so Here we are. 10,000 km away, and 10 years removed from graduation. But my heart still lives in Ann Arbor. It's midnight on a saturday and by all rights I should be out getting blitzed and dancing the night away. Instead I'm sitting in my comfy chair, glued to my computer screen, counting down the hours until kickoff.
Why does such a trivial thing as football mean so much to me? Why do I care so much about the fates of men I have never - and probably will never - meet? How can such a silly thing give me so much joy and drive me to so much anger?
I grew up mid-michigan. An asian kid in an all white town. Football was the one outlet for all the pent up frustration and aggression that was unsuitable for an overly civilized world. Without football, I might have turned out like this: http://inmyroom.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/cho_large.jpg
For me, football has always been about the emotions it stirs.
But I also enjoyed the status it conferred. I loved the feeling of walking around school in my jersey on gameday. I liked how the cheerleaders knew all our names and gave us treats and presents. It made me feel special, in a good way. I didn't have to be just another asian nerd who was good at math.
I loved running out of the locker room in a big pack, through the banners. I can still hear the roar of the crowd and band. I liked seeing my name in the paper, even if it was just a boxscore in the lansing state urinal. I was tickled to be interviewed for the 5th quarter and watching myself on TV. This was back in 1994, before youtube, before a million cable channels. Football made me feel pretty special.
And I knew the game. I'd watch every NFL game on sunday with my grandma. I could see how Lawrence Taylor would just destroy people. How we could fight THROUGH a block to blow up a run. I'd watch NFLfilms on HBO nonstop. Admiring how Bill Walsh would take advantage of opponents' tendencies and schemes.
So, football offered so much. It was physcially, emotionally, socially, and mentally stimulating.
When I decided to go to Michigan, most of that continued even though I was not good enough to play division 1 ( or probably even division 2). Too short, too slow. But being a fan in the stands was almost as good. The comradarie was still there. The emotion was still there. The intellectual analysis was still there. And when I would return home, to the heart of Spartoon country wearing my maize and blue, the status was also still there.
Our team was better than your team. And they all knew it.
Sure they would put on a brave face and try to take pot shots at us. "Your coach is a a drunk", "You suck in bowl games", "We're just as good". But deep down, they knew they weren't.
And then, some amazing things happened. We got a new coach. Lloyd's first year as HC was my first year in the stands. We beat OSU. Biakabutuka ran wild. We finished 8-4. We were 8-4 the next year too. Remember when people were angry with LLoyd for going 8-4? And now we'd be ecstatic if we got to 8-4...ㅜㅜ
But we beat an undefeated OSU team again, thanks to some kid named Griese. Remember when we expected to beat OSU, even if they had the higher ranked team? Remember when we could make fun of John Cooper proclaiming Feb-10, 2001 to be his day in honor of his record against us...
The next year was pure magic. I had been going through a rough point in my life, drinking too much, thinking about transferring, or changing my major, or... I don't know what... something. I withdrew from all my classes and went home to sort things out. But Michigan was living a dream season in football. Even being away from campus, I could still feel like a part of things by watching the games on TV.
As stupid as this may sound, Michigan football probably factored as much into my decision to return to Ann Arbor as anything else.
And I was there. I was at the games I could go to. I saw Woodson's interception against MSU.
I watched Daydrian Taylor's hit against the PSU tight end on TV.
I gave about a million high 5's to friends and strangers when Andre Weathers got the pick 6 to make it 20-0, and we all knew we were going to the Rosebowl.
I rushed the field after the OSU game, nearly getting pepper sprayed. But it didn't matter. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
So was driving to LA with all my friends. Waking up hungover on new years, filing into that stadium. Such an awesome day. And they served BEER! Ice cold beer. The best beer I've ever had in my life on that dehydrated sunny day in the middle of what would be winter in Ann Arbor.
AND WE WON! Do you remember? Woodson leaping 20 feet in the air. Tai Streets scoring on long bombs. Ryan Leaf completing every damn 3rd and long. And then the ending was so confusing. Everything happened so fast. We had them pinned way back. But those cougars were cheating. They pushed off woodson. They faked an injury. OUTRAGE! The ref pulled out the flag. HE WAS WAVING HIS DAMN HANDS WITH THE FRIGGIN FLAG IN HIS DAMN HANDS! But he didn't throw it. And the crowd was booing the loudest "boo" I've ever heard.
But it didn't matter. WE WON! We won it all. It was chaos everywhere. I didn't know if I should take pictures, or rush the field or, or, or, just sit there like an idiot balling my eyes out. So I did all three.
And then Griese was given the MVP. The guy that threw a chair through the window at Skeepers. The walkon who was banished from the team. The overshadowed child who played under his father's glare with the whole country watching. So I cried some more. REDEMPTION. For him and me. I graduated with honors two years later, making the dean's list every semester after that.
That was the highest of highs. But It wasn't long until we reached some pretty bad lows. We had high expectations and then lost to ND. And I got stuck in a 4 hour traffic jam on the way home. That sucked. And then we were losing to McNabb by 17 the next week before I could even get to my seat. But the team improved. Every year we were very good. Always so close, but so far from winning it all again. There was the Drew Henson fiasco at MSU. Anthony Thomas's fumble against Northwestern. I remember thinking after those games when I didn't blame those kids. I blamed the fact that those teams were even within a touchdown of us at all. Remember when we could feel like other teams were so inferior to us that we should NEVER lose to them? ... ...
Even as I moved from city to city, and people came into and out of my life, Michigan football was a constant in my life. A blissfull reminder of goodtimes past.
That is, until last year.
Last year I gave up on the team. And sadly, it didn't make much difference in my life.
I tried. I was excitied. I was full of hope. I supported a guy who would later become a felon. I saw our team have nail biters against some of the best teams in the country. But I also saw a defense that was undermanned. I saw raw inexperienced players on offense. I saw a roster in tatters.
And what's worse is that I saw a team quit. I saw a team regress. I didn't watch the last four games of the season, because I already knew what the outcome would be.
With the season over, I stood back at arms length. I was fed up with recruiting rumors. I was sick of people leaving the program. The transfers, the defections to the pros. I thought the first year was a mulligan, but it continued.
Remember when Lloyd would threaten a kid with transfer papers, but then the kid would rise to the challenge and get even better? Now it seems that when a kid is challenged, he just transfers. Where is our support system? What is going on?
I don't want Rich Rod to be fired. That would probably be the absolute worst thing for this program. I want to be full of hope. But our situation at DB is not only discouraging, it's downright frightening.
So I wanted to take this moment, the calm before the storm, to remenisce about how things used to be.
This is going to be a long season. Even our best hopes for this year would have been a terrible dissapointement just a decade ago. I'm sure I'll get angry. I'm sure there'll be mitigating factors. So the only thing I can do is to not completely flame up the board after something frustratingly infuriating happens.
But I do have some hope. Our offense may very well be good. And maybe I'm in for a surpise on defense. I hope so. But I'm not expecting it.
Someone once told me that the key to happiness is having a reality that exceeds your expectations. Well thanks to "Angry _______ Michigan Hating God", my expectations are quite low.
Unfortunately, as I sit here 10,000 km away, Michigan football has already lost some of the things I most loved about it. I have no fellow alumni near me to cheer with. And I'd rather not discuss football with the green&white relatives (or even the friggen purple relatives, OMG I don't even feel superior to northwestern fans anymore).
Anyway, to wrap this up, I'll list some of my hopes for the season. A few years ago I wrote a wishlist, none of which came true. So now I don't even have wishes. Just hopes.
1. I hope we win 6 games
2. I hope we go to a bowl
3. I hope Denard Robinson has a better passer rating than Terrelle Pryor
4. I hope the stadium is louder than ever thanks to the new architecture and mic'd band
5. I hope we win more than one conference game
6. I hope we don't have any (ANY) more injuries in the secondary
7. I hope we beat OSU
8. I hope we beat MSU
9. I hope we don't have any more transfers
10. I hope Richrod won't be fired.
Will Cameron Gordon bring balance to the force? Will Vlad the Impaler ever transition from psych to sang? Is Marvin the Marvelous Marvel just an empty OMG shirtless? Do 40-times matter at all? Will Misopogon exhaust his annual allotment of rhetorical questions before this deck is even finished? I dunno, but I was seriously freaking about about free safety, man, so I dipped into UFRs of yore and found….hope?
This series has had a strange, long ride. It began with a long thought about the time fall practice began: Is Michigan going to be okay at safety?
As the defensive backfield began to take shape, as two more jarring losses at cornerback destroyed both the brightest spot and brightest hope before the season even began, the functional hope that sparked this diary was violently disposed of. As Michigan's 2010 secondary takes the field today, the same words are forming on the tongue of every observer: "This can not possibly go well."
Let's let the fat lady sing first, shall we?
The Baseline Revisited:
Part I gave us a rundown of Michigan deep safeties of recent memory (spreadsheet). Part II compared the performances of those aforementioned safeties, after attempting to describe this "Not a true 3-3-5" defense we would supposedly trot. It was at this point that our Hero Journey descended into darkness.
What happened was Steve Sharik, resident MGoBlog X's and O's guy, who took one look at my useless description of a Virginia Tech-like 1-High Quarters thing, spat something, then grabbed me by the scruff of my Misoponeck to the nearest bar, sat me down across from a blogger with an intense interest in hamburger, pulled out a stack of play sheets, and attempted to explain to me why this was absolutely insane.
Understand this: I am no more capable of football at an engineering level than my fiancée is of understanding why there are more castles in Wales than England proper. You see, to me, there's no way to look at a Welsh castle without going into Edward I, the expectations of a Plantagenet king, the atrocities he committed, his massive popularity among the regular English, and the huge debts he incurred thanks to the expenses of contemporary warfare, which in turn changed the nature of Parliament and set the Anglophone world on its path toward republicanism – that these symbols of the subjugation of Wales were also, indirectly, the cause of its liberation. At the end of this wrong-side-of-the-road trip and my meaningful explanation, Misopogal's summarizing question was, simply, "so the king from Braveheart was a bad guy?"
Since our last episode I attended my first corporate leadership seminar, which for the uninitiated is exactly like in The Office except everyone is taking it as seriously as Michael, and when they make that joke about 'remember when you were a 30 and thinking about Eminem all the time,' there's no camera for you/Jim to look into and make a "what the fuck" face (Pam isn't actually invited to these meetings).
However, when you get past the bullshit, what they're essentially trying to teach this crowd is that everyone has certain innate attributes, and that these don't ever change. The way to be an effective manager is to focus on employees' best attributes and try to line these up as best you can with the attributes needed for their respective positions.
This is the kind of thing that we sports fans should know better than anyone, though we convince ourselves every player we root for is a potential DaVinci. Obi Ezeh probably doesn't wake from his slumber. Likewise, Mike Hart knows no other way to than forward, and Chad Henne will never be bothered by things that can hurt him, and Brian will never be truly happy unless Michigan is good at football. The mind, like the body, has attributes, and these don't change all that much.
My mind wraps itself around stories, characters, and consequences. To understand an X from an O takes a lot of staring and patient explanation. Sharik's brain, obviously, gets this stuff, and he clearly has a passion for teaching it. But what I was looking for was a synthesis, a "Longshanks = bad?" summary.
In case you can glean more than I, the other occupant of our table, the one engrossed in his burger and fries, came away with this:
When Steve Sharik explained how you defend four verticals in the three-deep coverage Michigan would love to play all year if they can get away with it, he made it clear such a move was how you draw it up but not how it plays out much: frankly, three deep, one-high coverage sucks against four verticals. You know how a bunch of Michigan's passing plays in spring and fall came when the quarterbacks nailed the slot receivers in between levels in zone coverage? That's what happens, Larry, when you meet a stranger in the alps by playing exclusively one-high coverage.
Sharik may be proud of that student. But no matter how much he wore down his pencil, for me, it was all very confusing and not very relevant to my burning question: "What, exactly, are the attributes that would make a functional free safety for Michigan?" So I asked that directly, and Sharik said:
Pressed by time and progressively more urgent buzzes signifying "when r u gonna be home?" texts, the Coach finally gave up on trying to get me to understand more than "when Kovacs is here we're fucked this way; when he's there we're fucked that way," and coughed up a free safety desired attributes list. In order of importance:
Herein, finally, lies the explanation behind why Englemon and his daily 1-0-1 UFR score was more effective than Mundy, and why there's a possibility we are not totally fucked. Ideally, we would want a hard-hitting guy with lightning quicks, and whatever swiveling hips are. Without those attributes, the free safety is going to be less than. They are all important, and the better or worse of each will determine the effectiveness of the player. Since Sean Taylor isn't available (for reasons including Miami commit, expired eligibility, NFL experience having compromised amateur status, and not being alive), the question is really which player has the right total measures of the above, and can he shore up what was a gaping hole in a paperwise better defensive backfield overall.
If this functional competence starts with good instinct, we can identify this with observations like "is always around the ball" or "has a nose for the play." Speed is a 40-time. Intelligence is "knows the playbook inside and out," or "picks things up quickly," and experience is time in program/starts. Tackling and fundamentals are whatever Jordan Kovacs has in spades. Nastiness is "lays the lumber" and "really physical." These are all heuristics – if you want fact, watch the next 12 games.
Let us now search for competence…
What we're praying for in 2010 is anything resembling 2005-'07, minus getting shredded by a Pac Ten school (and an FCS school) in the process.
The 2010 opener depth chart lists Cam Gordon, Jared Van Slyke and Vlad Emilien as the free safeties. It lies. Van Slyke, the walk-on, is injured. Really, the man backing up Jordan Kovacs, Marvin Robinson, is the silent 2nd string man.
These are the guys who could actually play:
For each I will try to provide a matrix of their potential. The ratings are on the star scale. The average can be applied to a star rating, then adjusted in your mind based on the player's level of experience. If a lot of this is familiar, it's because Brian wrote his secondary preview before I got this out, and his was much better.
For the matrices, I assigned arbitrary weights for each skill on a 10-percent linear progression. Instinct is multiplied by 1.2, Speed by 1.1, Intel by 1, Fundamentals by .9, Nastiness by .8, then they're averaged for the rating.
1. Cam Gordon – 6'3, 207 – RS Fr – No. 4
Starting experience: None
Game experience: None
Year in program: 2
By now, I hope you know his story. Cam Gordon was recruited as a receiver when gurus said he made a much better linebacker. He redshirted in '09. Nobody mentioned (non-linebacker-y hybrid) safety, let alone deep safety, until the Spring hype machine went balls over him.
ESPN had this to say on his defensive projection:
"You would never now he was a flashy wide receiver when watching him pursue the football as a hybrid safety/outside linebacker. He chases plays down with good range, burst and intensity."
Instinct seems to be the attribute most often referred to since Cam's takeover of free safety. Tom VH came in with the following in his spring tidbits:
"Cameron Gordon is the most surprising for everyone. His name keeps coming up. I’ve heard that he tackles well and has really good coverage skills. The people I’ve talked to say he’s just a natural ball hawk. Good decision to move him to safety.
This is a giant leap from his recruiting profile, where Brian said his defensive upside was Prescott Burgess. But the reports of "natural" and "ball hawk" have been unanimous and must be believed. If they're wrong, well, look at the other metrics: there's nothing there to justify anything, right?
Speed is not so good.
The same ESPN quote finished with this:
"Top-end speed is a question mark and he does lack great initial burst with ball. That said, Gordon is a great athlete with coveted physical skills to develop as a college player."
Recruiting sites had his 40 times conspicuously absent, but Gordon told Sam Webb he ran a 4.6 at 6'3 and 215. This came in for three FAKE(!)s in Brian's Hello!: post, and isn't good safety speed to begin with. Since Cam is now Barwisized to 10 lbs. under his junior weight and 30 lbs. under his senior weight, and the coaches made him our free safety, I am going for broke and imagining he runs a 4.6. That's not so good.
Intelligence is another low point, at this point. Even being careful not to read too much into things like "chews gum during Sam Webb interview," he also came in for some academic eligibility concerns, and those were coming from Michigan State:
"Also, most early updates on Gordon stated that he was pretty set on playing WR in college, and most experts/teams seem to think his future may be at S/LB. Also, there were whispers about his ability to qualify academically. For one, or both of those reasons, he has very few big time offers."
Gum-chewing and Ebonics are red herrings based in cultural bias; worry that he may not be academically acute enough to play for Mark Dantonio is a red flag.
Even if he doesn't read at a Brandent Englemon level, reading offenses can come with experience; Gordon, in his second year with Michigan, his first on the defense, and having been a late-comer to safety in high school to boot, has none. Optimism on this front may be found in a Spring quote from Woolfolk:
Cameron Gordon has lots of natural ability, and is very good at reading his keys.
But this sounds a lot more like another instinct quote.
Fundamentals have been up and down. He is called a good tackler, but then apparently lost that in the Beanie Bowl fall scrimmage. Concerns about fundamentals are also based strongly in the late switch to safety in high school, and then repeating that switch in college. For this one, I just throw up my hands and call "3."
Here's Sam Webb in his recruiting profile for the Detroit News (now offline)
"At 6-2 and 215 pounds, he has impacted a number of games with bone-jarring hits while playing linebacker or strong safety."
Now tipping the scales at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, and still capable running the 40 in the 4.6 range, Gordon is a bone-jarring presence in the Viking secondary.
Sam Webbs are unanimous: Cam jars bones.
In Gordon's own words, after the fall practice when tackling suddenly became an issue, Cam himself claimed it was going for too many big hits.
“We were in position to make plays - I was in position - but we didn’t wrap up,” Gordon said. “I think we were all a little excited, especially us young guys to show what we could do and we had a breakdown in fundamentals. But those are easily correctable mistakes.
“Something Coach [Tony] Gibson said to me after our scrimmage was, ‘Cam, every hit doesn’t have to be a big hit.’ That’s a key for me and for all the guys. Any tackle is a good tackle. I don’t have to level somebody because in the stat book they all count the same way. I’ll get better and we’ll get better.”
All told, we have a lot of promise. He's not like Englemon. He's actually like nothing we have seen in a long time. Instinct plus hits but not very fast or smart is a combination that has been lacking entirely since 1997. Best guess, he's a really young Jamar Adams. Best hope, he's the other Safety Named Taylor.
2. Marvin Robinson – 6'2, 200 – Fr/Fr – No. 3
3. Vladimir Emilien – 6'1, 204 – So/Jr – No. 5
Instinct: COMING SOON
Speed: Neither of the options ahead are fast: Robinson was a Scout 4.6. Cam was as well. Both were told "you're an NCAA linebacker, son" by recruiting services. But Vlad Emilien is, probably because of injury, really slow.
After last year's Spring Game I tried to put a picture pages together for the board showing the long Carlos Brown touchdown. What had stood out to me then was the first time I had seen Vladimir Emilien directly involved in a play, and how quickly Brown put unbeatable space between himself and our backup free safety:
2009: Carlos Brown runs right by him:
Then, this year, it happened again.
2010: Rountree's Not-Good-Enough-To-Avoid-Dong-Punching Speed is Warp 5 compared to the Impaler:
Note that Rountree catches the ball at the White Team's 32, with Emilien right on his heels on the 31. By the time they've gone 8 yards, Rountree's burst of speed has added another entire yard toward the end zone, and a yard away from the hash as well. By the time they're at the 50, Emilien is trailing by another yard. For comparison, Teric Jones on this play made up about 5 yards on Rountree, running right by Emilien in the process.
I was hopeful after I saw the 2009 Carlos Browning of Vlad that it was simply his knee injury still bothering him, and that he would be 100 percent by fall. Apparently, the speed has not improved/returned, at least since the Spring Game. This isn't a huge surprise. From ESPN via Brian's hello post:
Pass coverage is solid from both three deep and halves coverage. Makes a good break on the pass and times the interception well even though leaping ability is questionable. Physical when separating the receiver from the football. Emilien is a very good athlete that is a real competitor and gives super effort every play. Needs to keep working on strength and tackling techniques. He is a better strong safety candidate than free.
In other words: he's not very fast.
This was buried, by the way, in an interview he did later (linked in Brian's 2009 recruiting post but the link is now dead):
WHAT I DO TO STAY IN SHAPE: "I'm a workaholic; basically all I do is train, train, train. I wake up at 5 a.m. and go train. I run track, too, so I'm trying to keep myself in shape for that. I lift weights. Go on the track and do a couple of 400s to keep my endurance up. I run a couple of 110s, because that's what they run in college. I've got to get used to the college life and make sure my speed is up."
Supposedly before the torn ACL, his speed was listed by Scout as 4.5. This, in Scout's FAKE FAKE FAKE 40-yard-dash world, is slow-safety, fast-linebacker range.
That's not to say he's useless. When the field shortens, and deep coverage is less of an issue than plugging up lanes, stopping anything that slips through the linebackers, and making sure receivers in the end zone are all wrapped in nice warm blankets.
Intelligence: COMING SOON
Fundamentals: COMING SOON
Nastiness: COMING SOON (but you know already).
Brian sees Emilien's precipitous fall down the depth chart and cites Turner-level worry of a bust. I see a clear speed deficiency related to a knee injury that can take three or four years to recover from. As you can see, if he can recapture that speed, Emilien has some tools to be effective.
I am very much rooting for the guy, especially because that deep safety (free? hero?) position is the most worrisome on the team for me, and also because workaholics deserve to be rewarded in sports, and a cursory search reveals the main thing to like about Emilien: he works fucking HARD, man! But it seems, just from these two plays, that Vlad is not fast enough at this point to be a viable deep safety option, especially when the ball's in Michigan territory.
The Attribute Matrix
Based entirely on my observations, and completely subject to argument, here's a quick-try matrix of all the safeties profiled in this series.
|Jamar Adams '07||4||4||4||4||2||3.68|
|Brandent Englemon '06||3||2||5||5||2||3.38|
|Troy Woolfolk '09||3||5||3||3||1||3.12|
|Willis Barringer '05||3||3||5||3||1||3.08|
|Ryan Mundy '06||2||5||3||3||2||3.04|
|Cam Gordon '10||5||2||1||3||4||3.02|
|Brandon Harrison '05||3||3||2||4||2||2.82|
|Marvin Robinson '10||3||2||1||4||4||2.72|
|Jordan Kovacs '09||3||1||3||5||1||2.60|
|Charles Stewart '08||2||3||5||1||1||2.48|
|Vlad Emilien '10||2||1||3||2||5||2.46|
|Steve Brown '08||1||4||3||1||3||2.38|
|Mike Williams '09||1||2||2||1||2||1.58|
|Mike Williams '08||1||2||1||1||2||1.38|
Baseline for pessimism: I was pretty generous with the hype. It could just be the Michigan staff trying to make me feel good. Also, the top projection I can imagine for the backups if Cam goes down is between Brandon Harrison as a freshman and Kovacs's disastrous moonlight there last season; since Kovacs is being pushed by, but has so far held off, Robinson for a position that better fits both of their skill sets, this is probably accurate. Vlad, probably because he's not fully healed, would be a 2008-level disaster. Nobody will be as bad as Mike Williams. Also, for those 3rd and longs, there's no speed option available, what with Teric Jones moving back to running back.
Baseline for optimism: Cam Gordon's 2010 season ends up competent-ish. It's not going to be close to Englemon, let alone Adams. It's not going to be as effective as Woolfolk at free safety last year. It's probably going to come in similar to Ryan Mundy in '06, which was the weak point of a very good defense. But instead of Mundy's frustrating inability to cover a guy despite all the athletic ability one could ask for, we will see Cam in perfect positioning yet beat by talented receivers and tight ends, and competent downfield quarterbacks. It will be sad. On the other hand, we will also likely see more competence against the run than there's been in a very long time.
"Bend but don't break" is a bad characterization. Rather, Gordon will center a defense that gives up few long runs but gets scored on about 50 percent of the time because it cannot stop the passing game. The good news is, to really exploit us, you need a strong-armed QB and some good receivers, and some of the teams on our schedule don't have that.
But you never know. As these guys take the stage, they look like a slow, fat old lady that's going to make a mockery of a show that prizes "studs." Maybe once they open their mouths, we'll be dreaming a dream. And maybe Susan Boyle was such a hit because these things are so rare as to be beyond comprehension. Given the luck at this position in my lifetime, I feel we deserve a little miracle.
Dear Michigan Fan,
I write to you right before the kickoff of the 2010-2011, my words might not be the ones you want to hear but have to be said anyways.
Thank you for being faithful to my cause, thank you for being there 110,000 strong at every home game, thank you for traveling for 10 hours to see me play away. Thank you for crying when I lose and for partying all around town when I win. We have many memories together, good and bad, whether it be Bo’s speeches, the comeback against Iowa in 1997, A-Train’s fumble against NorthWestern or Phillip Brabbs’ field goal against Washington. They are all moments that make our relationship stronger and that make us bond the way we have bonded in the past and the way we will keep on bonding in the future. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
Friend, you have been angry at me recently and I don’t really know why? is it because there are less W’s? If so is our relationship one of self-interest? I truly thought you loved me for my inner soul and not for materialistic and cosmetic things, I thought you love me for what i mean to do and not just what I succeed at doing.
Well, don’t blame anything on the coach or the players, the university or yourself, there is nothing wrong, the spirit of this team is still there, I know it. Did you see Threet running against Wisconsin in 2008, did you know that he is actually a pocket passer!! Did you see Tate trying and trying and trying last year, did you see Rich crying? Did you see that Notre Dame game, or the attempt to comeback against MSU or Iowa? Yes we do not always succeed, but it will come back, sooner or later, so don’t give up on me not today or tomorrow. Win or lose we are all Wolverines at heart, feisty and fighting till the end.
Don’t worry about that missed tackle today, and don’t worry about that broken protection, none are intentional and in return I will give you much more glory in the future, just give me a real chance to prove it and cheer for that team as much as you can.
As for the coach, give him a chance, he really needs you and his players need him, so if anything lets all stand united against all those who doubt us and lets prove forever that we are all Maize and Blue and not just Wal-Mart Wolverines! And no matter what happens today next week or in November stand by me.
Go Blue and Hail to the Victors,
The Heart and Soul of the Michigan Football Team
Once more unto the Big House, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our Wolverine dead.
In the offseason there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of the band blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the wolverine;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with MINOR RAGE;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest Wolverine.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of tradition!
Fathers that, like so many Schembechlers,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And removed their pads for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to win. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in Michigan, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your tuition; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Rodriguez, Michigan, and Saint Schembechler!'
(Sorry I didn't keep the iambic pentameter, I'm a math major, not english.)
With UConn knocking on our door and with the with the wolverines preparing for another big debut, I cannot but think that our current record is 0-0 and the sky is the limit. Yes, I do believe that probabilities kick into action at this stage, but that in no way means we should look at the cup as half empty rather than half full.
Michigan has a chance and its a pretty good one this year, these kids have proved that it is possible to make something out of nothing and the 2008 team is the embodiment of that. I live in Jordan, that is a 13 hour flight from Ann Arbor, I thought I wanted to go watch a game to see who this new coach is, and how he will lead our team, and I did, I decided to watch his first Big 10 opener, THE Wisconsin game!!
Michigan was down big in the first half, I was sitting next to my friend’s dad, who bleeds and lives for the Maize and Blue, he looks at me and says “Nasser, should we just leave?”, I could never leave a Michigan game, I have to wait for that final whistle, so my answer was, “sir, we stay, and we see history either way, either Michigan has its worst loss ever or it has it biggest comeback ever, either way we’re watching history in the making!” So we stayed and we watched and we won, and we cried and I will always thank the likes of Threet, Mathews, Brandon Graham, McGuffie, and off course Rich Rod for that memory. The true hope that I had going into that game was to see the wolverines win, but really, you remember what that team was made of, freshmen, transfers and walk-ons. I’m not even sure we had enough scholarship players to field a team. But who cares, those players played their hearts out and won. In 2009, I saw these things in many of the new players, Tate wanted to win so bad, Robinson works so hard to make it, those DBs bleed Maize and Blue and the same applies to everyone else on this team. They signed up for a roller-coaster ride and they are having the time of their lives.
I’m not the ultimate optimist, but I’d love to be, but the real reason I am writing this is to bring up an important point. Rich Rod is bringing out the best in Michigan ( I know what a lot of people will say, Winning is what is best at Michigan!!) But Michigan really is about heart, about pushing the limits and making miracles happen, yes we might lose a game or 2 or 9 in the process, but that should in no way shoot down our pride and the pride of a great great program. And should in no way belittle a coach who really is putting his heart and soul into this job.
He is not intentionally losing and he’s not stupid that he doesn't know the formula for winning, its just that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Think about it, he takes over and a bunch of players leave the team, including a future Heisman candidate at QB, an All-American OL, a bunch of great receivers and an All-Star graduating class. Michigan was going to walk into rebuilding mode regardless of a change of coach, add to that the extra player attrition and are left with something that resembles a 1-AA team, I’m pretty sure that if we would’ve played App State again in 2008, that with the players we had on the team they would have actually had a better poll of talent, and THAT was Rich Rod’s inheritance.
So as to stay focused on what is to come, and more hopeful than many, I go back to that Wisconsin game and believe with every little beat in my heart that Michigan today can still be a miracle team and Rich Rod can bring out the heart in those players. In no way can I boldly predict whether or not Michigan will win today, next week or in November, but I will tell you this, I am pretty sure those players and that coaching staff will die just for a W, and those my friends are the true Michigan men.
Hail to the Victors and GO BLUE
http://nmajali.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d1n6brq (Players celebrating after the final whistle)
For months leading up to, and including my freshman year at Michigan, I was obsessed with Fight Club. The summer before that first year I would watch it 2-3 times a day. It wasn't a demented obsession with a dark movie that kids with LiveJournals tend to have but, instead, an odd fascination with the themes and ideas it explored. Plus it was violent (within reason), the acting was awesome, the soundtrack was great (Pixies!!11!), whatever.
I ended up writing one of my first college papers on the transfer of novelistic themes/ideas into cinematography, music, acting, etc. The class was "The History of the Novel" and when the syllabus came out and I saw we, literally, were going to be reading and discussing estate ledgers that described what books people owned, I knew I had to find an odd topic to survive.
While facing the beginning of the season and facing an opponent like UConn immediately I feel that exact same type of skepticism and hope that, by the end, what looks potentially bad could be spun into something that resembles something mildly familiar. What's more, the themes of that movie with the plight this fanbase faces makes for odd bedfellows.
For the last ten years, the Michigan fan base became compliant. It bought into reserved play and 3 yards and a cloud of dust. We bought into our own legend as much as we bought into the conservative efforts that encourage complacency and consistency over taking chances and striving for an individual, unique method of victory. This was capped in a season where our complacency ultimately stood out in the form of ruminating that life insurance pays triple (or 1AA) if you die on a business flight (or OOC game).
It was time for a change. We met a charming man who dressed funny and spoke of a new way of life. We disposed of all of our worldly pro-styles belongings and dove forward into a new way of life. And got the crap kicked out of us. Again. And Again.
In 2008 something we never expected to happen... happened. And our fearless leader? You had to give it to him: he had a plan. And it started to make sense, in an everyman sort of way. No fear. Instead, he reminded us: Shifting offenses isn't a weekend retreat. It's not a goddamn seminar. Stop trying to control everything and just let go! LET GO!
And let this spread offense take its place in the Michigan halls of lore.
We bought in though. While everyone around us questioned our motives for this and scorned us for the blood on our shirt, we still felt enlightened: that there was something bigger for us down the road. The fan base even began beating upon itself when accused of impropriety, all as a manner to get by towards an eventual outcome. And when the team followed up 2008 with 2009...
I am Jack's complete lack of surprise.
We knew there might be tough times but there had to be something at the end. Familiar faces of our past came and went, all in the sake of the cause. While we may not have been running around with ski masks, change requires sacrifice. You wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs. Its name... was undefeated MAC record. Its name... was MSU dominance (or at least in two year blocks). Its name... was national relevance. Lou Holtz ripped on us on ESPN. Lou HOLTZ! No, I didn't quite catch that, Lou. Still not getting it. Ok, I got it. Shit, I lost it.
People asked us how we could put up with it. HOW CAN YOU NOT FIRE HIM?! And you know what we did? We got in everyone's hostile little face. Yes, these are losing seasons. Yes, I'm comfortable with that. I am enlightened. Tell them, the liberator who destroyed my concepts of Michigan football has realigned my perceptions... The mainstream media, with all of its good intentions, has become the little scratch on the roof of your mouth that would heal if only you could stop tonguing it, but you can't. If we could ignore it, we could go on. But does it reveal something true about ourselves, about this, that we are too blind to ignore? Our local columnist... a predator posing as a house pet.
Over the past two years we, as Michigan fans, have discovered that we are not, in fact, unique snowflakes. In fact, after 8-16, for all intensive purposes we are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the Big Ten.
Do not get confused. If enlightenment comes at the sacrifice of such a burn on the hand - so be it. At worst, we now know we are tangible - that Michigan is not Michigan but... human. We are all part of the same college football compost heap.
And by season end, we will find out if our pursuits to overturn the credit structure and return the Michigan balance to zero were the fruitless efforts. Because, like it or not, we are the space monkeys shot into space and Rich Rodriguez is our Tyler Durden. You ask me? I believe he'll bring us through this. As always. he'll carry us - kicking and screaming - and in the end we'll thank him. For the wins.
But the main post is... when people ask you about your fandom and how you can still cheer for Michigan with all of your heart and soul tomorrow... tell them this: You met me at a very strange time in my life.