I was there.
The almost-perfect long weekend in the middle of the last semester of our senior year. Yeah, it was a little too expensive (even though we drove). Yeah, it made finishing our classes a little tougher (but who works much in their last semester of undergrad anyhow?). And it was a chance to see something special, a potential national championship. I had watched the last one on TV (and will never forget how clutch Rumeal was, hitting those two free throws). I had celebrated on South U. (as a high schooler) with the masses, but desperately wanted to see this one in person.
They held a lottery to see who got tickets. Can you imagine, not enough tickets to go see the the Final Four down in Louisiana? We won. I don't remember how many people applied, and I sure was hoping that senior status counted for something extra. But we won. And so, we went.
Welcome to New Orleans!
I was only worried about one game: Kentucky. Everybody thought they were the team to beat. And they were. A beast of a team. Led by Jamal Mashburn, they finished the season ranked #2 in the country (behind #1 Indiana, whom #9 Kansas later bounced to sneak into the Final Four); Michigan was #3, North Carolina #4. The closest (at the time) to all four #1 teams making it. How I still wonder about what would have happened had Indiana beaten Kansas...
Bobby K: Too Angry To Win
But I was there.
The Kentucky game went to overtime, Webber was a monster throughout. Look at his stat sheet: 27 points, 13 rebounds, 39 minutes of playing time. Yes, others had great games too (Howard, Jackson, Rose), but without Webber, the run would have ended. I saw a lot of Kentucky fans crying after the game. One shook my hand and offered up a weak but heartfelt "good luck"; I'll always think fondly of that small, silly moment. What luck did I need? I was just watching. Kentucky fans, man, kentucky fans.
One Kentucky Fan We Can All Get Behind
So we celebrated. A great night out on the town, as only the town that hosts Mardi Gras can deliver. And the knowledge that we had one more game, a winnable game against a good (but not great) team.
Mardi Gras Girls: No, We Didn't Meet Them
And I was there.
The team didn't seem to have their legs that infamous Monday night against UNC. I think Kentucky took a lot out of them. Watching UNC breeze by a lousy Kansas team on Saturday, I was convinced we had the tougher road, and during the last game it showed.
Don't Worry Sir, We'll Lose Easily
But those five guys (and yes, the others, too) had something, a toughness, a resilience. We managed to pull ahead with five minutes left. Someone told me one of those stupid stats which make you feel good but only in a false-bravado kind of way: Michigan hadn't lost a game that year when they were up with five minutes left. My friends and I exchanged high fives. We're going to win!
We Exchanged High Fives
But somehow they couldn't keep a guy in Donald Williams' face, and he kept making shots. Why was Jalen on him? I thought King would have been a better choice, more athletic, if shorter. But there was Williams again, making twos, making threes, and suddenly we were down.
F---ing Donald Williams (Looking Old Now)
I was there, and I remember when Webber traveled.
The whole place screamed "walk!" but somehow they didn't call it. Later, I felt thankful for the refs: they didn't want to decide the game on a stupid play like that. They just wanted to see it play out. But Webber walked, and then started dribbling like crazy up the court.
Fisher: What I Would Have Looked Like, Had We Had One More TO
Most of us were screaming "Time out!" How many goddamned basketball games have you watched where there are about 100 timeouts at the end, play moving glacially forward, the last 30 seconds taking 20 minutes? How can a team actually run out of time outs? I bet you Fisher thought about that for a long time after. If they'd just had one more timeout ...
Pelinka: Open For A Three?
Pelinka was open. The UNC guys were running around, crazy, double-teaming (turned out to be a good decision, huh?), and if Webber had just swung the ball to someone, anyone, I bet it would have made its way to Pelinka in the corner. You know, the guy who makes threes. For years, I would wake up in the night, and think about "what if Pelinka had gotten it in the corner?" Thankfully, that went away. Sport fans, we're nuts.
I was there, when all the fans looked at one another, confused.
What happened? Then some guy two rows in front of me, in that f---ing monster of a building where there wasn't much of a scoreboard anywhere near the court for players to see, said simply: "They don't have any more timeouts. That's a technical foul. We're going to lose." Our section, crazy with noise moments ago, jumping with the certainty that our guys were going to pull it out, fell slowly quiet. The UNC fans started to figure it out too; they all started to go nuts, as did their players on the bench. I still can't figure out the Dean Smith voodoo, his two championships not remembered for his team's greatness, but for the other team's failure in the clutch. For this reason, I still harbor an irrational hatred of Dean Smith.
The Dean's Voo-doo Victim #1: Fred Brown
Watching the brilliant documentary on the Fab Five the other day brought this flood of memories back. And what memories they were, and are. I've enjoyed the current season immensely, as Beilein and Co. have built up a team that is easy and fun to root for. But for two seasons in what seems like another lifetime, we had something more than that, something so rare and special that it is hard to believe it was Michigan basketball. We had rock stars for a basketball team. We cheered them on when they won, and we wept with them when they lost. We loved them, and so we wept.
It was a long drive home.
A Long Drive Home
As for the memories I have, well, scandals, banner-removals, or any other "official" process can't touch them. A memory of my own youth, a memory of a time where five kids made national headlines simply by being who they were, a memory filled with many joyous headlines, and finished with an unforgettable exclamation point, perhaps an appropriately tragic ending.
I graduated, I moved out of the state, but I will always have those memories.
You see, I was there.
It's past noon on Friday, so honestly, who's working at this point? On to a really important topic as we contemplate the coaching direction of Michigan football: What song should Rodriguez have picked to feature at the Football Bust? Maybe Bon Jovi, Livin' on a Prayer, a Big House favorite? Perhaps DB could have followed that with Won't Get Fooled Again? What song should be featured at next year's Bust (hosted by Coach X)? I welcome your views.
For all the excitement of this roller coaster of a season, there has been a palpable lack of CONER this year. When we last left Georgia's Finest he was going full force into an acting career, but it's been a while since we last heard what the stud was up to.
FRET NO MORE! Presenting: The Return of the Coner!
EDIT: Can't figure out why my resizing efforts are failing, mod help appreciated.
Hi. My name is Brian, and I am 28. For 20 of those years, I have been a Michigan fan, and until last week, I thought I had it pretty good. There was smugness in my fandom, superiority, feelings that often would cross over into (yes) Arrogance. I looked down at fans of other teams, in other sports, in other leagues.
Where does your team play? Citizen's Bank Park? That's nice. My team's stadium not only doesn't have a name, we also don't even have ads inside. At all. Oh, you're Jets fan? That's great, but why do you only play the Giants once every seven years? Why can't the NFL see how great a rivalry that could be? Sure, the Mets are cool, but they are 100 years younger than my Wolverines.
For twenty years, I thought we were special. We loved a college team, made up of our classmates, at a place we actually had a connection to. The kids that loved pro teams the most were just throwing their money at a corporation, an office building somewhere that didn’t really care as long as people still paid. Ours was a two-way street, where the team and the school remembered us, the past, and why these things mattered.
I could handle the increase in TV money, the championship games, the BCS. These were unwelcome, certainly, but those things couldn’t touch what it meant to be a Michigan fan. “All we want is to win a lot of games, beat OSU, and get to the Rose Bowl. Everything after that is gravy”.
Coach Shiano is right when he says we are about to lose our memories. However, it is even worse than that. We are about to lose our identities. The greatest day in sports (even the Old Firm matches in Glasgow are spread out over two different days) is going to be taken out back, shot, and fed to ABC, for the sum of less than a million dollars.
My first child will be born this fall, a few weeks before the game. It sounds petty, but I couldn’t wait to dress him or her up in a tiny block M shirt, and watch the game from the couch, knowing we would do this every year at the same time until I died. If we can’t count on the game, what can we count on?
This began as a reply to the Board Post below, but screw it, Dad deserves better.
I didn't stand a chance of being anything other than a Michigan fan. Dad, Mom, Grandparents, countless aunts and uncles, Sister, Brother, several cousins... most are alums and diehard Wolverines. Growing up was centered around family every Fall Saturday, with huge parties for the OSU, MSU, and Rose Bowl games. Wins on any given Saturday were followed immediately by a dash to the phone to call Grandma and scream "Yay! Yay! Yay!"
My Dad did host most of those parties, always setting up a great time by all even if Michigan lost (read: most Rose Bowls). I can remember joyous yells of "Touchdown Michigan!" filling the house after yet another brilliant play by Bo's Wolverines. I recall the elation of watching Jamie Morris scamper for a TD, and the horror of watching Tony Boles have his career cut short. Watching a game on TV still always takes me back to that little TV room in Saginaw.
He also took each of us kids to Ann Arbor for a day on our 7th birthdays. My day started with the long car ride, early in the morning before the sun came up. We got to Ann Arbor just after first light and then began with a walk up to and around Central Campus. I especially remember the feeling of running up and down the stone walls that lined some side streets. Then it was off to the Big House, a frigid scamper on the Astroturf field (gotta love Ann Arbor in December), and a climb to the top of the bowl. Finally there was a trip to Blimpie Burger, and then into the car for the ride back north. That trip made me realize that Ann Arbor was sacred ground, without Dad ever having to say it outright.
When Saturday Afternoons were compromised by duck hunting, the radio was always right there in the blind. Dad took his hunting very seriously and he would stay very still and quiet with me charge of listening to the headphones and giving updates. I always hated getting up early, in horrendous weather, to hunt the ducks, but I have some of my most enduring memories of my father from those times in the marshes of Shiawassee, Crow Island, and Saginaw Bay.
Notre Dame games are a blur of memories, almost all taken in at a bar in Lovells. The
town village crossroads is right next to the land where we would one day have a cabin. We seemed to always be there on the weekend of the Notre Dame game and the bar/restaurant would be packed nearly standing room only, with all eyes glued to the tiny TV in the corner of the room. When Michigan scored, things would get rowdy in there. I think Dad even dislocated Grandma's thumb with a high-five once.
Of course introducing me to Michigan Fandom was really the least of what my Dad has done and continues to do for me. He is the most upright role model I know to this day. He instilled a sense of morals and dignity in all of his children, and protected and enriched us in countless ways. He gives of himself always to the benefit of all that know him, and many who do not. If I can end up half the man my Dad is, I will consider myself a success and net benefit to the world.
Thanks Dad, for everything.
This year is different though. The solid foundation that the Michigan program has stood upon for generations is now eroded. It feels much less stable than we can seem to recall. Last August surely didn't have this feel. Despite the regime change, despite the player exodus, despite the complete overhaul of how our Wolverines would line up and play the game, we felt that talent and tradition would lead us again to glory. It was our right after all, what the past had taught us to expect. Now the situation is palpably different. The rug has been swept from beneath the Michigan fan base. We simply cannot view each game on the schedule as a better than even chance of victory. Western Michigan looms as a stiff test for these young Wolverines, and that feels very odd indeed to say. The season has more glaring questions than most of us were willing to admit going in to last season.
Remember how it felt in years past, when there would be a question mark at quarterback, running back, defensive line, etc, etc, etc? Maybe the replacement wouldn't completely fill the shoes of the star player they were replacing, but pretty much rest assured they would be solid. Now we have questions everywhere we look...
- Can a freshman quarterback really lead this team to a winning record and a bowl berth?
- Do we really have a great running back in the stable, or will the fumbles and injuries return to haunt us?
- Will one (or hopefully more) of the many talented wideouts or slot receivers step up and become the star target we need?
- Was it merely a mirage that the O-line seemed to gel in the second half of last season?
- Can the D-line pick up where the departed seniors left off?
- Will RVB or some platoon of underclassmen be enough of a threat to free B. Graham of constant double teams?
- Is Ezeh cut in the mold of great Michigan linebackers of the past?
- Will Warren take that next step, or are his perceived shortcomings of last season due to something more than injuries?
- Do we have any decent safties on the roster?
- What the heck is a Spinner supposed to be doing?
- Will a burnt crispy Stevie Brown haunt us each and every weekend?
- Most glaring of all, can a defense possibly come together when the system they run as well as the their coaching staff changes three times in three years?
Hail to the Victors.
(Now let's hear some answers to the questions raised above. Maybe through further intelligent discussion we can all feel more confident about the situation!)