to play football, not to play trumpet
By Heiko Yang (with Bryan Mackenzie channeling MARK DANTONIO)
Mark Dantonio walks into the locker room moments before kickoff. He scans the young men before him as they fall silent. The stadium trembles around them in anticipation of battle.
“We've been here before,” he begins dourly. “Every time these jokers show the slightest hint of a pulse, they declare themselves ‘back.’ Remember 2010, when Michigan came in ranked and feeling all Big Brother-y? How'd that work out for them? Or when they managed to eke out that one 12-10 win? How did that Return to Awesome turn out in the next couple of years?”
Laughter and jeering fills the locker room.
“They've got their khakis and their hype and their national respect. Media outlets spell their coach's name correctly. And that's cool. It's probably always going to be that way. People see Harbaugh doing the stuff that worked a couple of generations ago and get all excited. But at the end of the day, these are the same players we beat the hell out of over the last two years. This defensive line that everyone is drooling over? It's the same line we busted up for 219 yards rushing last year. This ‘new and improved’ offensive line is the same one against which we've racked up 20 tackles for loss over the last two games. Shilique, are you scared?”
“No sir!” Shilique Calhoun puts on a menacing grin.
“So now we've won 30 of our last 33 games,” Dantonio continues matter-of-factly. “We've beaten Ohio State and Baylor and Stanford... and oh, right, Michigan... and now we're supposed to be intimidated by some new guy because they've shut out three crappy offenses in a row? We're supposed to be cowed by 110,000 wine-drinking hipsters? Tom Brady ain't walkin' through that door. Instead, they've got a guy who Iowa - IOWA - thought was too conservative.”
Another round of raucous laughter. Dantonio motions for silence.
“We might not win this game,” he says, his tone measured now. “There's no hiding that we're beat up. Jack's ankle is basically a toppled Jenga tower. There were six guys in the secondary's position group meetings this week, and only three of y'all were old enough to shave.
“But that’s not an excuse. The people in that stadium don’t need any more reason to convince themselves that we're going away. They've thought that before, too. They’ve predicted it every year since we started beating them.”
Dantonio pauses dramatically as the anticipation builds.
“… But they never learn, do they? Today let’s show them that we’re here to stay. And let’s remind them one more time that pride comes before the fall.”
With a forceful “Spartans!” and a flourish of helmets, the Michigan State football team heads for the tunnel.
Michigan State 14, Michigan 13
By Nick RoUMel
The muffled sounds of the band and the crowd could be heard outside the locker room. Inside, not a word was said as Coach Harbaugh surveyed his young men. They sat, winged helmets on their laps, waiting. They wore the maize pants and blue jerseys of Michigan tradition: none of this bumblebee crap. For 88 years Michigan teams had run through that tunnel wearing the same thing. So they would again, in a few minutes. But first Coach had a few things to say.
“I’m going to tell you what we will not do today. We will not be intimated. We will not play scared. We are not the same team that apologized for poking a one inch hole in their precious turf. We are the 2015 Michigan Wolverines.
“We will not embarrass ourselves or lose our cool. If one of their players decides to try and screw off our quarterback’s head like a bottlecap, we will not retaliate and get a stupid penalty. We will respond by winning.
He paused and glared. “We will play with integrity, and we will pay with intensity. We will protect the ball, and protect each other. These are the fundamentals you learned in pee wee football. You will not forget them today. You will block, tackle, and run on every play until the whistle blows and the ball is in the referee’s hand.
“You will FINISH. You will not quit until your opponent is knocked to the ground, cleared out of the way, or left behind. If you block one man to the ground, you will find another. If you are knocked down on defense, you will get up, chase the play and tackle the runner. If you have the ball, you will cradle it to your body and move. You will not go down if one man grabs you, or two, or three. You will churn your legs and propel your body and you WILL NOT QUIT.
“When you run through that tunnel, there will be 110,000 people going crazy for you. So you can go a little crazy for them. Those people in that stadium –”
Coach Harbaugh paused. “I went to high school across the street. I left, then returned for college. I left again, for a long time. People said I would never return. But I was called back.
“Look around at your teammates. Most of you had never set foot in Ann Arbor until you were recruited here, and you may never return to live. But remember this: the University of Michigan will never leave you. So today, give a nod of respect. Show this town, show this University, show those people – who are here for you, and believe in you - why you came here. Why you chose to wear the Maize and Blue. And why Michigan is not only the greatest University in the world, but the best damned football team in the state.
“Put on your helmets. Wear your uniform with pride. Respect its history, and this great Michigan football tradition. Some say Michigan football is back - but I tell you that it never went anywhere. It was always here: right here in this locker room, out there on that field, and in the hearts of those fans who are about to go crazy for you.
“Now follow me through that tunnel. We got some ballin’ to do.”
MICHIGAN 31, MSU 0
By Heiko Yang
Let’s review the last four times Michigan played Northwestern:
2011 – Michigan 42, Northwestern 24. Michigan struggles to run the ball against an aggressive Northwestern front seven and falls behind early to Chicago’s Heisman Candidate but compensates by hurling bombs to Rich-Rod smurfs. The effectiveness of this offense enrages the football gods, who sentence Michigan to downfield impotence in future seasons. Devin Gardner fills in admirably after an ominous arm injury sidelines Denard Robinson in the second half and scores on a designed waggle run to the right pylon.
2012 – Northwestern 31, Michigan 38 (OT). Michigan trades blows with Kain Colter and unstoppable throw-god Trevor Siemian, but Gardner’s second game as full-time starter after Denard’s right ulnar nerve finally betrays him sees Gardner throw a critical interception deep in the fourth quarter. Down three points with less than a minute left to play, the Michigan defense forces a punt on 4th and 19 at midfield, which Jeremy Gallon returns 34 yards for a rare Michigan special teams coaching victory. This sets up Roy Roundtree’s circus catch and a Brandan Gibbons field goal for overtime. Northwestern proceeds to act like it’s never seen the Gardner waggle, Greg Mattison deploys Jedi mind tricks, ball game.
2013 – Michigan 27, Northwestern 19 (3OT). The saddest competitive game of football ever played (until next year) that will be remembered forever for the 3-second-drill field goal for a 9-9 tie that Michigan pulls off at the end of regulation without being penalized, shockingly. Other things happen that are of note: Pat Fitzgerald has a sad after a punt goes for seven yards. Michigan nets positive rushing yards for the first time in three games. Northwestern decides to field 11 guys all named “Courage”; Courage completes 66% of his passes for 159 yards and an INT before getting sacked on the final play of triple overtime, at which point Fitzgerald has another sad.
2014 – Michigan 10, Northwestern 9. #M00N.
If anyone had a claim to most cursed Michigan opponent, it would be Northwestern. That is some bad juju. Losing to the 2011 Michigan? Fine. Chalk it up to poor timing to play Michigan while Brady Hoke hadn’t yet run out of golden poop. Losing to 2012 Michigan? That’s like having managed to strike down the Balrog but then getting snared by its whip as it’s falling into the depths: horrible luck, although you probably shouldn’t have let your guard down. Losing to 2013 Michigan is like coming down with strep throat on a snow day, and losing to 2014 Michigan is like not finishing your antibiotics and oops now you have rheumatic fever.
You could say that the recent series has been a constant refrain of “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” where Michigan is Annie Oakley and Northwestern is Frank Butler. No matter what the Wildcats do, the Wolverines find a way to trump it. 2015 is no different. Northwestern’s “top-ranked” defense is bested by Michigan’s defense in advanced stats and eye test. The Wildcats boast one shutout; the Wolverines have two. Michigan’s plodding and inconsistent offense seems ever so more robust than whatever Northwestern has. Pat Fitzgerald is a master tactician with a fiery sideline presence? I would like you to meet Jim Harbaugh.
The streak will continue, and without the boneheaded coaching decisions that have made the last four contests closer than they should have been, today’s result will at least be less painful to Northwestern fans. This won’t be another Michigan game that got away; this will be the one they never had in the first place.
Northwestern 3, Michigan 28
By Nick RouMel
It was 1978. My friend Bruce and I had graduated from UM and had the same plan: travel the country. We loaded my ’73 Pontiac Catalina and decided our first overnight stop would be Evanston.
There was supposed to be a youth hostel somewhere on campus. We came upon a group of co-eds. There was something odd about them, but we couldn’t place it. We asked directions of one. She looked at us and said nothing. We asked another – silence.
Eventually we found our destination and a party, some knock-off of Otis Day and the Knights. Learning we were from Michigan, there was some awkward football conversation. The Wolverines were headed to their third straight Rose Bowl; the Wildcats were destined to do even worse than their previous two 1-10 seasons, finishing 1978 without a win. Football was, to them, a joke. Maybe that’s why the silence – except on the dance floor.
It was 1995. Punt Classic and I had scored passes to the press box for a tilt against Miami of Ohio. It was our first trip to this Valhalla, featuring free doughnuts for us real journalists. It was also former walk-on Brian Griese’s first ever start, replacing an injured Scott Dreisbach who had led Michigan to a 4-0 start. Griese engineered a lopsided victory, which was only significant because that same Miami of Ohio team had beaten our next opponent, Northwestern, earlier in the season. We figured Northwestern would be a tuneup.
The 1995 Northwestern team was somewhat improved, however. Gary Barnett was in his 4th year as coach, and though he was coming off three seasons in which he’d not won more than three games, he opened ’95 beating Notre Dame on the road. They blew a big lead against Miami the next week, but won their next two games handily, and came into Ann Arbor with a little swagger, led by the triumvirate of QB Steve Schnur, tailback Darnell Autry, and a sparkling linebacker named Pat Fitzgerald.
Counterpunt was worried. I saw a once in a lifetime, Brigadoon-type season.
I wrote about a shocking upset. I wrote about the press box atmosphere, and concluded my article, “I see the press corps eating their doughnuts in stunned silence, unable to believe the final score: Northwestern 19-Michigan 16.” I was off by three points, as Griese had a horrid, turnover-filled day that could not overcome Tshimanga Biakabutuka’s 205 yards (on his way to a Michigan record 1818 yards in a season). Northwestern went on to the Rose Bowl; Michigan lost three more, ending the season losing in the Alamo Bowl to Texas A&M.
I worry that Jake Rudock will have one of those Brian Griese lines: 14-34-96-0-2, and a fumble. If he does, our defense will not overcome that.
Back to those silent co-eds. We learned at the party that it was a sorority rush ritual; they were not allowed to speak to anyone, much less two skinny, frizzy-haired lost souls from Ann Arbor.
Silence all around, except in Evanston.
NORTHWESTERN 14, MICHIGAN 13
via photoshop thread
By Heiko Yang
So, about last Saturday …
Oof. Nothing like a good kick in the nuts to remind yourself that you still got ‘em. I appreciate the Futurama reference, though.
Last week Nick and I both picked a Michigan loss, and this went about as well as either of us could have hoped for. Admittedly, we’ve been playing a little fast and loose with the rules of Punt/Counterpunt as a way to cope with the oppressive darkness of last season. This was a very appropriate reminder that dissidence during perestroika is not a good idea.
(You know what else is not a good idea? Punting to Will Likely. Don’t ask me about specifics; I just read it somewhere.)
This week Michigan travels to College Park as the overwhelming favorite against a Maryland team that would struggle in the MAC. They have no real starting quarterback, and they got their one somewhat substantial win by forcing South Florida to also play without its starting quarterback. A few days ago their coach appeared to be aware but not totally aware of what his football players were doing – it’s a sign that by now should be pathognomonic for an impending tire fire explosion, and there isn’t enough black that Under Armour can douse their uniforms with to put it out.
So don’t worry, neither Nick or I will be predicting a loss today.
Michigan is probably going to fall off from its exponential trajectory though. It’s another road game (weak argument I know, but I’ve got about 10 road games worth of personal data over the last few seasons that says overwhelmingly that Michigan is a bad road team), and it’s looking like the weather is going to reduce everything to a sloppy rugby match anyway. To minimize errors, I imagine Harbaugh will be happy to call the game the same way he’s been calling the second halves of each of the last few games, and the final result will reflect a low variance affair.
This game might set Michigan football back about a century. On the bright side, at least that’s the kind of football Michigan was always good at.
Michigan 13, Maryland 6
by Nick RoUMel
What an ass-kicking last week. No, I’m not talking about the game.
We, Punt and Counterpunt, were called out.
“Hackneyed and forced.” “Should be ashamed.” “Can we get rid of this now?” “So full of fail.” “Your posts are bad, and you should feel bad.” “Eat a dick.”
It was so brutal I heard from friends as far away as Palo Alto and Seattle asking if I were all right. The comments were so consistently negative that I embraced this one as a compliment: “Nick says things about stuff, I guess,” hanging onto it like a life preserver.
Many wondered aloud about the point of this column.
I’ve been Counterpunt since 1994. I served with “Punt Classic” (Ken “Sky” Walker) until he retired for the 2013 season, and Heiko (“New Punt”) took over. Mercifully, the column was on hiatus during the Rich Rod years, and then it was resurrected by MGoBlog and transformed from paper to electronic medium. There’s always plenty of serious discussion and debate about Michigan football, especially by this blog’s writers who are way more analytical than I will ever be. So I – we, Punt and I – try to bring a more humorous aspect.
Heiko has a great style, meandering around aimlessly like Barry Sanders in the Lions’ backfield, and then finds his opening and bursts through. Then you understand what his purpose was all along.
My typical formula is to make fun of Michigan’s opponent and discuss some aspect of the rivalry, then build up to the prediction. I did the same thing last week.
Where we went wrong was both picking against Michigan. While that was not unprecedented – for example, last year we both (correctly) picked losses to Utah and Ohio State – it was not so shocking then, given how far Michigan’s football expectations had fallen. As one commenter noted last week, our fan base has suffered serious damage.
This year was different. There is hope. Reflecting that, last week we were a 7 point favorite against a pretty good opponent. But to be fair, at that point, we did not have an impressive victory; we had questions about our quarterback; we were unaware how good Utah was shaping up to be; and we were still generally hoping for an 8-4 season as a good outcome.
What a difference a game makes. Now we are nationally ranked, a legitimate Big Ten title contender, and in line for a major bowl.
Maybe by season’s end, the truth will be somewhere in the middle. One thing is certain: no matter where we end up, it is clear we now have a coach. And that coaching is evident on the field. Do you remember how many times Brady Hoke would enter a Monday presser and blame the loss on lack of execution? Do you remember the missed tackles and other sloppy play?
Compare that with the execution against Brigham Young. We finished plays. From Darboh’s one handed catch, to Pepper’s throw down tackle, to Smith’s “Get Off Me” run, to Chesson’s block on Rudock’s TD run, to Rudock’s own lock-down execution - such as the play where he fake-looked off two receivers and found Khalid Hill.
Have no doubt – execution is a direct function of coaching.
So maybe Punt and Counterpunt succumbed - for one week and two badly blown predictions - to the deep-seated pessimism that was rooted in years of mediocrity. If Michigan can right itself, so can we.
I’ll leave you with this story: I once went on a golf weekend at Crystal Mountain with a friend. We had the first tee time, at something like 7:30 AM, so we could play two rounds that day. The weather was unseasonably cold and they delayed all starting times until after 10 AM, until the sun burned off the dew. By the time we got to the first tee, there must have been 50 impatient golfers who were going to follow us all day watching us hit our drives.
I whiffed. Not once, but twice. I finally grabbed a five iron and managed to hit a weak shot that at least moved me up the fairway.
Sometimes you just need a Mulligan.
MICHIGAN 28, MARYLAND 3
By Heiko Yang
Interesting matchup today.
Michigan’s head coach coached in a Super Bowl; BYU’s head coach sounds like he was named at a Super Bowl. Michigan’s quarterback can’t throw farther than 10 yards downfield; BYU’s quarterback throws Hail Marys like he’s excited about the Pope visiting. BYU likes to hit people in the balls; Michigan … Michigan understands that ball security is important.
Balls aside, the Wolverines really need to win, especially from a philosophical standpoint. The trajectory of each team over the last few games makes for a very Aesopian scenario: one team that’s been diligently chipping away at a giant rock is pitted against a team that’s just flinging dynamite in every direction. (Just to clarify, the rock in this case represents winning, not Penn State. (More specifically, turning the rock into something impressive like the Statue of David represents winning, because why would you want to chip away at winning? (You want to chip away the obstacles to winning, so maybe the rock itself in its raw form represents a conglomeration of obstacles (maybe the rock is Penn State after all.))))
The moral of the story should be something along the lines of “slow, steady, and safe wins the race and is also better than sorry.”
Except I’m kind of worried by this whole dynamite analogy now. It only works in Michigan’s favor if we’re talking about the long term. If the goal here is to turn Penn State into the Statue of David (just go with it), it really is much safer to use a chisel since David has some delicate features (balls) that could get destroyed by dynamite. Plus you might injure yourself and whoever else happens to be in the vicinity. In BYU’s case that already happened to Nebraska and Boise – UCLA almost fell victim – and now Michigan is the next victim at risk, even though this entire time it has been busy chiseling and minding its own business and protecting its balls.
Michigan will hopefully end the season with a winning record more closely resembling David than the pile of rubble and limbs BYU will end up with, but that doesn’t mean that it’ll survive its encounter with BYU without harm.
Anyway, the moral of the story here is “don’t play with explosives.” Also don’t get carried away with analogies.
BYU 19, Michigan 17.
by Nick RoUMel
My dad always referred to the BYU football team as the “clean livers.” The school has been long famous for their LDS (Mormon) church-centered honor code that requires “chaste and virtuous life,” clean language, and abstention from all manner of substances includes drugs, alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee. Coca-Cola is supposedly permitted, but not sold on campus. Easy to see why they are the #1 “stone cold sober” campus 14 years running by the Princeton Review.
Perhaps the ban on premarital sex has led to a marriage rate five times the national average (more than half of students are married by graduation). Or maybe that has something to do with promotion of a family culture, as well as the greater maturity of students. Nearly all male undergraduates undertake a two-year mission trip before graduation. Then they marry somebody like Marie Osmond.
When you Google “Marie Osmond cheesecake images”…
You actually get images of her cheesecake recipe. Now that’s wholesome.
One of these man-child undergraduates is BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum, a 22 year “freshman” who is fresh off a missionary trip to Chile. He graduated from high school in Idaho in 2012, and was ranked the third best pro-style quarterback in the nation by Rivals. I suspect he tossed a few footballs around with the natives during his mission, because he’s flung the rock pretty well in wins against Nebraska and Boise State, and during the narrow loss at UCLA. This is a school that’s produced quarterbacks like Steve Young, Ty Detmer and Jim McMahon, and Mangum is in the same mold - an excellent passer who’s also dangerously mobile – who can do it all without caffeine.
It surprises me that Michigan is favored. Mangum will be the best quarterback they’ve faced all year, and can only be contained, not stopped. It will be no surprise that Coach Harbaugh will try to keep the ball out of his hands with a conservative, run-oriented offense, and hope that Mr. Rudock and company reduce turnovers.
Fans may remember 1984, when BYU finished the regular season as the only undefeated D-1 team, but as a WAC team back then, were contractually obligated to play in the Holiday Bowl. While teams detracted their soft schedule and right to the title, nobody wanted to play them except for a mediocre 6-5 Michigan team. The Wolverines led in the fourth quarter but the Cougars’ defense stiffened, allowing injured QB Robbie Bosco to lead the offense to two scores for a 24-17 victory.
Pollsters reluctantly voted BYU #1 in the nation, but critics still denounced them. The next year they beat Boston College (#4 in 1984) and trounced a Washington team that many thought should have been atop the polls the previous year instead of BYU, by a score of 31-3.
The Cougars have maintained their excellence. They have more victories in the last 40 years than Michigan. The first four games of their schedule this year are as challenging as anyone’s. The oddsmakers’ logic to favor Michigan is puzzling, and must give great weight to the home field advantage.
Heiko has picked a narrow BYU victory. I cannot bring myself to disagree. My hope for Michigan this year under our new coach was that we would be competitive in every game, improve over the season, and position ourselves to return to the top level of college football within a few years. I don’t think we are quite there yet.
The “clean livers” prevail, but you won’t see images like this back in Provo:
Sorry, but when you Google “Mormon couch burning images,” you actually get this.
BYU 28, MICHIGAN 21
By Heiko Yang
For a home opener against an overmatched opponent, last week went pretty well. The first half provided some intrigue and drama before the second half turned into a gratuitous murder scene.
Michigan did to Oregon State what Michigan is supposed to do as a two-touchdown favorite, and the experience felt like the kind of repetitive bludgeoning that’s only supposed to happen when Lloyd Carr was head coach.
Everything was great, except when we screwed up the wave.
(If you’re asking “what wave?” you are most likely personally responsible for screwing it up.)
The first time I saw the wave in the Big House was in 2009 against Delaware State. The score was obscene, and David Cone was taking snaps at quarterback. Seeing 100,000 people sustain a roiling swell that sped up and slowed down before splitting itself in two was an incredibly beautiful experience. Even the Hornets pep band – and I’m pretty sure a few of their players as well – joined in.
Since then the opportunities to do the wave have been rare, and not all of them have been under ideal circumstances. We almost got burned badly during the UMass game in 2010 when we started the wave with a score of 28-17. We were barely paying attention when UMass shredded our defense for a touchdown, which resulted in a feeling of oh-my-god-what-have-we-done that gripped the stadium for the rest of the fourth quarter.
Many of us have grown cautious with the wave, especially in context of the dismal record the program has suffered. As fans, doing the wave was our way of pulling the starters: thanks for playing, we are no longer interested in this game, and many of us plan to file out soon to avoid traffic. We’ve since resorted to other ways of getting the message across.
I’m not sure if our failed attempt at the wave last week was because we’re out of practice or just leery of fourth-quarter meltdowns. It’s also possible that the long-time season ticket holders who knew to expect a wave coming out of the student section have been replaced by people who feel like their seats would be better if the students weren’t so loud. In one way or another I’m sure this is all Dave Brandon’s fault.
Either way, my heart broke watching that thing die repeatedly in section 24. It was embarrassing and a blemish – a reminder of how bad things have been for so long – on an otherwise perfect home opener and homecoming for Jim Harbaugh. I’d rather not see it happen again this week, so let’s just keep this one close and avoid the opportunity for failure altogether, shall we?
UNLV 10, Michigan 17.
COUNTERPUNT - UNLV
by Nick RoUMel
This is what I have to say about Punt’s column:
Having fulfilled my obligation to engage in spirited woofing with the young upstart on the top of this page, I now turn to the Runnin’ Rebs.
Contrary to certain belief, they do not have a football team. Las Vegas last experienced (back of the house) gridiron success when the New York Jets shocked the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
If you do not believe my assertion that they do not have a football team, check out the below photo from the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels football team landing page. I kid you not. What’s with the mimes in German war helmets? The can-can dancer with the feathered plumes? THE COPS? Why is the one cop carrying the football? “We’re going to take this in for evidence, son. Your coach knows why.”
This is not “The Team, the Team, the Team.” This is the cast of Naked Gun meets Amarcord. This is a squad that boasts alumni currently playing “pro football” for teams such as the BC Lions, the Spokane Shock, the Sacramento Mountain Lions, and the Wichita Wild. Retired players include former defensive end Suge Knight and TV commercial star Ickey “Shuffle” Woods. (Though we will give them their props for Randall Cunningham.)
Suge in urban chic. Randall the Runnin’ Reb.
This is a mismatch. This is the 70’s. Bo is in the house and is going to run up the middle until the Rebs cash in their chips. The fans will brave the rain and cheer enthusiastically. They will do the wave, and competently so, I might add.
MICHIGAN 38, UNLV 3
By Heiko Yang
Good morning, Ann Arbor. There’s a kiss of maize in the treetops, and the morning chill will soon be laced with the sweet smoke of charcoal and sizzling fat. At some point today a team called “Oregon State” will be playing our Wolverines. The “Oregon Staters” aren’t very good, which is a good thing because we aren’t that great either. But who cares? Football season is here, and boy does it feel great.
It’s hard to describe the excitement of getting up on a Football Saturday. A lot of you crazy tailgaters set alarms for ridiculous hours this morning, and I bet a lot of you didn’t need it. There are few things that can convince your brain that it would rather be awake at 4 a.m. than asleep. It doesn’t matter that the main event isn’t for another eight hours, because this is eight hours you get to savor.
Some of us have been planning for today for months. If you’re from out of town you probably called up a bunch of your friends over the summer – and the one guy you don’t really like but you put up with because he owns an RV – to plan everything from tablecloths to TV sets. If you’re a student you probably spent the last few weeks either trying to get a fake ID or trying to make friends with someone old enough to get a keg.
So when you got up this morning, you went to work. You put on the maize-est and blue-est outfit you could find out of your closet that is already entirely maize and blue. You made coffee while listening to “The Victors.” You pulled out your maize and blue cornhole boards from storage and got a few splinters that you won’t notice until later tonight when you watch Michigan State play Oregon. You nearly set your maize and blue outfit on fire because you tried squirting lighter fluid on charcoal that was already lit. You spent several minutes making sure a long plastic table was perfectly level. You got into an argument about which quarterback should start, which inspired you to grab the nearest football and yell “go deep!” to prove your point.
At this point you’re stuffed from having dinner food and beer for breakfast, your cheeks are stiff from smiling, your arm is sore from high-fiving, and there’s still an hour and a half before kickoff.
Right about now is when a fraction of you will decide to go home and take a nap. Which is a very bad, very shameful, I guess, but I get it.
If game day were stone soup, the game itself would be the stone. Yes, football is the main event, and it gives us a reason to wake up early, tailgate, and play drinking games with friends and family. But when it’s May and we’re pining for football season, we may not necessarily be pining for the sport itself. A lot of the nostalgia we associate with football doesn’t come from what happens inside the stadium so much as what happens around it. And I think that’s okay.
If it were just about the football I would still be sleeping.
Oregon State 9, Michigan 17
by Nick RoUMel
I may be small, but I am slow.
My athletic prowess can be summed up by my experiences in elementary school gym, taught by the buzz-cutted Mr. Starz, who was rumored to live in a van. We were required to begin class by standing on spots painted on the floor, in order of height. I stood on the first spot, until fourth or fifth grade when I passed a girl or two. After jumping jacks and toe touches, we had to run laps around the schoolyard. I lagged so far behind everyone else that one day Mr. Starz ordered that no one was allowed to pass me. I think he hoped it would help my self-esteem, but with Danny Turner and Eric Wingard on my heels, dogging me to move faster, it didn’t work so well.
And dodge ball? Forget it. Couldn’t catch Danny, Eric and Scott Jewell, nor move fast enough to get out of the way.
Team sports were no better. My best season in Little League I hit .198. I was a fair second baseman but with no range. My most refined skill was picking up the balls the catcher threw back to our pitcher. This was because our pitcher, who wore Coke-bottle glasses and was suspected to be legally blind, was gifted with a blazing fastball – which only occasionally visited the strike zone. Batters cowered in the back of the batters’ box, hoping to wait out a walk or not get hit. Sort of like facing Dock Ellis.
But I loved sports. All of them. It wasn’t fair. I could recite statistics and lore ranging from baseball to horse racing. I just couldn’t play any of them.
My father kindly suggested that I be a sports writer. I began this “career” for my high school paper, covering the teams I couldn’t play for with the same sarcastic bent that serves me today. I found that I loved sports journalism, and thought about it as a career. My dad did give me one fair piece of advice, however: he suggested I get a day job, pointing out that Howard Cosell was a successful lawyer before finding his groove on Monday Night Football. Lawyering is my day job as well.
I am lucky enough to be in my 21st year as Counterpunt, with a few years of hiatus before MGoBlog resurrected this gig. Covered them all since Bo - from Mo to Llo, from R-Ro to B-Ho. Today Jim Harbaugh will run through that tunnel for the first time as a Michigan head coach. I cannot even imagine what it’s like to experience that, to burst into a giant stadium and have 110,000-plus cheering for you. Outside of my dad clapping for me at Little League, I have no idea.
Yet I have been blessed to watch from the sidelines, to learn the game, and be a fan. While I have never known what it’s like to experience success on the field, I have certainly experienced moments of great Michigan pride and elation, including the undefeated 1998 season. But I can tell you confidently, that my Michigan heart will swell bigger than it ever has when Coach Harbaugh leads the 2015 team through that tunnel.
Welcome home, Coach. We’ve missed you.
MICHIGAN 28, OREGON STATE 10