There is a story here about the time Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler ordered soup in a restaurant.
"Do you want it in a cup or in a bowl?" the waitress asked.
"Better give me a cup," Schembechler replied. "I can't handle bowls."
That is not a funny story to Schembechler because of the truth in it. Schembechler has lost every bowl game he's been to while at Michigan, three in the last three years, two Roses and an Orange.
Michigan has been one of the more dominant teams in college football in each of Schembechler's 10 seasons at the school. The Wolverines never have finished out of the top 10 in either wire service poll, but they never have finished higher than third, either.
They probably would have had a couple of national championships if they had been able to win a bowl game, but Schembechler teams seem to go dead in the water at bowl time.
All concerned say this year will be different.
It is not only in bowl games that the Wolverines have faltered under Schembechler. Every year it seems the Wolverines have a powerhouse. They walk through a relatively easy schedule and then have a showdown with arch-rival Ohio State in the last regular-season game.
History shows that Michigan either loses to Ohio State, or beats the Buckeyes and then goes to a bowl game and loses. In the nine full seasons Schembechler has been here Michigan has never won its last game of the season.
Going into this season, Michigan had lost only 13 games under Schembechler and eight of those losses came in the last games.
Although Schembechler becomes downright nasty if asked why his teams can't win that one big game each year, there are reasons his teams fold.
One Michigan insider says that Schembechler is so strict "that a college kid cracks after going through his system from August to January."
Another reason, some Michigan followers feel, is that Schembechler is too conservative. The Wolverines are big and strong enough to line up and run over pratically every team on their schedule except Ohio State and whomever they play in a bowl game. Against teams with equal talent, that style is not effective.
Privately, Schembechler says this may be true. This year he has opened Michigan's attack more than ever and the Wolverines are off to a 4-0 start.
They had a close call against Arizona, 21-17, on Saturday, but they came from behind to beat Notre Dame, 28-14 at Notre Dame, and waltzed past Illinois and Duke.
Going into today's game against Michigan State, Michigan is ranked fourth in the UPI poll and fifth in the AP.
The offense may be more imaginative and Schembechler may be trying to do other things psychologically to have the Wolverines ready for the tail end of the season, but he has not compromised on discipline.
"Bo is a great guy and coach, but you better do what you are told," said fullback Russell Davis, of Woodbridge, Va. "We all call him Bo, but don't let that fool you.You respect that man, but he is a stickler for discipline.You do things his way or he finds someone else.
"The nice thing about it, though," Davis added, "is that he'll never ask you to do anything you can't do. It may seem impossible to you, but you know if Bo wants you to do it, then you can."
People grow edgy at the mention that the Wolverines have not won a bowl game under Schembechler.
"You try not to look ahead to one game, but we are all looking to be last game of the season, no matter who it is gainst," Davis said. "We want to go out as winners, not as the team that could never win the big one. I'm sure that's what Bo wants, too."
Schembechler, 48, probably is best described as a young Woody Hayes. He played and coached under Hayes.
Schembechler rants and raves at officials and at the press the same as Hayes; he has held steadfastly to his principles of conservative grind-it-out football and he has had health problems, as has Hayes.
Schembechler had a heart attack the day before Michigan lost the 1970 Rose Bowl to Southern California, and he had a quadruple bypass operation on his heart in 1976.
Schembechler believes in option football and he has perhaps the best option quarterback in college today in Rich Leach, a four-year starter who turned down a $100,000 baseball contract, preferring to play quarterback at Michigan.
"What happens when you are a big play team is that you use those things to bull you out. I don't like that," said Schembechler. "I like to play sound, basic football."
Leach, 6-foot 2, 192-pound left-hander from Flint, Mich, is Michigan's all time leader in passing yards, total offense, touchdown passes, touchdown running and touchdowns accounted for.
Leach has more freedom on the field than any other Wolverine, but he does things strictly by Schembechler's book.
"I have ways I'd like to do things, but Bo is the coach," Leach said.
With Leach at quarterback, Davis at fullback and Harlon Huckleby at tallback, the Wolverines have one of the most potent backfields in college football this season.
To get the most out of his big three, Schembechler put in a wishbone offense in the spring. Instead of running out of it or out of the wing I, the Wolverines shift into a number of formations, send men in motion and try to spread over the field more. The Wolverines also will pass now, although it is not absolutely necessary.
"My first three years here we just lined up and ran," Davis said. "This year we put in all kinds of stuff. Time is running out on us. We'll try anything to be successful now."