3/28/2010 – Michigan 5, Bemidji State 1 – 26-17-1
3/29/2010 – Michigan 2, Miami 3 (2 OT) – 26-18-1, season over
Indiana's state motto is "The Crossroads of America," which promises nothing more than the ability to leave it. As you do so the towns radiating northward from Fort Wayne on I-69 have ill-omened names like Angola and Waterloo and make you wish you had a heinous ex-girlfriend named Ashley or a bone to pick with Auburn, color or university, doesn't matter. There, the flat American expanse of a pitch-black highway makes prime brooding habitat. Nearby zings of color and denuded trees that make their presence known by obscuring something flashing red in the distance provide momentary focal points that slip past, their steady movement drawing the primitive sections of your intelligence and slightly distracting you from the reason you're staring grimly at a Big Lots that closed hours ago. The recent past recedes at 80 miles an hour, except five miles into Michigan where there is a cop. Fragments of your heart throw ropy pseudopods to each other and pull, slower than that. But steady.
Because 1997-98 was the year my teams had fantastic success and I had idiotic ideas, the first two Michigan hockey games I saw were a 4-0 win over New Hampshire in a national semifinal and a national championship game featuring an overtime winner from Josh Langfeld. I thought it was pretty cool, but that was all. I'd meant to get season tickets but it had slipped my mind. That year I also watched the Rose Bowl at my then-girlfriend's house. At one point her mom mentioned a Washington State touchdown would win her a quarter in squares. The GF and a mutual friend sort of tittered in a corner about things unrelated to the game. I was just a freshman. I'd go to a Rose Bowl later.
The next year I took up a residence in the Yost student section that ended only this year, six seasons after I graduated for the second and final time. Every season since there has been that crushing moment when the puck goes in the wrong goal and it's all over. Though it's hard to distinguish between levels of terror emanating from the reptilian sections of your brain, it seems to me these days the most knee-buckling moments of the sporting year come when the hockey team is playing in the NCAA tournament.
There's something different there. Each football season defines itself, and by the end it usually seems you got approximately what you deserve. A single-elimination hockey tournament after 40 games is the closest sports comes to Russian roulette. In hockey, the way you die is always a thunderbolt. And so I think the most painful part of every sports year for me is that horrible instant when the red light goes on and your whole self just deflates. I keep thinking the word "crushing," unrelated to anything else. Just an adjective, floating on the mile markers.
But the alternative to knee-buckling terror was just to not be here at all, for March to be a unbroken expanse of asphalt in the middle of nowhere. To get here is something after a 10-10 start and that ignominious road sweep at UNO that ended any hope of an at-large bid or even a bye in the CCHA tourney. I had been planning a series on what went so horribly wrong with the three major sports and was just waiting for hockey to make an undignified exit, probably at the hands of Michigan State, before embarking on it. They were just another flailing team caught in Michigan's winter of discontent, no different from a football team that can't punch it in from the one against Illinois or a basketball team that can't even turn a top-15 preseason ranking into an NIT bid.
As Michigan walked into Munn three weeks ago all 2009-10 offered was the same thing Indiana does: eventually, it ends. Now, at least, there is some redemption and schadenfreude and plain old inspiring victory, things Michigan fans needed reminding about. When it comes to the history books, this team will be one that picked itself up off the mat without its captain and starting goalie and was a heartbeat away from a Frozen Four. As it is, they picked up a banner and extended Michigan's tournament streak to twenty years.
By the end, they were Michigan hockey again. After fading badly towards the end of the third period they found their legs and terrorized Miami in overtime, launching twenty (official) shots to their six. They were struck down by bloody fortune and did not deserve their fate. They are like their compatriots before them, and will be remembered for a heroic stand. They died like Vikings.
Fifteen minutes past Angola, Indiana keeps its promise and releases you. Here, too, ends this year. Now we bury it and move on with some little hope thanks to a tiny goaltender and some feverish backchecking that point towards better days.
Obviously, this John Gravallese guy robbed Michigan of the game thanks to his galaxy-spanning incompetence. The irony of waving off a Michigan goal because you called a high-sticking penalty when 1) it's overtime and you aren't calling anything short of attempted murder and 2) amongst the zillion calls you missed in regulation were two blindingly obvious high sticking calls perpetrated by Michigan players—we clearly heard both in row 18—is head-exploding. For the wave-off to occur because you "lost sight of the puck" when zero players on the ice are reacting like the goalie has it—the goalie wasn't even down—after you allowed a Miami goal that Hunwick had pinned under his pad for a second or two is just despair inducing. At that moment my righteous anger broke and I awaited the inevitable end.
The reaction of a potentially apocryphal HE ref who knows this guy has appeared on the message board: "it happens" To which I say: look at Shawn Hunwick above and say that. "It happens" is the reaction of a failure of a person. As WolverineBoston puts it: "refs aren't humans." During the interminable replay that we knew was pointless, and the interminable (and totally impermissible) replay following that to determine whether a faceoff should be in Miami's zone or the neutral zone, we joked that they were making the refs watch the goal over and over again so they'd feel terrible. But I bet Gravallese doesn't even care.
I mentioned this after the Bemidji game, but it would be one thing if this guy was making a mockery of hockey in a the dispassionate manner of a badly malfunctioning robot. It's entirely another for him to make every call as if he is using the Hammer Of Thor to Dispense Justice To Wrongdoers. His children secretly hate him.
If you need the rule, it's been dug up here. Maybe they should change it to something less ambiguous, like getting the puck out of your zone if the opponent brings it in. No one really cares if a play is accidentally blown dead at center ice, but the ambiguity of what counts for possession is can be disastrous in the attacking zone. Forcing the team that took the penalty to clear the zone is 100% clear.
- Did we miss Ariel Bond taking a season-defining photo of the football team? She nailed the basketball season and that item above just about obviates the need for me to put all these words beneath it.
- I liked Fort Wayne's arena a lot but if they're going to have future NCAA tournaments there they need to make a change. Unlike every arena I've ever been to, at Fort Wayne the benches are on the same side of the red line, which means when one team has a short change the other has a long one. (Michigan State has benches on the opposite sides of the ice but they're also on opposite sides of the red line.) The home team gets two short and one long; the road team two long and one short. Okay, I guess, not really anything you can do about it and the higher seed did earn that privilege. But once you get to overtime you need to start alternating. Michigan was facing a long change for four of five periods in that game.
- It's not like Robbie Czarnik was great or anything while at Michigan, but seeing Jeff Rohrkemper limited to three or four shifts after the first period made me pine for a guy Michigan could throw out there as a functional fourth-line forward. After a couple early shifts from the fourth line that went poorly, Michigan abandoned them entirely in favor of occasional shifts from Scooter to give someone on the top three lines a breather; Winnett saw a shift here and there at even strength and played his usual inexplicable amount on special teams. They would have been better off dressing Moffie if that's as much as they were going to play Rohrkemper. (By the way, Czarnik is currently averaging over a PPG at Plymouth, further evidence that there's a considerable gap between NCAA and CHL hockey. Every Michigan player to leave for the CHL has seen his scoring explode as the competition level deflates. My favorite example is Jason Bailey, who had a 0-0-0 and was -11 in 19 games at M his sophomore year and scored half a PPG in 70 OHL games.)
- Shawn Hunwick finished the year 8-3 with a 1.82 GAA and a .918 save percentage against a tougher than average schedule, and late in his audition that was not an effect of his team shielding him from any and all scoring chances. The goalie competition is on for next year, and I'm guessing they'll add a freshman they can redshirt if they can find a guy they like.
- I actually screamed out "CARL" at one point in the overtime. I never use first names. I think I have a problem.
- The open thread on the game logged 1271 posts and 24k views; I am 100% positive the first is a record for MGoBlog 3.0.
- More on individuals a bit later; I'll take a look at next year soon.
If you're looking for some punishment, the Daily has comprehensive coverage with a game story, column suggesting that the team's late-season run is something to hold on to, a piece on the missed(-ish) opportunities in the first overtime that spelled doom, and a piece on the "questionable, disappointing" no-goal call. Too bad they misspelled "outrageous" and "soul-crushing." Also there is a flickr set.
*(not a typo, and no, I'm not apologizing)
It is a grim, cold morning in December of 2009, and Michigan's basketball team has essentially closed the door on its tournament chances by losing to a 4-4 WAC team consisting entirely of guys who got to the game via beanstalk. The hockey team languishes at .500 and escaped the basement of the CCHA by squeezing by a bad Ohio State team last weekend; they're not out of things entirely but it's looking grim for them as well. And the football team's promising start spun into a 1-7 Big Ten tailspin that had half a state reaching for whiskey, a gun, or both.
We are low. My main thought this morning was "how far back to you have to go to find Michigan fans as miserable as we are?" 1984 was the only plausible candidate that popped into my mind: the football team limped to 6-6 and the hockey team was still struggling through the first few years of the Red era. This was my guess on WTKA this morning, but Craig Ross emailed to remind/inform us that in '84-'85 the basketball team was 26-4 and Bill Frieder was the national coach of the year. That football team was also hamstrung by one obvious deficiency caused by injury, and it made a bowl. So that's out.
It was pointless to even look at other years in the Bo/Mo/Llo era, so it was back to the 60s we went, and after a couple of false positives (1967 featured a hockey team that was pretty good and made the tournament) I found it. The last year of equal misery. (Requirements: no tournaments for hockey and basketball and football goes under .500.)
Ladies and gentlemen, 1962-63:
|Choose the game you want to display|
|1||Ball State||December 1, 1962||Yost Field House||W-68-58||3,800|
|2||Creighton||December 3, 1962||Yost Field House||W-81-62||3,700|
|3||Butler||December 7, 1962||Yost Field House||L-69-70||5,500|
|4||TCU||December 13, 1962||Yost Field House||W-82-60||3,600|
|5||at Evansville||December 15, 1962||W-73-64||8,419|
|6||San Jose State||December 19, 1962||W-66-52||0|
|7||Houston||December 21, 1962||W-90-88||4,600|
|8||at Texas A&M||December 22, 1962||W-82-79||4,000|
|9||Yale||December 29, 1962||Yost Field House||W-82-71||2,600|
|10||Northwestern||January 5, 1963||Yost Field House||W-78-75||6,600|
|11||Iowa||January 7, 1963||W-88-67||7,500|
|12||at Ohio State||January 12, 1963||L-66-68||13,497|
|13||Minnesota||January 14, 1963||Yost Field House||L-63-66||6,700|
|14||at Detroit||January 30, 1963||Detroit, Michigan||L-70-83||7,134|
|15||at Michigan State||February 2, 1963||East Lansing, Michigan||W-72-71||10,577|
|16||Wisconsin||February 4, 1963||Yost Field House||L-78-81||9,100|
|17||Indiana||February 9, 1963||Yost Field House||W-90-86||8,600|
|18||Ohio State||February 16, 1963||Yost Field House||L-68-75||9,775|
|19||at Northwestern||February 18, 1963||L-62-63||4,000|
|20||at Purdue||February 23, 1963||Lafayette, Indiana||W-71-53||7,841|
|21||Iowa||February 25, 1963||Yost Field House||W-78-70||4,600|
|22||Illinois||March 2, 1963||Yost Field House||W-84-81||9,450|
|23||at Indiana||March 4, 1963||L-96-104||5,351|
|24||at Wisconsin||March 9, 1963||W-82-80||7,835|
Record 16-8 (8-6)
That's not terrible but it wasn't enough to make the 25(!) member NCAA field.
|10/13||@||*Michigan State (5-4)||L||0||28|
|11/24||@||*Ohio State (6-3)||L||0||28|
So there you go: anyone under about 57 has never experienced anything like what it looks like is going to go down this year. The last time this happened Don Draper's wife loved him.
For what it's worth, hockey won the national title the next year, basketball would make the Final Four with Cazzie Russell at the helm, and football would… uh… go 3-4-2. Two out of three ain't bad.
A quick tour around heartfelt pre-OSU posts in the Wolverine blogosphere before they all expire:
Like many things in life that end broken, this started with good intentions all around.
Rich Rodriguez watched from the sidelines while Michigan avenged Carr and desecrated the Tebow Temple. Chad Henne dropped redemption from the sky into the waiting hands of Adrian Arrington and Mario Manningham. Mike Hart fumbled and laughed and Michigan were The Victors.
I dreamed of spread offenses and 70 point thrashings, a wild new Michigan built for the Mayan Apocalypse, slaughtering the Big Ten with lightning from the Yost Ages, standing atop the Big Ten as the world ended.
It was spitting down rain all morning, and it only picked up for gametime. I took one last lap around the stadium I'd always known.
If there was any justice in the world, they'd have won last year, so I didn't have high expectations. Not with Mike Hart hobbled and Chad Henne barely able to lift his arm and guys not named David Harris at linebacker. And so we yelled and screamed and Beanie Wells had 172 carries and Mario Manningham dropped 18 passes or something and Ohio State won an excruciating 14-3 game.
It wasn’t until 2004, my freshman year, that I really paid close attention to the Michigan football team (i.e., emotional investment). Before every game that season, I signed on to AIM and left an away message up: “Chad Henne, lead us to victory.” And though it worked a few times that year, it never did for the one that counted.
And for the last five years of my life, the week before Thanksgiving has been one of cautious anxiety. 2006 was devastating.
These are family values: wagons circled, debris, numb to the great outrage, taped ankles and a fuck you if you're not with us; look me in the eye and know that eventually this will all pass. They'll remember this day when they're old and sit on dusty sofas dozing in and out of consciousness. You lost a lot but not your dignity. And you realize that it wasn't just about winning but about patience and faith that it would get better.
I was standing in front of a big group of people in a bar in midtown New York City, and I knew that the year before I had wandered in in a suit and told them that this would be an off year for Michigan football because the quarterbacks were probably bad and the offensive line probably worse. That sounds right from 10,000 feet, but I'd splashed an Alamo Bowl logo up at the end of the presentation when I should have put up a map of Tajikistan underneath the title MOVE HERE IMMEDIATELY.
So I had a slide at the beginning that noted some of the things I'd been very wrong about the year before, and I noted my errors, asked for forgiveness, suggested that football was a crazy game, and promised them less than I'd promised the year before but more than they'd gotten. That seemed to go okay.
Around here, I asked Paul to splice together a bunch of highlights and set it to a song that seemed particularly apropos and posted it on the eve of the season. To call it hopeful sells it short. A bunch of good plays strung together that ignores last year's woe is hopeful. One that acknowledges them and then flashes to color when the good stuff kicks in is closer to an explicit promise.
It's not a surprise that as the season has dragged along, the team an increasingly unrecognizable piece of roadkill grinding away the remnants of a jaw along the highway of the Big Ten, that more than the occasional comment or email references "Sometimes When You're On" as a source of gallows humor. Sometimes there's no humor and the emailer is just lamenting the hope that has transubstantiated into misery. That's considerably worse.
Kennedy is dead and I'm sitting here telling anyone who will ask "things are going to be all right" and now, finally, it's not working. And deservedly so.
In 2002, I was in Ireland for the summer. I'd graduated from undergrad and had a chunk of money saved up from summers spent interning at engineering firms and my girlfriend of over a year had broken up with me in slow motion and I thought I'd have an adventure. I planned on working. A friend of mine had spent a chunk of time in Ireland working IT when jobs were available for anyone with working knowledge of a screwdriver, but the Celtic Tiger had imploded dramatically with the rest of the tech world in 2001 and I was reduced to wandering around wondering why the hell I needed a resume to pick plates up and put them other places. Surely there was some sort of spatial reasoning test that could be done on the fly.
So I didn't work. I rented a room in a Galway house shared by a bunch of marine biology students—when The Abyss was on TV, the rig-envy was palpable—and screwed around. One of the things I did was watch every game of the World Cup, because why the hell not? Ireland was in it after a famous upset of Holland, not that I knew about this, or how infrequent Irish World Cup appearances are, at the time. I got up at eight in the morning—impressive to me, at least—to watch them tie Cameroon in their first match.
The second match day was a huge, nerve-wracking one with the US taking on Portugal and Ireland staring down the Germans and freaking Oliver Kahn, the robot goalie. Kahn would become a personal sporting bête noire over the course of the tournament, a man worthy of his last name. He would win the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player, the only time in World Cup history that the award has gone to a goalie. And his team didn't even win. He was good.
The USA could really use a win in their first match; Ireland just needed a draw with Saudi Arabia the last game on the schedule.
I debated heading down to the pub at eight in the morning, but eventually decided against it mostly because it was a twenty minute walk. But the US scored, and scored again, and scored again, and with the game 3-1 at halftime and my house abandoned I said "screw it" and spent halftime scurrying downtown. I watched Jeff Agoos score a spectacular own goal while nursing a pint of cider* in a moderately full pub. The USA won and that was well and good. For everyone else, it was a small moment of schadenfreude in before the main event.
So here's the main event: Ireland goes toe-to-toe with the Germans, putting more shots on goal but unable to crack Kahn. In the 19th minute enormous robot striker Miroslav Klose puts the Germans up, but from that moment on they're on the back foot. Ireland presses to no avail. Kahn seems everywhere. He makes three insane saves to keep Ireland off the board. I loathe him. I hate his incredibly German hair, and his insane excellence.
Then it's gone. Ninety minutes are over and they're just kicking it around in stoppage time. Ireland has made their desperate substitutions, sticking creaky old Niall Quinn, a 6'4" battleship of a target forward, out there in the vague hope he can get his head to the ball. In the 92nd minute some defender boots the ball upfield as people do at the end of the game when there's no time and no hope. Quinn finds this ball and flicks it down to an onrushing Robbie Keane. That bastard Kahn is out, though, out fast and in position and Keane has to shoot after one touch and the shot actually deflects off that fucking bastard Kahn…
You have no doubt experienced some variety of sports pandemonium in your life, but you probably haven't watched an entire country take the day off to drink next to the river. In the immediate aftermath I remember hugging some guy who looked like he was from Pakistan. I was instantly recognizable as an American, so maybe that made sense. Ever since, I've rooted for Kahn in his losing battle against preening Jens Lehman, and maybe that makes sense, too.
On Wednesday, Ireland missed the World Cup on the most flagrant handball since Diego Maradona.
It has not been a good fall. Since Michigan scraped by Indiana, the team they are vying with for outright possession of the Big Ten cellar, I haven't watched Michigan beat any team that plays at scholarship parity with them in two different sports. Football hasn't beaten a I-A team since September 26th. Hockey is currently languishing at 4-6 after consecutive sweeps at the hands of Miami and, of all teams, Michigan State. In that series, Corey Tropp scored in a game that finished 3-2. Hell, the one hockey game I've listened to on the radio this year was the dismal 2-0 defeat against Fairbanks to open the year.
It's been hard for me. In the past my strategy when sports were more pain than they're worth has been to disconnect as much as possible, but that's obviously not possible any more. So I've seen everything that's happened the last two years somewhere between four and eight times.
But it's been hard on everyone else, too. Johnny emerged from his slumber to write something beautiful about Brandon Minor…
On Saturday he will be there. Maybe not on Thursday or on Friday, but you don’t prepare for the deranged violence.
…and this is how life repays him:
David Molk (knee)
Brandon Minor (shoulder)
He sent me one of the semi-annual IMs we exchange to ask me what percent chance I put on Minor playing. I said "I don't know," and that was that. This is life at the bottom.
Everyone who's joked or not joked about "Sometimes When You're On" is hurt because their expectations have not been met, because they hoped for more. I've played a role in that, and for that I'm sorry. There are days when two minnows come up against world powers and win, or tie their asses off, though. When I went to RBUAS I saw that Jake and Mike and Chad had given way to a new era, however brief it will be:
A beautifully futile gesture. Johnny had the old guys up there forever, and it wasn't hard to figure out why. But what I said after the Notre Dame game still holds, even if it's cast in a different light by the events that followed: this is Michigan now. Though they're still plainly deficient, they'll be there Saturday. I don't know if things are going to be all right anymore. But I'll be there, too, and God help anyone who talks about "heart" within earshot.
Saturday contains itself. For three hours, let hope bloom, and think about the consequences afterward.
*(Don't judge me. It was before noon and somehow Bulmers has this marvelous nutty tinge if you get it from the tap in Ireland. I've had the stuff stateside and it suffers far more than Guinness does.)
11/14/2009 – Michigan 24, Wisconsin 45 – 5-6, 1-6 Big Ten
Well, I finally broke: I've checked out emotionally. This happened last year, too, and the game columns from the on were pleas for something else to do and grim, brief recaps of the latest indignity. It's progress of a sort that it took eleven games for the team to TKO any interest in what might happen the rest of this year, but it's not a fun sort of progress.
A serious thematic analysis of the Wisconsin game is pointless. Michigan's defense is exactly as horrifying as it's been all year. Everyone wants to fight each other in the liveblog. When the MGoPosse assembled to record this week's podcast, Paul said "at least we didn't muff a punt" and I responded "they didn't punt." (It turns out they did punt once in the first half, and Junior Hemingway misjudged a short one, almost fumbling it.)
Today I'll go on the radio and say the exact same things I've been saying all season to people who say the exact same things they've been saying all season. Here I could either repeat the assertion that firing Rodriguez after two years is idiotic or the description of what this season turned into in the third quarter of the Illinois game. Nothing has changed, and there's nothing to say when the team is turning in uncompetitive loss after uncompetitive loss.
There is an increased chance that sometime today I will read or hear something that cause my entire body to crumple and my head to thump audibly on the desk. So I guess that's different. Not different: for the second straight year the Ohio State week is only welcome because after it there won't be this unpleasant thing that happens every Saturday. The Notre Dame game seems like another decade.
- Surprised that Mouton and Ezeh got the whole game after their backups played at least as well as they did against Purdue. I guess there were huge busts by both Fitzgerald and Leach, but… um… right.
- Seriously: after Wisconsin completed their sixth or seventh big gain over the middle because Ezeh and Mouton were hugely out of position on zone drops, I was begging for the backups. No dice. The prospect of starting these guys next year is not fun.
- I'm betting the adjustment Wisconsin made to their running game was to start doubling defensive linemen for real and leaving the linebackers to their own devices, or down-blocking them on their slants and getting outside where the linebackers are on their own. Michigan was shooting into the backfield a ton early.
- Poor Brandon Graham: if Michigan would just cover anyone for two seconds he would have an incredible number of sacks this year. It wasn't Graham who had the most frustrating non-sack on Saturday, though. Stevie Brown came free up the middle on a third and five in the third quarter and Tolzien nailed a wide open tight end for a first down. That turned into the drive Wisconsin used to go up three scores, salting the game away.
- Vincent Smith is now your tentative leader for the starting tailback job next year, though that title figures to be a ceremonial one in a sea of options. I know Shaw's had the occasional nagging injury but I think he's just beat him out, fair and square. My favorite play from Smith was the screen he took past three or four defenders in the first half. He was one desperate hand-wave by a Wisconsin safety away from
a touchdowna long run that looks like it should be touchdown but disappointingly ends short of it. He's got skills. There was one out that was incomplete that anyone else on the team would have caught by virtue of being bigger than a marmot, though.
- Brandon Smith seemed pretty mediocre on the edge. I know he didn't make any of the huge, obvious mistakes that Mike Williams did, but Wisconsin isn't the sort of team that puts you in the backfield unblocked to make a huge, obvious mistake. I bet a lot of the outside running Wisconsin did will be on Smith somehow.
- I did think Wisconsin was the grabbiest line Michigan's played against all year. Wisconsin's first drive saw Graham held twice on long completions, and while they got a number of calls later they just love getting their hands outside the shoulder pads. Default disclaimer whenever officiating as mentioned: would not have changed outcome of the game, would merely have led to more second-and-twenty conversions. Maybe I should thank the refs for mitigating the damage I would have done to my forehead and the sidewalk if I watched another guy wide open over the middle.