things go poorly
Interesting article in the Columbus Dispatch on Rich Rodriguez and the trials of taking over a storied program like Michigan - and struggling mightily your first year.
A couple of things stood out to me. One was the discipline he is trying to install:
It wasn't just the playbook that changed.
"From practices to meetings to dress codes to lifting schedules to where we eat, what we can do, where we can go, curfew -- there are a lot of things that are different," senior defensive tackle Terrance Taylor said. "You expect that, but being here, you want to hold on to something you know about."
Michigan used to have season-long captains. This year, they were chosen on a weekly basis.
Before, Michigan players didn't have a curfew. Taylor said Sunday night's curfew required players to be home by 10 p.m., in bed by 11.
Rodriguez has banned players from using cell phones in the team's building "because when we're in the building he wants us talking to each other," Taylor said.
Given the trouble college football players seem prone to get into when out late, the curfew seems like a good idea. And the cell phone rule connects with a larger theme Rich Rod is trying to build:
As for changing the team's culture, Rodriguez said he wasn't sure how that should be defined. He said that if that meant instilling the desire to do the best they can on and off the field and put team before individual, that's what he wants.
"Is that the culture where I'm at right now?" he said. "I don't know. But that's the culture that I want. If that's the culture that our fans want, then we're on the same page."
I think that is a simple but worthy philosophy: the desire to be the best on and off the field and to value your team more than yourself. I am confident Rodriguez can recruit talent. But if he can mold a true team that has that camaraderie and commitment then Michigan can be a national contender again.
The article ends with an anecdote that shows how Rodriguez is illustrating that commitment himself:
It could very well be that all Rodriguez needs is time. That's something he didn't have after his hiring. Though he had the senior class over to his house more than once, some of them felt they got short shrift.
Harrison, the safety, was among them. Then last weekend on Senior Day, his parents were late getting to Michigan Stadium from Dayton because of traffic from an accident. So instead of having Harrison take the field unescorted, Rodriguez accompanied him.
"He didn't really need to do that," Harrison said. "I see him in a whole different way. I used to look at him as just my head coach. Now I look at him as if it's a different type of bond."
I don't know about other Michigan fans, but I felt better about our coach after reading this article. There has been a lot of debate about the so called "family values" at Michigan under Rodriguez, but the values noted above are the right ones in my opinion.
Five days before an undefeated Michigan team played undefeated Ohio State two years ago, a reporter asked Bo if he ever did anything special to prepare for OSU. Just a few days before his death, Bo shouted his answer, "EVERY DAY!"
Two years later, Michigan has just lost its 8th game for the first time in 129 years of playing football, it's Ohio State week again, and the media assembled in the Junge Family Champions Center are begging Coach Rodriguez to give them a headline like "Rodriguez embraces rivalry". What do they get instead? The Button Story. That's right, he's got a button right there on his desk. It says "Beat OSU" so he can never forget. Because he has a button. On his desk. Next to the phone. A button. Awesome?
Why not make up a story that he was down in Toledo for a meeting with his lawyer when he ran out of gas and him and Barwis had to push his car all the way to the Michigan state line to avoid buying gas in Ohio? Or just admit what everyone else on campus besides him seems to know, that this is, was and will always be the biggest game on our schedule?
This is an actual quote from Monday's presser:
"You ever see the movie [The] Lion King?" Rodriguez began. "That monkey hits the lion over the head, and the monkey says what did you do that for? Doesn't matter, it's in the past."
What? The monkey asks himself why he hit the lion? Why is it so hard to keep the monkey and the lion straight after 10 months of practicing this same line in front of the same reporters? Can you imagine that moment when he was there with Rita and the kids watching a cartoon and he learned something so important and meaningful about football and life? I can't wait until Coach Rodriguez wins 10 national championships in a row starting in 2010 and Coach Carr has to go out and try to rent that movie on Betamax.
Coach Carr wasn't nearly as accessible or open as Coach Rodriguez has been with the media but he did have a system that worked: scowl for no reason, tremendous Bo story, tremendous Kipling quote, scowl again, Bo, Yost, Churchill, scowl, Bo, Brown Jug, Bo, scowl, Woody, Bo, scowl, repeat. I know most people are disappointed with our record, bracing themselves for another loss to OSU or worried about transfers but sometimes I just miss Lloyd, the man.
Rumors are flying about the potential transfers of three more players at the end of this 2008 season. This comes on the heels of two of the most notorious transfers in recent memory, Ryan Mallett and Justin Boren.
Sam McGuffie, RB. McGuffie sent his letter of intent late on signing day 2008. He was a strong Michigan commit during his senior year, but that faded as time passed. He was apparently enamored with the Cal Bears on signing day and unsure of whether to go ahead with his Michigan commitment or sign with Cal. He stuck with the Wolverines. Even before signing day, Michigan fans touted him as the Wolverines' next great running back. Many guessed that he would be the starting running back at the beginning of his freshman season, leaping in front of returning players like Carlos Brown, Brandon Minor, and Kevin Grady. Indeed, he started the year as the #1 running back, taking advantage of untimely injuries to Minor and Brown. In the second game of the year, he gained 178 yards against Notre Dame in the rain and garnered even more support from fans. However, due to a lack of power, the improving health of Minor, and a concussion against MSU, the majority of the touches were given to Minor, who seized the opportunity. I expected Minor to start from the beginning and was disappointed when he lost what I thought should have been his job. Minor's fumbles were a drawback, but he also had big-play potential. As the season has progressed, though, it is interesting to see the blind fervor with which Michigan fans have rooted for McGuffie. In my mind, he will undoubtedly be a good college running back...someday. But entering the Ohio State game, he sits fourth in yards per carry with 4.1; he is behind Michael Shaw (5.8 ypc), Minor (5.2), and Brown (4.6). Perhaps that is due to the poor offensive line play early in the season, but it is an interesting stat nonetheless. I have an uneasy feeling that a significant portion of McGuffie's following is due to his race. His high school stats and highlight videos are truly remarkable, but other gifted running backs in recent memory (Darrell Scott and Noel Devine come to mind) haven't received the same level of national acclaim coming out of high school. I also find it interesting that Michigan message boards have reflected panic in the fan base even though McGuffie might not even be the best back in his class (I'm talking about you, Michael Shaw). McGuffie had late doubts about coming to Michigan but stayed; Shaw had been committed to Penn State but realized Michigan was the better place. Would we be hearing the same uproar if Shaw were transferring instead of McGuffie? According to a reliable source on this board, McGuffie had asked to switch positions to slot receiver, which I found interesting because I had suggested that he move to slot receiver in my post-Toledo diary. Maybe he's homesick, maybe he's upset about his playing time, maybe he doesn't think he can cut it as a Big Ten running back. Regardless, I doubt Michigan's team will suffer greatly due to his loss. There is plenty of talent left, either currently on the team (Minor, Brown, Shaw) or in the class of 2009 (Teric Jones, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Jeremy Gallon, Vincent Smith).
Zion Babb, WR. Depth is somewhat of a concern at wide receiver, but Babb's 3-star pedigree didn't exactly excite the fanbase. Babb is a player with good speed and athleticism; there have also been rumors that he doesn't work very hard and dogs it at practice. If those rumors are true, it's no wonder Babb found himself behind players like James Rogers and perennial benchwarmer Laterryal Savoy. With young, emerging players like Junior Hemingway, Darryl Stonum, Martavious Odoms, and Toney Clemons, it's not a surprise that Babb wants to take his talents elsewhere. His athleticism might serve him well with different coaches and with more opportunities to make plays in game situations. I would not be surprised to see him have a successful career elsewhere.
Artis Chambers, S. Chambers entered Michigan in the class of 2007 and earned immediate playing time on special teams. Unfortunately, a record keeping error was made that negated his eligibility for the remainder of his freshman year. The Rodriguez regime seemed less excited about Chambers's abilities and relegated him to the bench for most of the 2008 season. Chambers was ineffective early in the season as a strong safety/weakside linebacker hybrid and hadn't played much since that experiment failed. This is a blow to the safety depth chart for Michigan, which loses two safeties this year (Brandon Harrison and Charles Stewart). As it currently stands, the 2009 Michigan team will have junior Steve Brown, redshirt sophomore Michael Williams, redshirt freshman Brandon Smith, redshirt freshman JT Floyd (who may be a corner instead), and an influx of true freshman safeties (Isaiah Bell, Mike Jones, Justin Turner, perhaps Vlad Emilien, some of whom may be destined for corner or linebacker). Even though Chambers probably would have been buried on the depth chart by Mouton at WILL, Brown at SS, and Williams at FS, he could have provided depth in case of injury or underperformance. I doubt Chambers will be a star anywhere, although I wish him luck. He stuck through the transition and has obviously decided he doesn't fit with these coaches. That's much more than I can say for...
Justin Boren, G. The son of former Michigan linebacker Mike Boren, Justin came in and played sparingly as a true freshman in 2006. He started at left guard and blocked a Minnesota defender out of the back of the end zone in 2007, one of the coolest plays I've seen. Rumors flew about why he decided to transfer to Ohio State in the spring of 2008. His reasoning was that the Rodriguez staff represented a loss of family values. Some said that the coaches cussed too much. Others suggested that he didn't like the Barwis workouts. The most feasible rumor I heard - although I have no assurance of its voracity - was that Lloyd Carr had promised to offer a scholarship to Justin's younger brother Zach, a fullback/linebacker/defensive end type, who would be graduating high school in 2009. Rodriguez and his staff deemed the younger Boren unworthy of a scholarship offer, which upset the Borens. This could explain the "lack of family values" that Boren mentioned to the press. Justin Boren subsequently became a Buckeye and Zach is an OSU commit as well. In Justin's stead, Michigan plays a guy who was a defensive tackle at the beginning of the season.
Ryan Mallett, QB. Mallett came to U of M from Texarkana High School as the quarterback savior, a 6'7" gunslinger with a supersonic rocket attached to his right shoulder. He played fairly well as a true freshman in 2007 when senior Chad Henne got hurt; everyone in Wolverineland expected Mallett to be the next great QB. It was a match made in Heaven. Except Lloyd Carr decided to retire, Michigan hired a read option coach, and Mallett didn't think NFL scouts were big fans of the read option. He headed off to Arkansas as soon as Rodriguez was hired. Meanwhile, Michigan's passing game has been anemic with redshirt freshman Steve Threet and walk-on sophomore Nick Sheridan. Mallett would have had a couple reliable targets in Greg Mathews and Martavious Odoms, plus a couple big-play guys in Stonum and Hemingway. But the two best receiver options for 2008 - Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington - headed off to the NFL. I'm guessing Michigan's passing game would be more efficient and more dangerous with Mallett at the helm, but considering he only completed 49% of his passes as a freshman and he is probably less mobile than either Threet or Sheridan, I doubt his presence would have made much of an impact on Michigan's current 3-8 record in 2008. Still, if my plans for the future entailed playing in the NFL, I would probably also shy away from a guy whose biggest quarterback success story was Shaun King; then again, Arkansas's best QB in recent memory is a cokehead wide receiver for the Jaguars, so maybe Mallett figured, "If I'm going to be a failure, I might as well fail close to home."
So like everyone else I have been really dissapointed by the results on the field this season and hearing the news about McGuffie only makes it worse! But I am more dissappointed at how quickly everyone is to blame RR in both of these matters. I am sure McGuffie isn't going to be the last to leave either and I'm RR will get even more heat because of it; deservedly so...maybe, maybe not. So I decided to some some research on past attrition and I think it plays a big part in our on field performance. Before you are quick to judge RR take a look at the stats below and realize that maybe we should be pointing the finger at the past staff before we jump all over RR.
I took a look at our recruiting classes starting from 2005 until now. I used 2005 as a starting point as that years freshmen class would now be seniors. I left out Manningham as he left early for the NFL and shouldn't be counted as it was not the coaches fault. *** it should be noted that all of our classes from 2005 on were Top 10 classes and for the most part were tops in the Big 10.
-2005 23 commitments of which only 11 are left! Do the math and the equates to only 47% of the class being left...hardly RR's fault!
-2006 We had 19 commitments of which 14 are still left.
-2007 Michigan brought in 20 guys of which 19 are still on the team.
-2008 U of M had 24 commitments with 22 of those still play (this does not include McGuffie and Chambers as hopefully the jury is still out on them)
-All total that equates to 66 out of a total of 86 commitments throughout that time period or 76%.
-So basically 1 out of every 4 guys brought on campus from 2005 on are no longer playing.
That is terrible and I believe a huge reason why we are having such a bad year. You can't really argue that this is RR's fault. Brian has documented several times that RR wasn't left with a very good team and it is really no wonder why we suck. He is doing his best with an average team at best with almost no seniors left from its original class.
The numbers above clearly show that attrition was a problem with Lloyd as well and is big reason why we are where we are. Give him time to bring in his guys and see how many of them stick around before you jump on his ass blaming him for guys leaving when he didn't recruit them in the 1st place. Again, Brian has documented his success at other stops but also documented that is take a little while. Let's give him that...
These has been the longest of seasons for us diehard Michigan fans. The news today of additional players opting to leave the program comes at strange time in that we're in the last week of the season and usually players don't make the decision to leave mid-year or this late in the year. Some people choose to see this as a further indictment of the current staff, but I think it's just a continuation of the process required to build a program.
Many say that the program was decent shape after last season and the outcome of this season is more attributable to the new staff and their perceived shortcomings, but I think it goes much deeper than that. What is changing about the program more than the offesive and defensive philosophies is the mental make up of the players in the program itself. If one had the pleasure to know both Bo and Lloyd, they would know that Bo and Lloyd were as different as two people can be. Bo was as tenacious and demanding as any football coach I have ever known, but after he left coaching, he was potrayed as this lovable grandfather figure who had a snappy wit and penchant for telling great stories. The man was as intense as any person ever was on the football field and he recruited his type of players. Lloyd was fiery and he was competitive, but he was more reserved and introspective than most men you'd think coached college football. His demeanor was that of a banker more than a football coach at times. There is no right or wrong to their personalities or their style of coaching, but there was a distinct difference. When Bo recruited a kid to play for Michigan, he cared less about 40 times and squat numbers than he did about the fire in the person and the mentality of the player. The culmination of the recruiting process with Bo was the one on one with him in his office where he fired off questions that would make the toughest HR person in the world squirm in their seats. He basically threw Chris Spielman out of his office in disgust after Spielman showed up with torn jeans and snuff in his lip and acting like it was Bo who should be in awe of him. Lloyd was effective in recruiting, but his approach was much different in that he sold Michigan to recruits and their parents whereas Bo sold greatness and there is a difference. People who relentlessly strive for greatness have a certain mental make-up and that is what Bo sought. In today's game with the limited number of scholarships, Lloyd had a tougher road to travel and may not have had the luxury of evaluating the mental aspect of all of his recruits that way Bo did.
With that said, I think the process that Rich Rod has embarked on is one to restore the mental toughness of the players who play for Michigan. There is a process of building a program at all levels of football and the process is virtually the same. Rich Rod has to find the type of players that fit his philosophy, which has less to do with the workings of a spread offense than it does with their mental make-up. Rich Rod from what I can tell is an intense coach and he wants a certain type of athlete in his program. If you've seen the images of the facilities lately, you'll notice every wall has a sign hanging. Every sign is a challenge to the players to be great. "Those Who Stay..." is about striving for greatness and I think these new signs are also a call for people to strive for greatness. Look at Owen Schmitt for example, here is a guy who looks more like the guy driving the Budweiser truck than a football player. A guy who played Divsion III football beause he did not have the athletic pedigree to warrant offers from bigger schools, but the one thing not recorded on any film or any scouting report is the person's willingness to defy the measurables due to their desire to be great. Owen Schmitt was not afraid to strive for greatness and he found a coach who wasn't afraid to let him try. Yes, we've had some great players like Mike Hart that did the same, but Mike Hart was more the exception than the rule, IMO.
Sam McGuffie is an excellent athlete and with more experience, he'll be a good RB, but if he doesn't want to be at Michigan for whatever the reason, then it's better that he leaves the program. I don't like anyone leaving Michigan, but I certainly understand all of the factors that can affect a young man. I wish him well. Rich Rod has to find men that want to be here and want to be great. He has yet to have that opportunity here at Michigan except for the last few weeks of last year's recruiting class. I think RR will need at least 3 years to get this program built the way he wants it to be built with the type of players that he wants. Let's give him that time and keep our expectations realistic going forward.
I am not happy about the season, but it is easier for me to understand because I have played and coached football for almost 20 years and I understand to some small degree what RR faces. He needs to stay the course and keep building his program despite all the criticism and second-guessing that we as fans tend to offer. I am not giving him a free pass, which is currently the most popular accusation on the message boards, but rather I am tempering my expectations of him due to the state of the program. Once he gets two of his recruiting classes into the program(last's years was the continuation of LCs class) then my expectations will be raised back to the level of greatness. I think mental toughness will again be a focal point of the program. I think Rich Rod will recruit his players and you'll see the attrition curbed greatly as his players will have the same mental make-up as their head coach. There aren't guru ratings that measures those sort of things in recruits, so you'll have to trust that RR knows what he's looking for; how else does a school with the occassional 4 star player beat a team always in the top 5 of recruting in a BCS game?
I will not discredit the nay-sayers as they have the right to be upset and disgruntled about the season. They have the right to voice their opinions about the coaches, players, and sky falling, but don't count me amongst them insomuch as I see the process unfolding before me. At this point, people are saying we should be seeing the improvement on the field, so these coaches must be terrible, but I don't think that is where we are in the process. We are still in the infantile stages of the process. We have yet to get to the point where we can get RR's players on the field to compete. By this time next year, the nay-sayers will have pitchfork in hand as I think we're still in the .500 range give or take a lucky break or two. The process takes time and there are no shortcuts to do it right. For every player that leaves, there is another opportunity to fill that scholarship with a player with the attributes RR wants and that's not a bad thing; even if that person cannot leap over tall safeties in a single bound.
Have faith my friends and understand that greatness is not something one achieves in 10 months no matter how much we wish it to happen.
I've been a fan of Michigan football since I was 10. I started watching during the 1996-1997 season. I remember sitting in the car, listening to Michigan beat OSU 13-9 on the radio because my parents were helping a friend move, and they wouldn't leave me at home alone. I watched the next season, as Michigan slowly, but surely gained steam and worked their way to the top of the college football world. I remember Michigan going into Happy Valley and laying a beating on Curtis Enis (which I laughed a lot about) and the Lions. I was in India, visiting relatives for the OSU game, but got a letter in the mail from a friend back home with the good news. I made it back in time to watch the Rose Bowl with a bunch of college students, and had the time of my life. I was in.
When we came out in 1998, I was pumped. We had almost everyone back, and there was this kid called Brady playing QB. And then Notre Dame happened. Ok, we can beat Syracuse. And the Donovan McNabb happened. I still remember him running circles around the Wolverine defense, once scrambling for a touchdown with only one shoe. But we regrouped, and eventually, as our defense woke up, we made it to a decent bowl game and won. I listened to most of those games on the radio. My parents didn't buy cable (as I'd spend too much time parked in front of the TV if they did), and there was no high speed internets back then.
1999 was special, as it was the first year that I had season tickets. That Notre Dame game to start the season is still one of my favorite to this day. I went with my dad, who probably stood through 30-40 football games with me, with minimal understanding, but coming along just to spend time with his son. I watched the Michigan state game and kept wondering, "Why hell isn't Brady in the game? Take Henson out!” I loved Tom. My season tickets were actually my dad's, and a friend of his wanted to buy a pair for one game. I decided to give up the Illinois game. And what a disaster that turned out to be, with Kurt Kittner, Rocky Harvey, and Brandon Lloyd tearing us apart after Lloyd took the starters out too soon. The OSU game was especially sweet, as we got to keep the Bucks out of a bowl. The 'Bama game was just as fun, watching David Terrell rally the troops back against Shaun Alexander. The missed PAT was anticlimactic, but awesome. And then Brady was gone.
2000 was a sad look at what could've been. Henson was too injured to start the season. Enter Jon Navarre. He looked great against two inferior opponents to start the year (why don't we play Rice anymore?). And then came the Pac-10 games out west. I hated playing out there - we always lost. UCLA was no different. Henson had to bail us out against Illinois, gimpy ankle and all. A last second loss on a FG by Travis Dortsch against Purdue was a heartbreaker, but the worst was yet to come. The insanity of the Northwestern game, and Damien Anderson, and that last fumble by A-train. Still, it was great to see the players walking out of Ohio stadium, gesturing that they were getting championship rings, and the Bucks weren't. In spite of having one of the best offensive lines ever in Michigan history, we only managed 9-3. We were 10 points away from an undefeated season. It was sad. And then Henson left. I felt betrayed. I still haven't forgiven him.
2001 was more of the same. An early loss to a Pac-10 team out west. A string of good games against mediocre Big 10 competition, and then a heartbreaker. This time it was Spartan Bob and the clock. After that game, I went up to my room, punched the door, and cried. I had been robbed. We had been robbed. I felt cheated. And then OSU happened. On a cold, dank, drizzly day, I watched UM lose in person for the first time. I hated Jim Tressel.
2002 was exciting. The Washington game, with Brabbs making the last second prayer was a memory I will never forget. So was the OT win against Penn State. But Iowa game was a debacle. I remember it especially, because I had passes to the press box for the game, and shook hands with Mary Sue. And as the score got worse, I saw the Iowa fans unfurl a banner saying: "Squeeze Mary Sue Blue.” I still hated Jim Tressel.
2003 started off great! The Notre Dame game was one of the most efficient performances I'd ever seen out of a Michigan team. But then there was another loss to a Pac-10 team out west. The buffalo stampede was also fun. The win against OSU was great. I was there, watching, taking it all in. I watched the students storm the field, and smiled. And then we ran into an angry USC team. And just like that, it was over.
2004 was weird. I showed up at Michigan stadium, excited to see what Matt Gutierrez could do. He'd never lost a game in high school. And the Chad's announced as the started. What the hell was going on? As I watched those first few games, I couldn't help but wonder, who's going to step up and run the ball for us? I was hoping it would be Mike Hart. I'd read about him on rivals, about how he was the all-time leading rusher in NY. I couldn't understand how he wasn't more than a 3-star recruit. Plus, he had a really cool name. We made it past the Notre Dame game, had the epic Braylon Edwards show against Sparty, and but couldn't close the deal against OSU. I really, really hated Tressel. The Texas game was amazing, but I wanted Braylon to go out with a win.
2005 was the year of pain. I made it to first two games, and managed to see Michigan lose in my last game before going to college. That Notre Dame game was tough. I didn't attend the University of Michigan, one because I lived right next door, and I needed a change of scenery, and two, because I'd been admitted to one of my dream schools (academically), and I just couldn't turn it down. So I moved out to Pasadena, and made friends with a Texas fan, an OSU fan, an FSU fan, and a USC fan. And they had too much laughing at me my frosh year. I finally had facebook (this was before they opened it up to everyone) and I made the Michigan Football Fanatics group at Caltech. I was the only member. When groups were allowed to go global, I did. I drew people in by keep the group clean, updated, and informative. It was one of the first major groups to link to Mgoblog and other Michigan blogs. That group is now one of the biggest UM FB groups on facebook. We have over 9,300 members now. The Minnesota game was a heartbreaker. I ran around my dorm yelling for half-an-hour after the Penn State game (which I'd update online as ABC was showing USC on the west coast). I never heard the end of it after the OSU game. And I still really hated Tressel. I came home for winter break, and watched the Alamo Bowl with my high school friends. I also really hate the Sun Belt, especially their referees.
2006 started off great as well! I got to go to a few games. A bunch of us got together for the Notre Dame game, and we decided to play football first. I, of course, was the A-train of the game - the guy who was too big to be brought down by the small quick guys, but too fast to be brought down by the big slow guys. I was running over and around people on offense, and plowing through linemen and sacking QBs on defense. Then my finger got caught in a guy's jersey, and it broke. My friends drove to St. Joe's, dropped me off, and went home to watch the game. My dad came by, the docs did an x-ray, and told me I had a spiral fracture on the second bone of my right index finger. I needed a cast. So a quick cast later, I left the hospital, and turned on the radio only to hear that the rout was on. I watched the rest of the game with my friends. The rest of the season flew by. I even started my own blog! It eventually failed because whenever we lost, I just couldn't find the inspiration to write. It sapped the life out of me. The Ball State game got a bit hairy, but we managed. Then Bo died. I sat at my computer that morning, dazed and lost. I didn't cry, I wasn't sad. I was just shocked. Bo had always been there, and now he was gone. And then came the game of the century. And we all know what happened there. I really despised Tressel. I hoped and prayed for teams to lose. I went nuts when UCLA won. And then Gary Danielson and his CBS bullshit. I really hate that guy too. But the plus side was that Michigan was coming to the Rose Bowl! I got my parents to change my ticket so that I could get back on the 31st. A few of my friends road tripped down and stayed with me. The Rose Parade was two blocks from my apartment. We walked to the Rose Bowl, watched the pain, and then left.
And then came the horror. I was in Ann Arbor for a few weeks, and the only game that I could make it to was the opener. I bought a ticket and went with friends, expecting a blowout, some tasty pizza from Howie's on the way back, and a general good time. I was left with nothing but shock and disbelief. The Oregon game the following week did nothing to help. Winning the cripple fight against ND was nice. I watched most of the games with my RA, who'd grown up in Detroit. The Illinois game was great with the WR pass from AA to MM. The MSU game was great, and I loved the little brother comments, especially after D'Antonio's douchebaggery. I hate him too. The OSU game was tough to swallow. We were so close, except for Chad's arm. And then Lloyd did what we were all expecting, and he retired. It was bittersweet, as I was excited for the future, but Lloyd was the only coach I ever really knew. It was fun to watch his grumpy face and angry demeanor with the media, and even better to see him smile once in a while. Getting into the Citrus Bowl was lucky, but we showed that we earned it. And I wondered, "where the hell was that all season?” And then, Mike, Chad, Jake, Mario, and Adrian were all gone.
Which brings us to this year. And there isn't much to say. It's been tough. But I must admit, I haven't been anywhere as emotionally invested in this team as years past. Love is something you feel, and with this team, and these players, I feel, well, very little. It's all just very numb and very quiet. Even my friends who normally heckle me to death whenever Michigan loses, just don't bother any more. I guess I'm just looking for something to hold on to, something to love. There's no single facet of this team that's made me emotionally invested, like there had been. And so I realize, that it’s really the players who make this team what it is. Yes, Michigan will always be Michigan. The block M, the Victors, the Winged Helmet, the Big House, they'll all be around forever, but they're set, inanimate commodities. You can be in awe and respect them, but you can't love them. You can't find an emotional attachment to them. For that you need a human face - players and coaches. In 1997, I had Chris Howard, Jerame Tuman, Tai Streets, Sam Sword, Glen Steele, and of course Chuck Woodson. In the Brady/Henson/Navarre years, I had of course ol' Tom, A-Train, Marquise Walker, Marlin Jackson, Chris Perry, Tony "Fat Elvis" Pape, BJ Askew, Bennie Joppru, Kevin Dudley, and Braylon. Then came 2004, and Chad, Jake, Mike, Mario, Adrian, along with the older guys like Lamarr Woodley and Dave Harris. These were my favorite players, the one's I'd love to get an autograph from. The players whose jersey's I'd happily buy. And then you have the coaches - Bo, Lloyd, RonE. Bo and Lloyd were Michigan men through and through. Their love was boundless and unconditional. Just watching RonE on TV scared me, his intensity was something I had never seen the likes of.
So when I look at this year's team, searching for my hero, I come up empty. RichRod hasn't been around long enough to be an epic figure like Lloyd or Bo. Barwis has lots of good stories told about him, but something's missing. Threet and Sheridan just don't fit. Mathews and Odoms are too young. Minor and Brown never captured my heart. DW and BG on defense have come close, but have yet to pick this team up on their backs and carry them, like Lamarr and Charles once did. I thought Sam McGuffie was going to fill the void left my Mike, but now he's leaving. I'm glad I didn't get too close so that I'd get hurt. But really, there's no one on this team who can step forward and act as the face of the program. This team has no identity, and that's why myself, and so many others, are having so much trouble loving it like we did in the past.
But I look to the future, and I see light. I have hope. I love this offense. It’s fun, quick, effective, and dynamic. It just needs the right players. It needs the right faces. I'm sure they'll be faces we'll all come to love and identify with. But we need time. Until then, there's a few ways to cope, to hold on. Some people will suggest coming out in full force regardless of what happens. Those are the younger folks. They're the ones who haven't been fans for so long. This is not an indictment against them by any means, but they just haven't developed the attachments the rest of us have. It's a bit tougher for us older folk, the more mature and seasoned fans, to move on. We might hunker down and withdraw a bit. It's because we're just trying to weather this storm, and at our age, we've fought too many battles to be able to ride out gung-ho all the time. Because it really hurt to put yourself out there 100% emotionally, just to have your heart ripped out. It takes a toll on you. So a simple request to the young, bold fan - be patient with us veterans. Because one day, you'll be in our shoes.