i refuse to even consider this a possibility
As has been chronicled on this site, UM football has been taking a beating recently both for its on-field performance (both past and presumed future) as well as the myriad of negative stories generated this off-season. Without rehashing or dwelling upon them, I want to address why they bug me (and I suspect others). Bear with me - this is more a cathartic rant than some eloquent point-by-point discussion.
I'm really pissed about the transfers, the expulsions, the APR hits, and the Feagin arrest; not because I am some naive fan who always thought UM was filled with "good guys" who bled maize and blue, but because this just reminds me more and more that nothing is really "pure" anymore. Now, I know that sounds somewhat whimsical and illogical, but hear me out.
My connection with UM didn't start when I entered the school back in '99. It started as a little kid growing up outside Detroit, knowing how good a school it was, how it was a "leader" and the "best", and most importantly, how every fall Saturday this whole state cared about how the Wolverines played that day. Sure, MSU had its fans, but in the 80's and 90's, the trials and triumphs of UM seemed to matter way too much to this state, and I couldn't help but be caught up. So I was bummed out when this team lost in the Rose Bowl to Washington, and I was ecstatic when UM returned the favor the following year. And to this day, I still remember walking down Hoover with my friend and his dad, who scored tickets to some meaningless early-season game against Miami (Not that Miami), awestruck by the beauty of the campus that crisp fall day. And to sit in that stadium, to hear the announcer welcome us all to the biggest stadium in America, the most people watching a football game anywhere, and to see those winged helmet rush onto the field and dominate - well, let's just say that it took Britney Spears dancing around in a schoolgirl outfit before I was that excited again.
So when junior year rolled around and college became the "thing" everyone worried about, I knew the beginning and end of my search. Then, to learn that UM had a world-renowned engineering program, I was sold. So I sweated through the ACTs, through the essays and the AP exams, and hoped that I could attend the school that captured my mind years ago. Then one rainy day my senior year, I sprinted to my jeep and found an envelope on the steering wheel - an envelope emblazoned with the UM Admissions seal (my mother, too nervous to open the letter when it arrived in the mail, had driven to school and left it in my car). I ripped it open, hoping for the best but fearing the worst, and in that first line I saw the word that means way too much to a 17-year-old kid - “congratulations.” I practically lost my mind, in a way that would have made me a worldwide sensation had youtube existed at that time.
But that was only the beginning of my connection with Michigan and, in particular, this football team. My freshman year, I sat with the greybeards while UM held on against Notre Dame, the snow and cold of the HC game against Purdue, and I cared way too much that Carr kept yanking Brady and Henson around at QB (I personally though Brady looked better out there than the hot-shot Henson, but maybe that's a bit of revisionist history). I lost my mind like everyone else in the stands when Phil Brabbs, the goofy guy who lived next to me freshman year in South Quad, booted the game winner against Washington, and then moped around like a jilted lover as the team was dominated by the likes of Iowa(!) and OSU later that year. And no matter what anyone says, I will remain the biggest Marquise Walker fan in the world, all because he blew me and my housemates' minds with his catch against Iowa. And sure, it wasn't all about football while at UM. I loved the Law Quad in the winter, the way the campus looked in the fall and spring, and how everyone on the bus up to North Campus looked close to death come December, wishing they had skipped class that day or become a psych major (no offense). Heck, I met my wife at UM, as well as some of my closest friends. But that football team, that winged helmet, is an essential element of my memories of UM.
So that's why all of this negative press kills me. Not because I care if we get a Fulmer Cup point or if guys like Boren and Wermers were right about this team, or that Rittenberg picks up to finish 9th in the Big 10 or that we are significantly worse than OSU – but because all of these hits dilute, though infinitesimally, my memories of UM. Now I know that sounds crazy – my four years at UM are in the past, and no matter what happens in the future, they should remain untouched. My friends didn't disappear, my degree still means the same, and those football memories still live on unmolested by the transgressions of subsequent years.
But they do, and I don't think you can help it. That is MY school that is being knocked on ESPN; it is MY school with the drug-dealing former player and the 3-9 season; it is MY school that gets run over my PSU, MSU, and OSU, that has to listen to people on the radio and online talk about how the UM mystique is dead and buried. Sure, the academics still are great, and the community and congeniality of UM and its alumni remains strong, but the fact remains that UM is partially defined by the football team, and this recent mediocre string leaves everyone with a taste in their mouth that you just can't spit out.
Perhaps worst of all, though, is that what has happened turns these dynamic memories into buzzwords and cliches. Appy St. Thugs. Rodriguezed. 3-9. It takes everything I've written, everything I lived before, during, and after my time at UM, and distills it down to some meaningless soundbite. And for any fanbase, that is the worst feeling – you see your memories, your ups and downs, your relationship with a team and school belittled by a few words. This happens everywhere – talk to MSU fans, and they have to live with “riots” and “safety school”; OSU fans, “Clarett” and “SEC”; Florida State, “Shoegate.” As a fan, you didn't ask for these black clouds, but that is part of the deal with being a fan – you take the good with the bad. But it still hurts, and it still gnaws at you more than you know it should, and that's why you write 1,000-word blog posts at night instead of doing something more productive.
So I welcome people's opinions and criticisms, their memories and their recommendations for dealing with the realities of this team. I guess I just needed to get this out, even if it makes me seem a little crazy. Part of me is bothered that I care this much about a football team and a school from my past, but part of me is happy that I still feel such a connection with this school and this team, even 5+ years after that envelope rested on my steering wheel.