at least it's not just us?
I awoke early this morning. I had to sit up in bed and quickly hold my torso to stop the turning going on inside. I felt like throwing up, I felt like punching my guy, I felt like peeing on a stick to explain this sudden morning sickness. No, it's not some sort of Schwarzenegger type scenario in which I am going to comically go through pregnancy. It's the same feeling that I wake up with at least one Saturday every November. It's the flames of passion and hatred that storm through my belly and out my urinal tract (which strangely reminds me of Spring Break). Today is the day gentlemen (and possibly a presumably sexy female), today is the day that "the horror" ends. And when the dust settles from the plane crash in the mountains, it is today when we find out either we are all dead and that this was the worst thing to happen to our college football lives, or whether we all have survived this nightmare. Except for the co-pilot of course, but he's anti-semetic.
It has always been said that the importance of the Michigan-ohio state game is so great, that if one team were to lose all their games, but win "The Game", that the season would be a good one. Today is the closest we have ever come to that statement, so we get to try it out.
This game is the one where I, and many others, pull out all the stops to ensure that nothing interrupts this game. I have already ordered and refrigerated my pizza for today's game so that I can just pull it out at halftime, I will turn my cellphone off, I will unplug the internet, I will lock the door to my bedroom, and I will watch this game on the edge of my seat with every ounce of emotion I have in my sumo-wrestler-like physique poured into my 27" standard definition TV. Why, because this is the way it's been done since I was 13.
This year has a new coach, and new system, new logo on the jersey, a bunch of guys I hadn't heard of before the Utah game, and of course, a never before seen record. Yet somethings remain the same. Michigan travels to Columbus, they will be booed, they will be taunted, they will face the gapped toothed faces of so many cousin fuckers it's unimaginable to the normal human being. And when it is all over, I will either celebrate like hell, or I will hide under the blankets and replay every disastrous moment from the game in my head over and over, until I get hungry and have to get more pizza.
Go Blue! And remember, no matter what: It's Great To Be A Michigan Wolverine!
Okay, once and for all...anyone see tonight's ESPN tag after we lost to DUKE? And I quote, "Duke DRUBS UM to win 2K Classic".
First of all, we lost. Were we DRUBBED? We were down at halftime 39-31. We are a "surprise" by their own naming, and then we were DRUBBED? I've had it. Once and for all, I will NO longer watch ESPN, bookmark their fucking .Com, or support that effing channel. Every single motherfucker over there LOVES to pile on when we Michigan loses. I put up with it during "the horror", because, ultimately NO publicity is bad publicity, and even if we were over-rated going into last season, we shouldn't have lost to App. State. Yeah, I get it. I get it again. Seeing the blocked kick 2,467 times all last season, YEAH I GET IT ASSHOLES. Mark May and Lou Holtz? Chris Spielman and Kirk Herbstreit? One thing after another, these fuckers HATE U of M, and do everything in their power except come right out and SAY it. I'm done. Let Griese, Tirico, or Desmond cover Michigan from now on, but otherwise leave us alone, and let us turn the volume down on the idiots at the Big Ten network.
Fuck you ESPN. You go to hell. You go to hell and YOU DIE.
(in addition, what is "UM"?? U-Maryland? U-Missouri? U-Motherfuckers? We are the U "OF" M. We are MICHIGAN. We are not some bastardized UM initials.
Fuck you ESPN.
E_nd. S_cene. P_huck.(that)N_etwork.
If you make it to the end, you will know why I picked the title (a bit long). Before I go into this tale, I want to level set. Like many of you, I have an unhealthy relationship with this football team. I am the guy that wears a Michigan sweatshirt to the Iowa/Wisconsin game (give me a break, I live in IC), I am the guy that contracts laryngitis at the UM/MSU game this year (code word for drinking too much and screaming too long) and I am the guy that actually has trouble sleeping during the entire week of The Game. I am that guy.
I am not normally one to post up on MGo, but I have this nagging feeling. It is like when you lose something you just had in your hands a few minutes ago. You know that feeling where that thing was just here, where in the hell did it go!?! You scramble and search, only to stomp off in frustration. I am there permanently right now. Constant state of frustration.
I realized what I had lost when reading Terrance Taylor’s comments about becoming a Michigan Man. When you invest as a fan or an alumni, you get to join the same club. You get participate in the mythology and (let’s be honest) arrogance of Big Blue which is rightly deserved. Bo made an institution, not to diminish what others before him did, but he brought that swagger, excellence, strap-on-your-chinstrap, the team-I-don’t-want-to-play persona into “modern” football. With that came wins and rankings and expectations and jealousy and always having the other team “play up” during the Michigan game. That gave us our attitude, that gave us the ability to say “fuck you” to every asshole that would jump in your face after a Michigan stumble. We point to the winged helmets, total wins and bowl streak. Just reading that last statement would make an OSU or MSU fan vomit in their mouth, but it was true. Bo built it, players lived it and bled it and we all carried it forward. Michigan commanded respect.
Even with the most maize and blue tinted glasses, our reputation was a bit bigger than our results. Half-wits like Stewart Mandel loved to post pre-season vs end of season ranking variance over a ten year span which was not always favorable to us. But hey, we were given the respect and the benefit of doubt. Yeah, we went through a mediocre run of 8-4 seasons, we were completely stumped by any quarterback, any year running the option only to give way to being completely helpless against any quarterback, any year running the spread. However, we dropped in a NC, we pulled out a win against ‘Bama in the Orange Bowl, we had the “redemption tour” where we were undefeated coming to OSU and (barring some wildly uncharacteristic fumbles) could have really rolled Florida at a bowl game in Florida. Those things seemed to set it right, at least make it better.
The problem became the issue of unfulfilled promise (look at Woods-just had a monster game and Breaston- more catches than Braylon in the NFL as examples). I also got tired of getting punched in the face by a lesser team and screaming in futility, praying from some original play calling. The breaking point came when we started to get embarrassed. You don’t fuck with what Bo built, you don’t embarrass the family. I was tired of assholes getting their picture taken with our scoreboard in the background in the Big House (e.g. App State, Oregon). We needed a change, I prayed for a change, I fully wanted change. The issue is that I feel I received a false choice. I wanted a change from getting sucker punched and ending up with a bloody nose. I figured change may involve, for instance, into a punch to the gut and then eventually stop getting punched altogether. However, the change given to me this year was more like getting kicked in the balls and then having them set on fire, that’s not change I could believe in (sorry, I couldn’t help myself so close to the election season).
I mean, it didn’t stop there. They burned the mother fucker straight to the ground. From the three ring circus coaching search to a MAC team loss (who has since fired their coach for under achieving as unbelievable as that sounds) to the missed tackles of the Purdue game to setting every bad record that would never want to set at Michigan to completely deflating The Game. It is deftly described as “the goddamned plane just crashed into the mountain”. Going back to the Purdue game, I had to stab myself in the ear with the spoon from the dip bowl to stop the bleeding when the announcer kept talking about how Purdue “runs such a limited playbook, but executes so well”. My God, what a novel idea for this team. Fast forwarding to this week, I am not even nervous about Ohio State. Normally, I’m neurotic leading up The Game and do nothing but scour the internet numerous times a day for any new morsel of new information to fuel my obsession, now I’m blogging! (Sorry Brian)
Didn’t Nehlen sit down with RR and tell him “not to fuck this up”? Couldn’t the offense have adapted the blocking schemes while running more pro sets or a spread passing game? Couldn’t this mess have evolved into his spread n’ shread? I love Desmond, but God damn it, don’t tell me now you were worried about the bowl streak back in the spring. Thanks a lot for the iceberg warning Captain Edward J. Smith, but the fucking Titanic has already sunk! Wasn’t Stevie Brown a 4 star safety? How in the hell does Chambers never see the field? How can a 4 star QB not be able to pass? How could you honestly think Mr. I-like-to-roll-out-and-throw-across-my-body-like-Brett-Farve-with-much-worse-results could be your starting QB when the season started? To steal a line from BHGP, Jesus Fucking Rusty Tromboning Christ, does Tony Gibson have a pulse? Note to RR, this is the big time. You don’t need high school coaches who are “used to doing everything themselves”, you need an expert. We can afford to pay someone to coach the secondary that knows something about cover schemes! Fuck! Head Assplode!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And so it ends. Multiple trips to the fridge to finish this rant, finish another beer and remove this burden. It does not fix anything, it does not repair the season of a cat with a slice of cheese on its head (Fail!), it only shares the pain. Please God find it in your kindness to bless the Wolverine Nation with a victory over the inbred, 3 toed heathens to the south. Go Blue.
3 quarters of PSU and 2 of Illinois, here it goes.
They run multiple sets. They can go from an I-from to 5-wide gun. They seem to like to start from power sets and work into the spread formations. They like to run a formation where they have a TE, a wing, and another TE to the same side. They will run to strengh out of this formations, but will also motion the wing to the weak side, and run towards motion. They only ran play action once out of this formation. They like to run iso, trap, belly and counters out of their standard I-formations. Pretty basic stuff. Out of their spread formations, they like to throw more than they like to run. They like to run the read option in the gun with double tights. I never saw them throw out of this formation. I also saw the speed option a couple times out of the spread formation. Their passing game consists of a lot of little option routes. The wide receivers just run to space between defenders and Pryor hits them on a three step drop. Illinois actually did a better job defending this than PSU. They ran smash routes a couple times against Illinois where there is a guy short in the flat, and a second receiver running a corner route behind the corner and in front of the safety. I expect to see this route several times tomorrow agasint our cover 2 scheme. Against PSU they ran double posts once, and also ran a 2 vertical route against one side of a cover two. They got a big gain out of it. They also like to run short underneath crossing routes. They ran one reverse with Robiskie against Illinois, but other than that they don't try to fool anybody.
Their O-line is good, but they are not by any means a dominate unit. They had a lot of trouble against PSU getting to the second level. Most of the time, LBs were able to get to the ball carrier and bring him down. They were better against Illinois, but stil had some trouble. If we had great linebackers this would be a good matchup. They will open some holes occasionally, but I think we can do a decent job of containing their power running game. #70, their right tackle is a liability in pass protection. Graham needs to have a big game against that guy. PSU was able to drive that guy backwards all day. He was better against Illinois, but still not that impressive.
Their receivers are good but not spectacular. It seems like Robiskie is their go to guy. He has great hands and can get open, but he is not the gamebreaker type. I see problems with these guys running short routes between linebackers. They find space very well and don't drop many balls. This could lead to a lot of third and 6 conversions. The safeties also have to be ready for the smash route.
Their big play guys are Wells and Pryor in the backfield, obviously. Wells will break every arm tackle. We really need to get a shoulder pad on this guy to bring him down. Pryor is most dangerous when he breaks contain. Not only is he a running threat, but is also very good during scramble drill. He will find the open reciever on the run. However, he is only average when he stays in the pocket. If his first read isn't there, he struggles. We really need to get pressure on him, and try not to let him break contain. That probably sounds like a broken record.
This is really just an ok offens in my opinion. I think the D can hold up ok against them if they don't repeatedly get put in bad positions.
They run multiple fronts. They will run both a 3 and 4 man front. Out of their three man front, they usually blitz at least one. If its 3rd and long with a 4 or 5 wide receiver set, they will drop 8 into a 3 deep coverage. They started blitzing more out of both fronts in the second quarter of the Illinois game. Out of the 3 man front, they will bring a guy off the edge and roll the strong safety down into the box while playing a 3 deep coverage behind it. If they bring more than one guy out of the 3 man front, they usually play man behind it. Other blitzes they like out of the 3 man front are a guy coming off both edges, two LBs up the middle, and they also showed a corner blitz a few times. Out of the 4 man front against Illinois, they put Freeman up on the line inside of the DE. They will run cover 2, 3, and man.
Their Dline is solid. Heyward is a very good player, but they don't have a dominant pass rusher like Gholston from last year. They held their own against PSU, but nobody really stood out. Illinois had a lot of success with their outside zone play early in the game. They were able to get these guys sealed, so there may be some hope we can run the ball. I only saw them stunt once or twice, and they did slant some to the strong side.
Their linebackers are also pretty good. I think Freeman is the best of the goup. He looks pretty athletic. Both him and Laurinites are good tackers. As I said before, Illinois had success with their outside zone and were able to get the linebackers to over pursue. When PSU or Illinois got lineman to them, they were able to drive them back for the most part. They did get off some blocks, but I think that if we can get lineman too them, we will be able to sustain blocks downfield. They seem to be pretty good in space against the pass, but I did not see them challenged much over the middle.
The secondary is also very good. I think this is the worst matchup for us. The corners are physical and do a good job of jamming guys off the line. We have not been good this year with getting releases off the line of scrimmage, and we don't beat man coverage consitently enough. I think they will be sitting on our slants and hitches, and it could be tough for the passing game. They generally play a man over every receiver. Against Illinois, they only had a safety over #2 on the weakside, so that could be a situation where we have an advantage on the bubble by alignment. Outside of that, we are going to need great blocking on those plays. Also, if they are blitzing and playin a lot of man, we could get a good mismatch with Odoms on a safety. I think we will see a lot of the formation where we have twins on both sides bunched together. PSU ran this formation a few times, and OSU put their corners and OLBs way out to the twins. That left only 5 in the box with a safety creeping down. We have to be able to run out of that formation against that front. If they have to pull those OLB's back in a little, that could lead to some other things.
Overall, they have a good defense, and an ok offense. We are obviously going to have to play our best game to win. But we have a shot, thats why they play the game.
I offer Shawshank Inspiration at the apex of Hate Week and on the heels of the Inspirational Garden Party last night:
Parole Hearing officer: Michigan Fan, your files say you've served 5 years of a life sentence. Do you feel you've been rehabilitated?
M Fan: Rehabilitated? Well, now let me see. You know, I don't have any idea what that means. I mean I guess I still like Michigan, but it's a different Michigan now out there... on the outside. They got this new coach, started sporting Adidas, their QBs completion % tracks the decline of the Standard and Poor Index and our defense inexplicably has the structural integrity of the U.S./Mexican border...our once proud Hoops team strangely feels like the basketball equivalent of SMU football....
Hearing officer: Well, it means that you're ready to rejoin society...
M Fan: I know what you think it means, Sonny. To me it's just a made up word. A politician's word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did? Hell yeah, I'm sorry. I mean its been a long time since '03. I still remember Tom Brady and Charles Woodson and Rumeal and Rice.
Hearing Officer: Well, are you?
M Fan: There's not a day goes by I don't feel regret. Not because I'm in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime by being a Michigan fan. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can't. That kid's long gone and this old man is all that's left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It's just a word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don't give a damn.
Cut to: a piece of paper listing the W-L records of the last 10 years of Michigan basketball and the box scores from the last 4 UM/Ohio State games. A stainless steel stamp of redemption comes down like a hammer: "PAROLED".
I'd like to think that the last thing that went through Pryor's head, other than Brandon Graham's muddy cleat, was to wonder how the hell Rick Rod ever got the best of him.
I hope the Pacific is as Michigan Blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.
This post didn't finish at all like I had started it. I had meant it to be a cold and calculating analysis of next season, with a prediction for next year based on the evidence available. It ended up anything but. I can't help but think that it may end up in a category of tripe from this season labelled "overly sentimental piffle." And yes, it's a little tongue-in-cheek, but only a little. Many people had realized this already, but I, to my discredit, hadn't. I'm posting it anyway, just in case I happen to be right about anything. It's not like being "wrong again" for like the 8th time about this season is going to damage my ego. Just a fair warning, it's a bit lengthy so if you are planning on reading the whole thing you may want to cancel that 1:30 budget meeting in advance.
A Disappointment to Ha-Oh-Ma-ER
So, by this time the collective shock/grief/horror/weal/woe of this season have been discussed. Just a little bit. It's got many of us asking "What is to be done?" and perhaps more importantly "Who is to blame?" Recently I have been realizing whose fault it is. It's mine.
At the beginning of the season I was more pessimistic than anyone else I knew. My reasoning was simple: we would have approximately zero quarterbacks. By September, however, my friends had convicned me- and more importantly I had convinced myself- that this could not, would not happen. It would not happen to us because We Were Michigan. A few days before the season I wrote that we would lose 4 games this year, with an allowance for a 5 loss season if we lost to Notre Dame. And at that time, I even thought I was being objective. How deluded I was!
Even as the season progressed I continued to delude myself as many did, still found us ways to lose only 5, then only 6, and then for that one brief moment 5-7 looked possible. I, like many others, read each UFR with partucular facination, wondered about the personnel, the playcalling, the effect of the Van Allen belts on football trajectories, the relative humidity. The funny thing about it all was that instead of accepting reality, my disbelief mounted.
How could we be so bad? Certainly there was a tangible reason. It was the quarterbacks, the coach, the weather, a curse. Whatever it was, though, we could certainly change it if we found it. Eventually, as we became increasingly desperate, we scrambled around searching for lost deities that we maybe had offended sometime in our lives. That green porcellan goldfish that I -I mean my roommate- threw onto the cafeteria roof of South Quad couldn't have been a god that we had offended....right? What had happened? It was at that point that I thought of something else I heard in college:
It's Not Those Pants That Make Your Ass Look Big, It's Your Ass That Makes Your Ass Look Big
It was simple. We stunk. There were no two ways around it, and there wasn't anything more to say about it. We had spent all this time trying on different pairs of pants while all the time not focusing on what was wrong. And I think we can be forgiven- for most of us this hasn't happened in our lifetimes. (I don't think the Harbaugh broken-arm season really counts).
And now what do I see? People predicting 9-3 for next year! They are, they are! I actually think they can't help it, like I couldn't help predeicting only 4 losses this year. Take a step back and ask yourself this: take a team, an anonymous team, an unknown team, and let me tell you something about them. This team doesn't have a quarterback that has started more than 8 games in his college career. It has two sophomores, one a walk-on, and a true freshman. Yes, the freshman is talented, and yes, it appears he was Made for the Spread- he's also 18. The offensive line will consist of first and second year starters, except maybe one of the tackles, a third year starter possibly playing out of position. The backs are strong but coming off of an injury-filled year. The receivers are all young and fumble like crazy. And that's the good part. The defense will be losing 4 starters on the defensive line, one of whom is the best player on the team, and a starting corner. Without knowing more would you guess that would be a good team?
Thinking that, my prediction would be at best 6-6. I would be thrilled with 6-6. And I can hear it already:
Pessimist! you say.
Not a true fan!
OK, OK, you say, that's hardly a surprise at this point that we stink- and we're all going to have to sqaure with that some day. But we'll be Back next year, right?
I know all the arguments for a good season. Forcier saves the team, the linemen improve dramatically, the receivers learn all the routes they are having trouble with. We will get Will Campbell, he will anchor the line, Mike Martin will be good, Ven Bergen will emerge as a playmaker, Ezeh will have some kind of religious experience during the offseason and wake up one day and say "Oh, TO the ball!" RR's teams seem to be drastically better the 2nd year.
These things are all, in fact, possible. They are individually possible. But how many of them have to come true for us to be really good next year? Most of them? All of them? I'm just going to take a flyer and say that those things won't all happen. I do think we will improve. We may improve significantly, but just think: 6-6 WOULD be a significant improvement. Then it occured to me that maybe I was right, but for the wrong reasons. In this, the strangest of seasons, the journey is emotional one, not an intellectual one. What does it say that 7-5 is a season we refer to as the Year of Infinite Pain? What is this year? The Infinite Year of Infinite Pain? The Year of 2x Infinite Pain?
So, we'll be Back, right? The simple answer is no, we won't. And that doesn't mean we will never be good again, in fact I'm quite sure that we will. But we will never be "back." That has passed. I thought I had known that already already, but I hadn't. And like I said, it was a trauma for all of us : we woke up one day and our ass was gigantic. And we can't ever -ever - go back to the way we were before. There is only one thing to do.
Give Up, You Must, That Which You Most Fear to Lose
Back to 9-3. It's just optimistic, right? This can happen and that can happen, and the offensive line will get better, Threet will have the best offseason anyone's had since Tom Brady found Giselle, boom goes the dynamite, we're 9-3. And when I say they are wrong, they call me unOptimistic, they call me a Pessimist, they say I'm not a True Fan because I don't Believe. But though I say we will be lucky to see 6-6 next year I am more optimistic than someone that says we're going to be 9-3. It's because I am further along in acceptance of this year, of this team, of this coach. It's because I've embraced the Way of the Jedi. I now accept what is, and I can move on, and I am at peace with 6-6 (or worse). For those of you still suggesting 9-3 for next season, I would humbly suggest that you are still not at peace with this season's trauma. And I don't blame you, it's hit us all hard.
This season has been nothing short of a Michigan Identity Crisis with capital letters. In fact, it is a large crisis, a huge crisis, a twelve story crisis, with express elevators, a marble entrance hall, and a neon marquee out front reading "Tonight Only: A Large Crisis." And it is so hard to let go. I have been ranting about this and that all year. They (whoever that is) don't understand, I would say, what it means to lose this kind of winning streak, this kind of bowl streak, this kind of consecutive years of non-suckage. Last year after that 3rd game of the season I kept rocking back and forth on the floor with a crooked smile, saying "At least we're not Notre Dame, we're not Notre Dame, not Notre Dame..." But whatever way you defended us, or definied this team, or whatever, that's gone now. Whatever Michigan Arrogance we had (and yes I did, and I bet you did too), it sure as hell is gone now. Or at least it should have been....
It was just such Arrogance that led me to proclaim 4 losses this year in the face of all reason. New coach, millions of new linemen, oh shit, and another new lineman, and oh, one more new lineman...no quarterbacks, no safeties except our favorites. There were so many reasons we were going to be bad, and really the only one we weren't was My Arrogance. Blinded as I was by our past superiority, I was simply unable to convince myself what was probably obvious to others. Hey, if Sports Illustrated got it right, it can't have been a secret.
I haven't forgotten that I have claimed that I was more optimisitc than those that were proclaiming we would be 9-3 next year. And I hold to it. The reason is that I have given up this season. I don't mean that I have given up ON the season, rather that I have finally let it go. I have given up being better than State, I have given up my anti-MAC superiority, I have given up being Not Notre Dame. Don't try to get your mind around losing to Toledo. You can't. And I nearly gave myself an aneurism trying- you just have to let it go. I have given up the bowl streak, the winning seasons. And it was hard- it took me 11 games. I could still fall off the wagon any second.
Think about all those seasons, think about the history. Pick your favorite season, and you will realize why it's been so hard. And then after you've thought about it, you have to let it go. I don't mean anything silly like "forget about it forever." But you have to let it be the past, because now it finally is the past.
When Life Can't Promise the Fantastic, It's Wax Nostalgic
Think about your favorite seat, favorite bit of bench to stand on, crammed in with 12 of your closest friends. Think about your favorite game. Think about all of those good players. When I was a kid in the yard I was always Jamie Morris and my younger brother was Jim Harbaugh, we made dad be Ohio State. The youngest brother was Anthony Carter, I remember he had a #1 jersey. The games I was young for are just kind of flashes: There's a flash of Tripp Welbourne (I think) getting his helmet on the ball, it pops loose, Michigan recoevers. Grbac hits Derrick Walker on a touchdown pass, but we miss the two and the game is over. But wait! Vada Murray recovers the onside kick, screen to Boles gets us close enough, Carlson wins it. I remember, and I couldn't tell you why, Yale Van Dyne running unmolested over the middle for the slowest 25 yards ever. I think that was an important play, but I couldn't really tell you. I remember Elvis to Desmond- when my friends and I used to sneak into Michigan Stadium we'd go stand on the spot where he caught the ball. And when we stood on that spot and looked up the seats were full and we could see that play. One time a big loping quarterback named Jay Riemersma caught a pass over the middle from Todd Collins and just kept going and going. A couple of plays later Hamilton makes the kick. I remember one game my cousin wouldn't get out of the way of the TV because she thought it was funny that boys cared about football so much. I promised that if she let me alone I would jump in Lake Huron once the game was over (which I did). And she got out of the way, and I watched Tim Biakabatuka run for eight million yards leaving behind only wounded Buckeyes. Lake Huron in November is brisk, by the way. I remeber how disappointed I was when Braylon fumbled against State- only to come back later and catch so many touchdown passes no one knew what to do.
I went to the Iowa game in 97 by myself because I had split season tickets and got seperated from my friends for some games. It didn't matter. That year especially everyone was friends anyway. And we all watched a crappy first half. But when that team ran onto the field for the second half of that game we knew they were going to win, you could feel it, and I bet anyone who was at that game would tell you the same thing. I may have helped a couple of guys I didn't know finish a flask of rum later that year against the scarlet and gray. I rushed the field with a friend of mine that was 6'7", and he put me on his shoulders and I saw out with a marvelous view over the sea of jubilant, yea even jubilant, people.
While I was a student at Michigan we only lost two home games. Those were the only games I was not at. (Damn you, work! )
It took us a second in the stands to realize that Alabama had missed that extra point.
I wasn't in the U.S. the 2005 and 2006 seasons because I lived in Central Asia. But I didn't miss any games- except Ball State- that tape was destroyed in transit. My parents, bless their hearts, mailed me each and every game. Then they had to mail me a VCR, yes mail me a VCR, because I discovered Central Asian VHS is a different format than North American format. Go figure. Then they malied me a converter to adapt my 220 V socket to the 110 V VCR. At first I felt badly that they had gone through all that trouble to send them to me, but then my dad called (11 hours difference) to talk to me about the Eastern Michigan game - Eastern for pity's sake - 5 weeks after it happened and I knew it meant just as much to them to send them as it did to me to receive them. We talked about every game 4-6 weeks after it happened, with my parents sworn not to reveal the results of games that hadn't "happened" yet for me.
In Russian fashion I washed down the Year of Infinite Pain with a lot of vodka. Then came 2006. In preparation for the 2006 season I watched the 2005 season in its entirety, twice. I also just happened to have a DVD of the 1986 Fiesta Bowl, which I watched 9 times. (I know, I'm a dork, but we only had 2 DVDs, Zoolander and the 1986 Fiesta Bowl. I watched Zoolander 14 times if that helps your opinion of me.) That season was so awesome, and the Kazakh Postal Service couldn't figure out why I got so many boxes. They thought I didn't like their potatoes so I was getting American potatoes from home. Yes, they asked me that. After half a season of getting games, that's what they decided. Better potatoes. Different worlds, eh? After the Ohio State game I went to the post office every day, sometimes twice. The last 4 games of the season were due to arrive. I wouldn't talk to anyone that had heard anything from the U.S. Fortunately in our village of 3000 on the West Siberian Plain that was relatively easy.
Then the box came. (Actually eventually 3 different people sent me a tape). The post office lady had gotten it into her head that whatever box this was, it was an important one, and she called me at the school I taught at. It was nearly thirty degrees below zero. I ran to the post office from school on my lunch. After school, I hitchhiked the 3 miles home to get there faster. My wife answered our door and said, "It's here, isn't it?"
As I mentioned, there were actually four games on a series of tapes. Ball State had been damaged somehow, I forget exactly what happened, but we watched two of them on a Friday, the Northwestern game and the Indiana game. By the Indiana game they already had that timer box counting down to the OSU game, which was very surreal for me because technically that game had already happened. We got through NW and Indiana. After we watched the Indiana game we knew we would have to wait one more day to watch The Game. It needed its own day. Though it would drive us crazy, we would wait until Saturday. In Kazakhstan Saturday is a work day, and I walked around the next day at school like a zombie whose brain and ass were on fire. I don't know what that means, but our village of Kazakhs certainly never knew what was wrong with me that day.
We made pizza (from scratch) in our toaster oven (it was all we had) and got out the beers we had half-frozen outside and popped in the tape. The VCR made a weird gulping noise and nothing happened. I ejected the tape. Some it stayed in the VCR- I nearly wept. But I got my wife to hold the VCR door open, and with the help of a knife and fork I carefully extracted the tape. I set it upside down on the floor, and opened the tape case with a Swiss Army Knife. With more precision than I have ever possessed, I took out all the minute parts and laid them out exactly as I had taken them out. It turned out the tape was simply twisted. I took out the spools, untwisted the tape, put the spools back in the case, wound it past the twist and put the case back together. It worked! After literally weeks of anticipation the GAME was on. We already knew about Bo, my parents had told us about that earlier without revealing the results of the game. It was still emotional, though, and even Brent Musberger couldn't ruin that part of it. And there we sat (I mostly stood, actually) in a duplex in Central Asia with homemade pizza and Kazakh beer and watched the game two+ weeks after it had happened. At halftime we made more pizza (small toaster oven). Eventually Mike Hart brought us back, and then we lost anyway, and by then, even though we lost, I knew I had just watched one of the greatest Michigan games that would ever be played.
Then after 2007, we beat a Florida team we had no business beating, and Lloyd left, and though I wished him well, I never really knew what that meant. Until now.
For you those moments may be different. It doesn't even really matter what moment it is. Those are just the snapshots that I have frozen in my mind, the moments that made me feel this team. Some of them are obscure. But if you can feel that moment, you know what I'm talking about.
May He Who Illuminated This, Illuminate Me
So there I was, just a few days ago, like Indiana Jones (but not as attractive), holding on to the edge by one glove. And there's the Grail, all those old seasons, and I can reach it. I can almost get it back. And this man in a funny hat and glasses, tells me, "Let it go." And I have to let it all go. All of that history. And he pulls me up.
Give up, you must, that which you fear most to lose.
Bless You Boys
For a lot of us, I'm sure saying 6-6 next year sounds defeatist. I mean, the reason I said we'd lose 4 this year is because I thought we'd have a "down" year. And, if I might make a gentle suggestion, I think that people who are saying 9-3 for next year have not quite let go yet. And I understand. I do, I do! And I understand now, that's it's not something we can reason out. Don't think about it too hard, you can't. You can't because All That is gone forever. That's not necessarily bad, it's just new. But for me it wasn't nearly as much of an intellectual journey as an emotional one. And we have to pass that before we can start thinking about this New Team of ours. For some of you this was easier. My excuse is I cared about past teams so much. I suppose why doesn't matter.
The Greek word "catharsis" in not necessarily a feeling of sadness. It actually refers to a cleasning or purification brought about by some deep emotional climax. It is a cleansing that allows for something new. And I would argue, that as fans, we have experienced so much this year that we cannot go on without it.
So, I think 6-6 is actually optimistic. Because I've let go of all my baggage, and all I have right now is 3-9, and that's weird. But after 3-9, 6-6 doesn't seem so bad, does it? If all you have is 3-9 even 5-7 is ok. So my 6-6 is more optimistic than your 9-3 because I'm ok with it. If you're predicting 9-3, are you really ok with 5-7? To move on, you have to be.
And, just think, this is what we wanted. I loved Carr, but he still gave me ulcers, as anyone else that's stood there yelling at the TV "Throw the damn ball downfield, will you?" will know. And we wanted someone new, a risk taker, a chance taker. And we got it.
I don't really think RR can understand our pain this year, although I do give him credit for trying. And you know what? It doesn't matter, because all of that is gone. And even just the littlest part of me was mad at him for that- and I was wrong. He's not going to really understand, and he's not supposed to. We hired from outside not so we could change him, but so that he could change us. The challenge isn't for him to understand us, the challenge is for us to let go.
No doubt someone, in fact very likely many people, think this all pedantic pointless whiny drivel. I'm quite sure some will laugh, and many will poke fun. But someone out there will have experienced this before me, and perhaps ironically, some of them are Notre Dame fans. But I don't care what you say. I choose to give up that which I feared most to lose.
So, welcome, Rich Rodriguez. I said it before, but I didn't mean it. I didn't even know that I didn't mean it. Welcome, Rich Rodriguez, to the University of Michigan, and I wish you luck with Your Team.