There was absolutely nothing to indicate something startling was about to happen when Illinois ventured into The Big House to play Michigan in a football game on Oct. 23, 1999.
The Illini had just lost three and a row and they’d been pounded in a 30-point defeat against Minnesota one week earlier.
Michigan was ranked No. 9 in the country and the Illini arrived as a 24 ½-point underdog.
Beyond that, the Wolverines were coming off a bye week and had 13 days to prepare for coach Ron Turner’s struggling team.
As the game unfolded, it appeared to be following the predicted script. Michigan led 20-7 at halftime and quickly added a touchdown to take a 27-7 lead in the third quarter.
But without warning Illinois’ fortunes began to turn on fourth-and-three when quarterback Kurt Kittner found tight end Walter Young for a 31-yard touchdown pass. Then there was Kittner’s TD pass to Brian Hodges that closed the Michigan lead to 27-21.
The play that really got Michigan’s attention happened when running back Rocky Harvey took a short pass from Kittner and went 59 yards for a score that put the Illini on top 28-27.
And after the Illini intercepted the Michigan quarterback, Harvey ran 54 yards for a score that made it 35-21.
Michigan would come back, but the Illini held on to win, 35-29. It helped that the Michigan quarterback threw two interceptions. All that seems even more remarkable now since that quarterback was Tom Brady.
On his way out of the press box, Illini Athletics Director Ron Guenther, who had hired Turner, was fighting to hold onto his emotions.
“Ron’s play-calling was surgical,” Guenther said.
The dramatic touchdowns by Harvey were so instrumental in the victory that the game is often referred to as “The Rocky Harvey Game.”
But there were some subtle heroes as well.
Prowl through the game’s final statistic and you’ll see a tight end with two catches for 27 yards. Yep, that’s Josh Whitman, the university's current Director of Athletics.
Also, credit Tuscola defensive end Fred Wakefield for blocking a field goal and an extra point.
“Coming into the Big House and stealing one from them…that’s something not a lot of teams do,” Wakefield said.
True. And that’s what made it so special.