championship ring with a block M.
"Was the kick against Purdue my best moment?" said Lantry, repeating the question. "Yeah, I think it was. It kept us undefeated until the next week."
Lantry, who graduated with a degree in education in 1975 and was married while beginning to raise his family as an upper classman, kicked briefly in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys before leaving both the military and athletics behind. He established Lantry and Associates, Inc., in 2000, and provides automated systems for assembly lines to Detroit's automotive industry.
Jerry Hanlon, who coached placekickers while making his name as Schembechler's offensive line coach, was in Army counter-intelligence prior to playing football at Miami of Ohio. So, he knew something about the road Lantry traveled.
"He was so different because he'd been in the service in Vietnam," said Hanlon. "Mike was more mature as a person than most players. But as an athlete, he had to grow and learn. It could be disheartening to him - the ups and downs. He had to learn to adapt to the good and bad, and he did that here. You have to accept it and move on, and he did. And Mike did very well for himself after graduating from Michigan."
In recent years, Lantry has helped organize golf get-togethers between his teammates and Buckeyes opponents such as two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin and Outland Trophy winner John Hicks.
What: Army-Navy Wheelchair Basketball Game
When: Sunday, Nov. 9, 6:30 p.m. tipoff
Where: Crisler Center
Admission: No charge
Grand Marshall: Michigan alumnus Mike Lantry, Vietnam veteran and Wolverine football and track and field letterwinner
"It was time to bury the hatchet," said Lantry, who paused and then added, "not that there was one to bury."
Lantry has never been about holding onto bitterness where football or war is concerned.
"My parents used to watch the TV news when they posted the casualty reports," he recalled. "Hopefully, my name wasn't going to come across the screen. And it never did. But when I got on that plane at the Tan Son Nhut Air Base, I took the last step onto it and said, 'Good-bye!' "
He was going home to a life, college years and a career that he couldn't imagine in that crazy, tumultuous year of 1969.
"Mike Lantry is a proud veteran," he said. "Without my military service, none of this would've happened.
"It's a cool story, a nice odyssey, don't you think?"