ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan switched its apparel deal to Nike's Jumpman brand this summer and became the first football team to use Michael Jordan's iconic image on its uniforms. It seemed a little strange, a bunch of football players wearing the logo of a basketball legend.
But then, in the biggest moment of the Wolverines' biggest game so far this season, a guy named Jourdan sealed the victory by hanging in the air and cradling the ball with one hand. Maybe it all makes sense after all.
Wolverines cornerback Jourdan Lewis turned in one of the plays of the year with his acrobatic interception against Wisconsin with 2:15 left in the game. No. 4 Michigan was then able to run out the clock in a 14-7 win over the No. 8 Badgers, and teammates and coaches were left to grasp for ways to describe the play.
Jim Harbaugh compared it to Odell Beckham Jr.'s famous catch. Wolverines athletic director Warde Manuel called it "Woodson-like," in reference to former Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. Another Michigan cornerback, Channing Stribling said simply that it was "crazy."
Most of all, perhaps, it was daring. Wisconsin had entered full desperation mode, staring down a fourth-and-10 from its own 8-yard line. As far as such situations go, the Badgers got all they could have hoped for.
They lined up with two receivers wide left. Robert Wheelwright ran a post route to the middle of the field, drawing the safety with him. George Rushing, who hadn't caught a ball all afternoon, gave a little juke to the outside after the snap and then streaked down the field, a step or two ahead of Lewis.
Then Lewis closed the gap and was up against Rushing's back as Alex Hornibrook delivered the pass. Lewis saw the ball and left his feet just past the Michigan 38-yard line, which was a problem.
"I jumped too early," Lewis said.
But he was able to twist his body and reach his right arm out to secure the ball before he fell down, with his right foot landing between the 42- and 43-yard lines.
"I think he floated for 5 yards," Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight said in amazement.
It was a split-second reaction in which Lewis' instincts took over. He said he had only one thought at the time: "I have to make this play for my team." The senior was a first-team All-American last year, so he has plenty of confidence. He never worried that he was going to miss the ball and allow a potential game-tying reception, despite his premature leap.
"I knew I could get something on the ball," he said, "so why not take the next step and go get it?"
It was a high-risk play, and an incompletion would have served Michigan more in terms of field position. But the reward turned out to be pretty darned good too, as it was perhaps the most memorable play of the Wolverines' season so far.
"I was thinking, fourth down, it would probably be better if it was not an interception," Harbaugh said. "But I was really glad he did it because it was a spectacular football play and athletic play. Really unbelievable."
Teammates have seen one-handed interceptions by Lewis in practice, but Speight said Saturday's was "on another level." Stribling said he has seen Lewis reach over receivers with one hand for a pick, but not at game speed.
Rushing, who got bumped a little when Lewis reached for the ball, looked for an interference flag after the play. He might have just been dumbfounded by what happened.
How does a guy mistime his jump like that and still come down with the catch? Lewis isn't sure of his vertical-leap measurements at this point, but he said he was measured at about 39 inches as a recruit.
The Wolverines missed their star cornerback the first three games this season, when he was dealing with nagging injuries to his hamstring, quad and back. Lewis made his season debut against Penn State last week and is finally healthy enough to make this type of play, though he believes he could have done it even when he was banged up last month.
"If I'm out there," he said, "I'm fully capable of doing anything."
After that interception, it's hard to argue with him. That jump (and catch), man.