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2004 MAC Football Championship Game Retrospective: Toledo Rockets vs. Miami RedHawks

It’s Championship Eve, so let’s read some newspapers, go over some box scores, and remember some Guys.

2004 NCAA Football: Miami Redhawks at Toledo Rockets Brett Hansbauer -USA TODAY Sports

It’s 10:15 pm, Thursday the 30th on the West Coast as I write this, but of course that just means that Championship Eve has yet to reach me.

I’m listening to Gershwin and Guaraldi, it’s 2 degrees Celsius (about 35 degrees Fahrenheit) outside. I really want to make a hobo mocha—a delightful creation I learned of in Scouts and at the church camp I worked out in Ye Olden Days of 2015, consisting of drip coffee and a scoop of hot cocoa mix.

In a way, listening to Rhapsody in Blue, one of my favorite works, is extremely appropriate as I write about the 2023 Mid-American Conference match-up between the Toledo Rockets and Miami RedHawks.

Toledo has absolutely been a rhapsody in blue in ‘04, posting their fifth best overall record in (modern) program history and only their fourth perfect MAC record, their first time accomplishing the feat since 1971.

Miami wasn’t been too bad either, achieving their eighth-best overall record in program history and their second best since the heydays of the 1970s, only eclipsed by the 2003 squad that finished #10 in the country (in MAC play, their placement all-time bumps up to 7th).

This year’s game makes this the eighth MAC title game match-up to happen more than once—sixth if you only include current MAC members (Marshall is responsible for the other two occurrences.)

Let’s look at the last time these two teams played in the Lions’ den.

The 2004 MAC title game, the eighth in league history, was the first in conference history to be held at Ford Field, where it’s played to this day. Prior to 2004, the conference championship was played on-campus, with the team with the better record hosting.

The inaugural venture at this professional venue in the heart of the Motor City would see the 9-3 MAC West champion Rockets take on the 8-4 MAC East champion RedHawks, one year removed from their dazzling 13-1 season in 2003. Replacing Ben Roethlisberger in the driver’s seat was Josh Betts, who would go on to be a camp body in the NFL and CFL for three or four seasons. Opposite Betts for Toledo was one Bruce Gradkowski. Yes, that Bruce Gradkowski.

I said we’d be remembering some Guys.

2004 NCAA Football MAC Championship: Toledo Rockets vs Miami Redhawks Brett Hansbauer -USA TODAY Sports
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Final
Toledo 7 0 21 7 35
Miami 14 0 6 7 27

The 2004 edition of the game opened with an exciting first quarter, featuring three total touchdowns, as Toledo struck first on the opening drive when Gradkowski connected with Steve Odom. Miami responded the next drive with a six-yard run up the gut by Luke Clemens. The teams then decided to take the rest of the 1st half off, with Miami punting three times and Toledo punting twice and throwing a pick in Miami territory. The RedHawks led 14-7 at the half.

Then the third quarter started, and Josh Betts turned into a pumpkin— and in a hurry. Aided by two interceptions on Betts, the Rockets would blast off for 21 third-quarter points to Miami’s seven to put the score at 28-20 by quarter’s end.

Each team scored an extra touchdown in the fourth period, and Toledo wrapped up their second conference title in the 21st century, following up on a conference crown won back in 2001. The title would be the second and final MAC championship for Tom Amstutz, as he’d never again win it all in his remaining four seasons.

Amstutz, affectionally referred to as “Toledo Tom”, would retire after the 2008 campaign, spending parts of three decades in the Glass City. In his final season, the Rockets would beat the Michigan Wolverines in the Big House by a final score of 13-10.

Miami’s Terry Hoeppner, who had served as head coach since 1999, would end his tenure in Oxford on a disappointing note— though he was eventually hired to lead the Indiana Hoosiers during the offseason.

Hoeppner had a promising start to his campaign in Bloomington, but a brain tumor diagnosed in 2005 would eventually turn terminal, as Hoeppner would pass away during Indiana’s 2007 bowl campaign.

Toledo all-time numbers

The numbers:

  • All-time record: 581-449-24 (wins-losses-draws)
  • Best season: 12-0 (both 1970 and 1971)
  • Worst season: 2-9 (both 1977 and 1978)
  • Conference titles: 15 (1923, 1927, 1929, 1967, 1969, 1971-72, 1981, 1984, 1990, 1995, 2001, 2004, 2017, 2022)
  • Division titles: 13 (1997, 1998, 2000-02, 2004-05, 2011, 2014-15, 2017, 2022-23)
  • Championship Game appearances: 7 (1997-98, 2001-02, 2004, 2017, 2022)
  • Last Championship Game appearance: 2022 vs. Ohio. The Rockets kept the Bobcats at bay in a 17-7 defensive effort to claim their first MAC title in five seasons.
  • All-time bowl appearances: 20 (1969-71, 1981, 1995, 2001-02, 2004-05, 2010-12, 2014-2018, 2021-22), with an 11-9 record.
  • Last bowl appearance: 2022 vs. Liberty in the Boca Raton Bowl. The Rockets won by a final of 21-19, snapping a six-year bowl losing streak.

Miami all-time numbers

The numbers:

  • All-time record: 723-483-44 (wins-losses-draws)
  • Best season: 13-1 (2003)
  • Worst season: 0-12 (2013)
  • Conference titles: 22 (1916-18, 1921, 1932-33, 1936, 1948, 1950, 1954-55, 1957-58, 1965-66, 1973-75, 1977, 1986, 2003, 2010, 2019)
  • Division titles: 8 (1998, 2003-05, 2007, 2010, 2019, 2023)
  • Championship Game appearances: 6 (1997-98, 2001-02, 2004, 2017)
  • Last Championship Game appearance: 2019 vs. Central Michigan. The RedHawks held off a furious comeback rally from the Chippewas to clinch their first MAC title since 2010.
  • All-time bowl appearances: 20 (1969-71, 1981, 1995, 2001-02, 2004-05, 2010-12, 2014-2018, 2021-22), with a 10-10 record.
  • Last bowl appearance: 2022 vs. UAB in the Bahamas Bowl. The RedHawks lost 24-20 on the final play of the game, two yards short of the walk-off score.

All-time series

  • All-time record: Toledo leads Miami in the all-time series by a margin of 28-23-1.
  • Current streak: Toledo, 2 (2011-current)
  • Biggest Toledo margin of victory: 45-6 (1971)
  • Biggest Miami margin of victory: 81-0 (1953)
  • Longest Toledo winning streak: 6 (1987-1992)
  • Longest Miami winning streak: 12 (1952-1966)
  • Last five matchups: Toledo has won four of the last five contests between the two sides, dating back to 2004. Due to a scheduling quirk, Toledo and Miami did not meet from 2011 to 2023. This Saturday marks their second meeting of the season.
  • Last meeting: Oct. 21, 2023 in Oxford, Ohio. Toledo had to navigate an early gap to take home a vital 21-17 win in a game where Miami QB Brett Gabbert suffered a season-ending leg injury.

The 2023 edition of the MAC Football Championship Game is set to take place Saturday, December 2nd, in Detroit, Michigan at Ford Field. Kickoff is scheduled for noon Eastern time, with ESPN set to provide national broadcast coverage.