"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
I was able to talk with Michael Rosenberg, the Detroit Free Press columnist and author of War As They Knew It, at an event here in Columbus back in September. And after our chat Michael was gracious enough to agree to answer some questions via email. I figured Ohio State Michigan week would be a good time to take him up on that offer. I posted Ten Questions to him regarding his book (see above) over at Collected Miscellany, but wanted to focus more on football in this set of ten.
So here they are:
1. How did the rivalry between Bo and Woody change Michigan football?
Michigan is the all-time wins leader, all-time win percentage leader and plays in the greatest rivalry in college football. So naturally, Michigan fans like to think the program has been one of the best in college football since its inception. That is largely true, but in the 1960s, Michigan State surpassed Michigan on the field and in fan interest. If Bo had not succeeded and MSU had hired a fabulous coach to replace Duffy Daugherty, who knows what would have happened?
Bo put Michigan football back at the forefront of college football, where it has remained ever since. He also gave the rivalry incredible life - even if you didn't care about Michigan or Ohio State, you knew Bo and Woody. It created a momentum for Michigan football and the UM-OSU rivalry that has never really abated.
2. Is it fair to say that Michigan has underachieved in the years following the 1997 National Championship?
No, I don't think that's fair. Michigan never had a losing season, won an Orange Bowl, played in three Rose Bowls and won several other January bowl games in that period. Were other programs better? You might be able to find five or six. You won't find 10. So I don't think "underachieved" is a fair term.
3. What do you think is behind the apparent weakness of the Big Ten when compared with SEC or Big XII? Is this just a cyclical thing with recruiting, etc. or has the Big Ten lost its edge in fundamental ways?
I think it is cyclical. Contrary to popular opinion, the SEC is not far ahead of every other league every year. The Big Ten held its own in bowl games against the SEC. That's just a fact. People concentrate on the national-title games and ignore all other evidence.
Having said that, I do believe the Big Ten is down this season. Almost every program is in transition in some way. Let's see where the league is in three years.
4. Was hiring Rich Rodriguez a mistake in your opinion?
I don't know yet. I think it's a strange fit and Rich should have won more games with the talent he had this year. I think he has given himself a thin margin for error with some of his actions. But I also think he is a bright coach who has a great track record, and of course he deserves time to turn this around.
5. What was his biggest mistake and what has been his best decision so far?
His biggest mistake was not settling that lawsuit against West Virginia. He got very little out of fighting it, except some embarrassing depositions involving him and his agent and bad publicity (some deserved, some not). It just wasn't worth it. He dug his heels in, and Bill Martin encouraged him to do so, instead of finding a way to end the ugly mess. I don't see how anybody can look back and say it was worth it for him.
As for his best decision, that's hard to say right now. Rich is sticking by his gut, though: recruiting who he wants, implementing his system, doing everything exactly as he wants to do it. I would say (and I think he'd agree, actually) that his best decision probably won't be clear until two or three years down the road. Maybe it's the decision to recruit somebody or a hire he has made that will pay off later.
6. How long do you think it will take for him to build a competitive program?
It was a competitive program when he showed up. It should have been more competitive this year, though obviously there are talent issues. I think it's reasonable to expect a winning season next year and contention for a Big Ten title in year three or four. I don't see how this team contends for the league championship next year with a freshman quarterback and so many losses on defense.
7. Has the Ohio State dominance of late reduced the luster of the Ohio State rivalry?
The rivalry has always seen stretches like this. Bo once went four years without beating Ohio State. It happens. I don't think the rivalry is in any danger of going away or losing importance. It has always been incredibly important in Columbus, and if anything, OSU's dominance has made it more important in Ann Arbor.
8. When was the last time Michigan was this big of an underdog going into The Game?
As far as I can tell, the answer is 1934. Michigan was 1-5 entering the game and had scored 15 points all season. Ohio State won 34-0. This shouldn't surprise anybody - it's rare to see Michigan this bad, Ohio State this good and the game in Columbus.
9. If you had to pick one early indicator of a possible Michigan upset, what would it be?
Um ... an extra week of eligibility for Tom Brady? I really don't know. Michigan's best chance to win a battle is with its defensive front. If that happens, and U-M forces Terrelle Pryor into some freshman mistakes and the Wolverines make a play or two on special teams ... stranger things have happened. But not many.
10. If they were to pull off the upset, where would it rank in terms of the rivalry?
I checked the history, and couldn't find one instance when a team as down as Michigan faced a team as good as Ohio State, especially on the road - and won. This would be the biggest upset in the history of the rivalry.
I have never been a big believer in sports "curses," but I can't help but notice a particular trend that has occurred in the last couple of years. Let me lay out the scenario first:
It was Novemeber 17th, 2006, about thirty hours prior to Michigan facing The Nameless Terror in arguably the biggest game in the rivalry's history: both teams undefeated, ranked #1 and #2. Michigan had defeated all odds by coming off an extremely disappointing 2005 season to get to this point, and while pressure was building on Lloyd Carr as he had only one win against The Demon of the Ancient World, there was still a feeling of confidence for the Maize & Blue faithful.
And it was at this time that our beloved leader passed.
And somewhere in a different dimension, all the Angry michigan-football-hating-gods had a wild party to celebrate. The party got out of hand, the police were called, and this manifested itself in the form of a giant black hole eating up an entire galaxy, trillions of extra-terrestrial lives were lost...
...and This happened:
yet another loss to DOTAW and Nameless Terror, another loss in the Rose Bowl. Then, in a chance for redemption, one of the most hyped Michigan teams in recent memory with a bonified Heisman candidate RB, a future first overall pick at LT, a 4th year starter at QB, and a couple of future NFL receivers, Michigan lost to arguably the lowest rated team they have ever faced.
Then Oregon finished off a four game losing streak for the first time in... how long?
Then BAM! Wisconsin and Nameless Terror again.
And my point is, Michigan is now 12-13 since Bo's passing, so I ask: when was the last time Michigan had this bad a record over a 25-game stretch? Maybe I'm crazy, but I just want to throw it out there.
Few sports fans would argue that we needed yet another book about
the "Ten Year War" - the intense rivalry between the University of
Michigan and Ohio State football teams and their iconic coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. The subject has been covered voluminously in books, magazines, newspapers, and videos (I have reviewed a few myself).
So I have to credit Michael Rosenberg for coming up with a new angle to approach this classic subject. His book, War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest,
uses the backdrop of the protest movement in the era of Vietnam and
Watergate to situate this sports rivalry within the culture and history
of the time.
This allows him to portray the players and coaches as human beings
with opinions and emotions beyond the football field while reminding
the reader that the university, and the surrounding community,
obviously had to deal with a lot more than just the success of the
But while this background is interesting - the different levels of
political agitation on the Ohio State versus Michigan campus for
example - what really makes the book shine is Rosenberg's portrait of
By placing Hayes in this historical context and by connecting his
work as a coach with his unique personality and background - his
inspirations, dreams and deep seated beliefs - Rosenberg captures Hayes
as a multidimensional person rather than simply as an icon or
Rosenberg highlights two figures, among others, who made an impact on Hayes life: General George S. Patton and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
And at key moments in the story we see how these influences made Hayes
the man he was. Military history and tactics were never far from
Woody's mind and he regularly used the language of war to describe
football. This is interesting but not shocking or hard to understand.
But Rosenberg's use of Emerson quotes to flush out why Hayes might
have acted the way he did or had the attitude he did jump out at the
reader. It is hard to believe that a Transcendentalist poet/essayist
would best capture the mindset of the famous coach but Rosenberg makes
a strong case that this is one of the most effective windows into
understanding Hayes' life.
Rosenberg also helps show how Hayes was a traditionalist in an age
of upheaval and conflict. He frequently visited the troops in Vietnam
and supported the war until the bitter end. He became friends with
Richard Nixon and was upset when the president resigned; l seeing that
act as cowardice in the face of your enemies.
Of course Hayes is most known for his temper on and off the football
field. Rosenberg discusses the theatrical nature of his temper when
trying to reach his team - and how this seemed to decrease in
usefulness over time. He also makes note of the role diabetes may have
played in his temper; including the actions that led to his being fired.
Hayes, however, always saw himself as a teacher. He was deeply read
in history (particularly military history) and was engaged with
politics and current events. Even in the era of student protests and
anti-war demonstrations he continued to reach out to young people and
he was always ready to decry what he saw as an assault on the
traditional values that made America great. Hayes may have been
increasingly at odds with the spirit of his age but he never stopped
wrestling with it and attempting to make an impact. His competitive
drive and energy drove him to never quit trying.
Hayes was clearly an incredibly unique individual who burst onto the
college football scene and left an indelible imprint. But he was also
a product of his time and time eventually passed him by; or caught up
with him depending on your perspective. There seem to be some
parallels with his friend Richard Nixon in this. Both men built
impressive careers before being brought down by poor judgment. And
both men attempted to live out the remainder of their lives so as to
not be defined by those infamous acts; with mixed success.
Rosenberg covers the other side of the field as well, but Bo
Schembechler doesn't stand out quite like Hayes. The iconic Bo really
develops after this "Ten Year War" period. Sure, the personality is
there but it doesn't quite blossom until after Hayes recedes. But this
history is a neccesary foundation for understanding the events that
were to come.
The other character who stands out in the book is Michigan athletic
director Dan Canham. Canham was a critical figure in the development
of modern college sports and in many ways made Michigan football the
marketing giant that it is. It seems off that this influential figure
is not better known outside of sports historians.
War As They Knew It is much more than a sports book. Sure,
it is a fascinating story about one of college football's greatest
rivalries and the coaches who put it on the map. But it is also a
valuable look into the time period through the lens of college
athletics. You don't have to be a fan of Michigan or Ohio state
football to enjoy the story because the characters and events involved
Of course, if you are a fan of either program and their legendary
coaches this is a must read. And really anyone interested in the
history and development of college football would do well to check it
out. You will come away with a better understanding of how the schools
became the dominant programs in the conference and even the nation at
times. And you will understand better the men behind these programs as
they faced each other in intense competition on the field and dealt
with the tumultuous times outside the stadium and practice field
Hello, since the internets are burning with flame wars and talks of firings, I don’t want to waste your time. This post is a recap of my Michigan Football experiences in my life and my opinion about being a student the past four years. It contains ideas on what the future holds for our team. It is also long. If you don’t want to read about this, stop now. Therefore no one will waste their time, have to tell everyone they don’t care what I think, or tell everyone that Coach Rodriguez is not the answer. I am fine with the fact that most won’t care what I think and have to say or agree with me.
It started a really long time ago, before I can remember. Fall days in Saturday either meant waking up and driving to Ann Arbor to watch football or watching the Maize and Blue on TV because we were on the road or I couldn’t go that week. Mom and Dad both went to Michigan and had season tickets so it was natural for me to cheer for them. I grew to love the Wolverines and there were some great memories over the years. Some of these included a lifetime hatred for Kordell Stewart, attending the parade after we won the National Championship, getting my picture taken with Woodson, Griese, the Heisman, and the national championship trophy, knowing that Jeff Smoker did not spike the ball in time, burning plastic gators on our January trip to Florida,triple overtime, and the 100th game.
All of that happened and the next year was different. It was senior year of high school and I wasn’t sure if I’d get into Michigan. I had applications to a bunch of schools, but I was specifically hoping for one response. Well on November 20th, 2004 I got a call at about 11 AM that I needed to get home as soon as possible to open a large envelope. Sure enough, I got into Michigan just in time to watch our 7th rankedteam fall to the Buckeyes. I wore that Michigan shirt to school Monday with pride, I got ridiculed of course, but man it felt good, I was going to attend the University of Michigan.
That’s where the article above comes in. It describes the next four years as the most torturous for a fan base of any school in college football. It made me think, have my four years here been the worst four years for a University of Michigan football fan to be a student?
So I had to think back to my memories over the past four years.
- First game against MSU is at MSU, I go to the game, overtime win. Awesome.
- #8 Penn State touchdown with 53 seconds left. Silence. 0 seconds left. Bedlam.
- 5losses. Wisconsin, scores TD with 24 ticks on the clock. Last second tie breaking field goal to Minnesota. 24 seconds left again, this time Ohio State.Nebraska debacle.
- 11 Straight wins, which included a visit to Notre Dame in my favorite away game. Hot Damn!
- Seniors last home game, Balls out for Ball State (3-7), in which was the closest win of the year, unless you look solely at points (Penn State).
- The loss of Bo. Honestly the eeriest feeling I’ve ever experienced was felt on campus that day. Candlelight vigil on the Diag.
- 1 vs. 2
- A plundering in Pasadena
- Watching the remake of the Longest Yard’s most infamous scene for Michigan Fans and Hot! Hot! Hot! several times. The horror. The statue of liberty.
- 8 wins, 2 more losses
- Overcoming all the adversity, beating the speedy gators of the SEC, and watching Lloyd go out the way he deserved to go out.
- The coaching fiasco, and excitement in a good coach, a good offense, a new sponsor, a new stadium, a new quarterback, and the departure of pretty much everything I ever knew about Michigan Football, just in time for senior year.
- We don’t need a breakdown, as we all know what happened so far this year.
Wisconsin was the best game I’ve ever experienced in the Big House, although the win will probably mean nothing by the end of the season. And now with two home games left in my college career, I wonder if this will be the only savior of the season. In my opinion we will win two more games. But the last three years have taught me that anything can happen. We could lose all six or we could win all six. If we don’t make a bowl and all of our streaks and records are broken, it will be a true restart for our team. 2008 will be the ultimate restart of a year. Our team that consists of mostly freshman; they will have a new coach, new offense, new defense, new sponsor, new stadium on the way, new recruiting style, new records to set, and a new outlook on Michigan Football. It is weird to be a senior right now. We could be the first class in 40 years to see a losing season and 33 years to not make it to a bowl. Plus we are the first class of only three that will have experienced the old and the new. A full system reboot will take longer than 6 games, but it will happen so everyone will have to be patient. I believe Coach Rodriguez can take us there, with the raw talent he has this year and with the upcoming recruits Coach Rod is building the kind of foundation that we will grow from. With patience in our coach and our players, Michigan will return. As you may have heard, those who stay will be champions.
So are the past four years the most torturous for any college fan base? Depends on how you look at it. For me, 3 wins over MSU so far, Mario in the Penn State game, winning 11 straight games, being on campus to say goodbye to Bo, the Florida win and what it meant for Lloyd, and watching the beginning of the new era with the Wisconsin win have been plenty of ups to the many number of downs that I have experienced. Am I setting my standards too low, you may think so, I don’t, although beating Ohio State would be nice. Being a part of the University of Michigan and optimistically supporting every aspect of their football team is enough for me. Do the same if you can, support Rich Rodriguez, support Nick Sheridan, support Morgan Trent.
PS. The last four years were not a picnic, so here are few favors (last wishes as a student) I ask,
- Try the best you can to not sell your tickets to MSU fans. Be as loud as possible during this game. Wear maize.
- Don’t be a Negative Nancy. Don’t leave the game early. Don’t ever think like the guy that posted the above article. Asking if it is time to switch to soccer is not a joke, as that is not funny. Never give up on Michigan Football.
- Cut the student section a little slack. We got flamed for the wave last time because somehow a group of kids in the 30th row got it started. I hope we get to do it all the way through one last time for the seniors regardless of the score of the Northwestern game, plus the freshman still need to learn the correct thing all the way through. We will at least do it in the third quarter.
- I’d love to see someone organize something for the seniors. Whether it be the one time return of hot dog man, marshmallows, the 1,2,3 HIT HIM IN THE FACE on the kickoff cheer, etc. or something else. Ideas are appreciated.
I own too many books. I read…a lot. But I learned the lesson a long time ago that books are heavy, and when you have to move them, 35+ boxes of books is a lot of boxes. Movers charge by the pound. So I now only buy “important” books, i.e. the kinds of books that can only be found in university libraries or literary reviews. As a result, I use my local library…a lot. Sometimes that means waiting for books. I am currently second on the waiting list for Steven Erickson’s new book in his series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. After catching up on my magazine reading, I was left with nothing to read. So I hopped online and started trolling my local library catalogue. And here in London, Ontario, what do I find? None other than the Bo Schembechler/Mitch Albom book: BO. (Warner: New York), 1989. It arrived at my local branch yesterday and from page one it was nothing less that fabulous. He tells story after story after story.
What I loved most about this book were the two chapters that highlight the 1969 season and the 10 Year War. Bo’s stories about his first season at Michigan were fantastic and the parallels to this year with Coach Rodriguez jump out at you again and again.
He brought his entire staff with him from Miami [Not That Miami]. Upon arriving and seeing the facilities and locker rooms Bo’s first response to his staff was,
“Men, we are going to make a few changes here.” 
He treated the players like dogs. In the racially charged 60’s everyone got the same treatment. They were all equal…they were all dogs.
Up to that point, spring practice was a series of light workouts. They started two-a-days in the spring. He cursed, he yelled and he kicked them in the butt. When Dan Dierdorf first introduced himself to Bo, he extended a hand and politely offered his name, and in return Bo grabbed a fistful of his midsection and promptly told him, “You are fat.”  Turn that boy over to Barwis. Eeeeeeee.
Soon Bo had them doing drills, screaming at them so much that Dierdorf ended up telling a reporter,
“The track team runs less than us. And their coach isn’t as mean.” 
He tells the story of how, during this pre-season, the coaches came up with the now famous slogan, “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions.” Some did not stay. And someone wrote in marker on Bo’s sign, which he paid for out of his own pocket, “And those who quit will be doctors, lawyers, and captains of industry.” He then names the player who is now a lawyer and finishes off with:
“Didn’t think I knew, did you, John? You owe me $150.” 
He says this about that 1969 team:
“Of all the Wolverines I’ve ever had, they had the most right to resent me; after all they didn’t pick me, they got stuck with me. And I killed them. I ran them ragged. I made them suffer every day of that first maddening season. Somehow, they believed in me. They stayed.” 
What Bo did that first season was key off on the Michigan-Ohio game. Bo against his former coach and mentor. Bo figured that gunning for Ohio State would carry his team through all the bumps and hurdles that would come. After beating Iowa 51-6 that year in the second to last game, in the locker room the team did not celebrate, instead a slow, rising chant started among them, “BEAT THE BUCKS, BEAT THE BUCKS…” The coaches joined in, and the scene go so intense that Bo screamed to one of his assistants, “That !@#$% Ohio State better be good—or we’ll kill them.” 
Against a team that was labeled “The Greatest Team of the Century” and favoured to win by 17, Michigan was up 24-12 by the half and in the locker room there is Jim Young, the defensive coordinator pounding on the chalk board, “They will not score again!”  They didn’t.
Those who stayed were champions.
In the light of the Justin Boren departure and the whole “Family values” thing, another story grabbed me. Bo recounted the time when the team was grumbling a lot behind Bo’s back about practices being too tough. One of the instigators was captain Andy Cannavino.
Bo pulled Cannavino into his office and gave him this speech, by the end of which Andy was in tears:
“Now let me tell you something. When you were back there in Cleveland, at St. Joseph’s High School, Ohio State, where your daddy went to school, didn’t even offer you a scholarship. We brought you to the University of Michigan. The coaching staff made you an All-Big Ten player. Your team mates elected you captain of the team. And you have the audacity to criticize Michigan Football? How dare you?
“I’d like to stand you up before all those guys who played here in the past, all those guys who won championships, went to bowl games, did all the things you want to do in college football, and I want you to tell them that your practices are too hard, that they’re hitting too much, that you spend too much time watching film! And you know what they’re going to tell you? Grow up! Grow up and be a man! And if you won’t, then get the hell out of Michigan football!
“Cannavino, we have one problem on this team, and only one problem on this team, and that is you! And until you change, we will never win. You are the captain of this team. What you say, especially the other players and especially the young ones will listen to. How can you possibly ruin this team by criticizing the leadership here? You are the problem. Understand me? You are the problem! 
With tears streaming down his cheeks, the young man left, and the Michigan defense, from that point forward, did not allow a touchdown in 24 consecutive quarters, eventually beating Washington in the Rose Bowl.
Who cares if this is not the best piece of literature ever written, I think next time I am in the MDen, I am going to buy this book and a couple more of Bo’s because these are “important” works. Bo is a great read, especially this year of all years. I highly recommend it.
I usually drink Brian's fan-criticism kool aid, but not this time. Yes, students shouldn't be doing the wave when they need to be loud and support the team. Yes, the band should be the only source of music once they step on the field. But students, it's always great to be a Michigan Wolverine, no matter what the score of a football game is. After all, the chant doesn't go, "It's great. To be. A Michigan football fan."
The thing that sets Michigan apart from most other football programs is
that it's great to be a Michigan Wolverine inside the Big House, at the
bars, in the classroom, and in the real world with a Michigan diploma.
If the only reason students should be proud to be Michigan Wolverines
is the success of the football team... well, then we're just another
student body that goes "WOOOOTT TRE$$ELL SUX!1!" when our team wins. And then boos them when they lose. We are - or should be - better than that. And that expectation is why it's great to be a Michigan Wolverine. As
"When your team is winning, be ready to be tough, because winning can
make you soft. On the other hand, when your team is losing, stick by
them. Keep believing."
Cheer up. Rick's doesn't close when the team loses.