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Sam Webb: You were at the reunion and saw the old guys. Did it seem like 10 years had passed since that title season?
Eric Mayes: “Naw, not at all. Those 10 years went by so fast. Man, to see the guys, see the guys married and have children. The guys look good. That ’97 team, they’re staying in shape (laughing)… I’ll tell you that. Naw, it does not seem like 10 years at all.”
Sam Webb: Take us back to that season. Now you suffered an injury during that season. How exactly did it happen?
Eric Mayes: “Down in Indiana on that turf, which they got rid of the next year. It was a double team, my foot got caught in the turf, and it twisted. ACL surgery and out for the rest of the year.”
Sam Webb: You were a captain on that team and one of the lasting memories that a lot of people have is you cheering with the team holding you up after the victory. They described you as the spiritual leader of that squad. How did you keep your spirits up for the rest of the team even with your predicament?
Eric Mayes: “You know what, I never took playing football for granted. I believed that you never know if this play could be your last play. That is why I played with so much passion for the game. But one of the things about this team was that they believed in me. ‘Zeus where you at?’ “Zeus, what should we do?’ They would always come to me. For those that do not know, Zeus is the nickname that I was given. That was one of the things. The expectations did not change. So even though I was not playing, a guy like Dhani would be like, ‘Listen, I am playing out there with two arms and four legs because you’re with me Zeus.’ So just the support that I got for them was able to keep my spirits high."
“Probably the toughest point of the season was when we were up at Michigan State and I was told that I had to stay home. The week before, we were playing Iowa. Right after my surgery and I was told that I could not leave the house. But we were down, I think 21-7, at the half. So I jumped in my truck. I drove up the stadium and I walked into the locker room and the guys kind of turned and looked me. The trainer was like, ‘You shouldn’t be here, but damnit, if you’ve got anything to say to this team, you had better say it now.”
Sam Webb: Is there is a PG rated version of what you had to say that you can share to us? (Laughing).
Eric Mayes: “Go Blue.” (Laughing) That is the PG rated version. After that they had to drain some blood from my knee and they told me that if I came to Michigan State that they were going to have me committed to the hospital for two or three days. So that was a tough time to watch the team. I heard, I think it was either Bob Griese or one of those announcers on the side, and they were like, ‘you know one thing, Eric Mayes is on the sideline with his team.’ But I wasn’t, I was at home. That was the toughest time for me. Aside from that, those guys made sure that my spirits stayed high.”
Sam Webb: Now you mention that Iowa game and you showing up at halftime and every guy that I’ve talked to has said that that was the turning point in the season. That was really when we knew it was possible to go undefeated. Did you recognize the same thing after that?
Eric Mayes: “Yep. There was a conversation that I had with Chris Floyd before the season and I was like, ‘Floyd our toughest game is going to be Penn State.’ He said nope, ‘our toughest game will be Iowa.’ We disagreed. When we got to the Iowa game we saw that Iowa was the silent assassin, potentially, of that season. When we came out and we saw what guys did that second half, the character of that team, it was without question that we were on a mission.”
Sam Webb: Now most people who look back on that season look at Charles Woodson as the face of that squad. But even Charles told me, ‘we were a team man; there were a lot of leaders.’ He talked about you, he talked about Glen Steele… he talked about a lot of guys. It really sounds like there was a team full of leaders helping guide that squad.
Eric Mayes: “That was the difference. I will be honest with you. We were not the most athletically talented team that came through Michigan. I will be honest with you. I think that ’94 team had some amazing talent on it. I remember when that ’94 team played Colorado. If you just think about the talent. They had award winners on both sides… guys like Ty Law and Amani Toomer. Just look at all of those guys on that team when Colorado played Michigan. But as far as our team, we played together better than any team that I have seen. We played together. We threw the short ball when we needed to. We threw the long ball when we needed to. We stopped the pass when we needed to. We stopped the run when we needed to. On special teams, a guy like James Hall was a young guy blocking extra points and kicks… just working hard. He made a career out of it. So to be honest, we were the best bunch of guys. We went through four straight 8-4 seasons. The M in Michigan stood for mediocre. Even on campus, guys were happy we were losing because you our status seemed to drop. Some guys enjoyed that. It was kind of like what people were saying Michigan football sucks. So it was like we just felt like honestly nobody in the world believed in us except ourselves.”
Sam Webb: Now a lot has been mentioned recently about the academics and the athletes at the University of Michigan. But I talked to a good friend of mine, Maurice Williams. He was like, ‘man, Eric Mayes got a doctorate, man can you believe that?!’ Talk about the things that you have done since you left Michigan. What you are doing now?
Eric Mayes: “I will. Did you know that Juaquin Feazell, who was later captain, is also a lawyer, down in Atlanta? We have got a lot of businessman. We have got other doctors. There is another guy who is a doctor on our team. But me, after I finished the ’97 season, I went directly into grad school here. I stayed and did my masters in educational technology and graduated in 2000. I worked for a year in Detroit as a technology coordinator… technology instructor at a school in Detroit. I applied to get into Howard. I was admitted to the PhD program. I deferred my admission so that I could work and get some experience. I went out there, did my PhD in educational psychology, and had an internship in West Africa… Gambia, right inside of Senegal. I also did an internship a couple of years later in Brazil. I published a referee article in the league journal on reading comprehension in college students. Right now I am an adjunct professor at Howard University and a dean of students in Washington D.C. at an elementary/middle school.”
Sam Webb: So in other words, excuse my French… you’re doing your damn thing.
Eric Mayes: “You know this, man (laughing)! And this is for all the home folks who questioned Michigan. We are arguably, and I will say arguably, the greatest university in the country. We are not a renegade school just focused on athletes. You know, we are one of those schools that strives for excellence in academics, athletics, community development, and community service… such as the affair that we had for the Mott Hospital. Michigan is a special place and the guys that come here, they demonstrate that. You just talked to Dhani Jones a little while ago. Think about some of the stuff that this guy will do when his story is all done. A lot of these other guys, when their story is all done, some of the stuff that they do off the field will be just as amazing as what they did on the field.”
For the rest of this story on 1997 championship reflections, plus
features on Michigan Hockey, Mike Hart, Legal issues surrounding coaches breaking
contracts, and more, check out the next issue of GoBlueWolverine
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