Joel Klatt: After Zak Zinter injury, ‘something happened that I’ve never experienced’

With just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter of Michigan’s memorable 30-24 win over Ohio State on Saturday, Wolverines right guard Zak Zinter had his left leg rolled up on as J.J. McCarthy completed a pass downfield to tight end AJ Barner. Zinter remained down for several minutes as it became clear that the All-Big Ten guard had just suffered a serious injury. The injury was so severe that the FOX broadcast opted not to show a replay of it.

What happened next is something Joel Klatt has never seen before in his broadcasting career, which spans more than 100 college football games for FOX, serving as the lead analyst alongside play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson, or during his four seasons as a quarterback at Colorado.   

“We knew he pretty clearly broke his leg,” said Klatt, who was calling the game alongside Johnson, when later discussing Zinter’s injury on Monday’s episode of his podcast “The Joel Klatt Show.” “The players that saw him immediately on the ground … they knew it.

“The air leaves the building, and it is quiet. You can hear a pin drop, and there is a lot of emotion from his teammates. There was just an outpouring of emotion.”

The injury was significant for myriad reasons. On top of Zinter’s play, the senior has served as an integral voice and leader within Michigan’s program. Michigan outside linebacker/edge rusher Jaylen Harrell told Klatt and Johnson a day prior that “Big Zint” is the guy who most embodies the team. Klatt even said that Zinter is, in some ways, “the soul of the program.” 

So, with one of its leaders down, several Michigan players were understandably upset. Left guard Trevor Keegan was “hitting the ground with his helmet, crying,” Klatt said. As many other players were crying, McCarthy consoled Zinter’s parents, who made their way down the field as their son was being tended to. 

Michigan beats Ohio State, earning their third straight win in the rivalry

Michigan beats Ohio State, earning their third straight win in the rivalry

Klatt even said that he got emotional in the booth as the moment transpired. 

“I’m emotional when it comes to college football because I know how much goes into it for these guys,” Klatt said. “Every time a guy goes down, and I know it’s an ACL or an Achilles or a broken leg, it’s like, ‘Hey, season’s done.’ Particularly when it’s a senior, or a guy that I know is not going to play college football again, like Zak Zinter, I get emotional. 

“If you’re Trevor Keegan, you’ve roomed with Zak Zinter, you know where he came from, you know his struggles, you know what he went through to be here, you know what his hopes and dreams are,” Klatt added. “Now, you see him on the ground and his leg is broken right in front of your face. It’s an emotional time when I see that stuff.”

Many members of Michigan’s team remained on the sideline and away from where the next play was supposed to be set as their teammate was being evaluated. As several Wolverines players looked devastated and as the FOX broadcast was in a commercial, something remarkable happened as a wave of emotion came over the 100,000-plus fans inside the Big House on that cold Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor.

“Even though my headset’s on, I hear the stadium start to come alive,” Klatt said. “They’re pumping up the air cast. The team is devastated. And the stadium starts chanting, and if I get emotional I’m sorry, ‘Let’s go Zak! Let’s go Zak!’ And it’s not just one section. It’s not just one area. It was the whole stadium – and it was loud. It was so loud that I took my headset off to hear it.”

Klatt said he saw something transpire with the Michigan team at that moment that amazed him. 

“I’ve never heard a stadium that loud in a commercial break, ever, save for the ‘Jump Around’ for Wisconsin or the manufactured song. This was completely human-driven – no music, no band, no PA announcer,” Klatt said as he began to choke up. “The Michigan fans just start chanting for him. I got emotional in the booth. Right then, here’s what happens: The team goes from devastated to unified when this tsunami of emotion from the fans pours out onto the field. 

“It was freaking loud. I’ve never experienced anything like this. What I hate was that you didn’t experience it at home.”

Joel Klatt on how Michigan united for Zak Zinter’s injury

Joel Klatt on how Michigan united for Zak Zinter's injury

Klatt described the energy in Michigan Stadium at that moment as “loud” and “palpable,” adding that it lifted Michigan “off the mat” as the team looked out of it. As the Wolverines took the field again to resume play, Klatt said he could sense the resilience.

That led to Blake Corum rushing for a 22-yard touchdown on the very first play following the injury timeout, giving Michigan a 24-17 lead. The senior running back flashed “6-5,” Zinter’s jersey number, with his hands to one of the FOX cameras after he scored. 

In the broadcast booth, Klatt shared he was just getting himself composed as action resumed. 

“That was a pretty remarkable little sequence there,” Klatt said. “The sequence I got a bit emotional in, when we came back from commercial, I had to turn away from the field. I did not want you guys to hear my voice crack because I was getting emotional. … I didn’t turn around until right before the snap.”

As a clip of Klatt describing what he saw following Zinter’s injury made the rounds on social media Tuesday, Zinter himself responded to it. 

“Family, Forever Go Blue!” Zinter wrote in a social media post. 

That moment served as an impetus for the rest of the game. Michigan held onto the lead for good, intercepting Kyle McCord on the game’s final drive to seal the win. 

Saturday’s win over Ohio State moved Michigan to 12-0 on the season, keeping its national title hopes alive and well. It also marked its third-straight win over Ohio State, the first time it’s done that since 1997. 

As the Wolverines have become the class of the Big Ten and the college football world again in recent seasons, Klatt has noticed that reflection in the fan base, which he credits with helping Michigan win the 119th iteration of The Game. 

“That crowd used to be a nervous energy crowd at Michigan, when I first started to play games at Michigan. It was always the ‘When is this going to go wrong?’ crowd. I get it. They’ve had moments throughout the years where they get jaded and let down. It was always kind of that feeling in 2017, ‘18 and ’19. It was always, ‘OK, when is that play going to happen that’s going to break our back.’ It was always that nervous-energy crowd, and I felt, at times, that nervous energy even seeped into the team.

“Something happened in the fourth quarter against Ohio State in 2021. That crowd had that energy, but then all of a sudden, they realized in 2021, ‘Wait, we’re going to win.’ From that point forward, now it’s a crowd with an expectant energy. They expect domination. They want domination. They know they’re going to get domination. … To see what I saw Saturday in the booth with Gus, it was wild. That fan base, with no prompting, that stadium lifted the team off the mat, the team walked onto the field, they were galvanized and it’s a touchdown. Blake flashes the ‘6-5.’ It was really loud in a moment which could’ve gone the other direction.”


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