Mike Lantry, 1972
In the gym this morning I had the (dis)pleasure of listening to Lou Holtz, Mark May, and Rece Davis on "College Football Final." In case anyone is wondering, they would have been hard to avoid. Multiple TVs blaring, etc. (I'll admit to having at some least some interest in the program.)
They showed the Michigan highlights right after Notre Dame's and moved into a quick discussion of next week's game. It was noted that the next two games will be the last in the series for now. Holtz took the opportunity to say that Hoke's "chicken" remarks "could come back to haunt" Michigan. When asked by Davis whether he thought ND was afraid to keep playing Michigan, he said "Nooooooooooooo."
I posted this over at a blog for which I occasionally write, but it's not a Michigan-centered blog and I don't get much feedback there so I thought I'd share it with the MGoCommunity.
Salty Sam Throws You on a Railroad Track
Being born in 1983 in Ann Arbor to a pair of Michigan alumni was the perfect storm for hating Notre Dame. For my entire life as a minor, Michigan State and Ohio State would occasionally jump up and bite the Wolverines, but they were largely just fodder for Michigan whether the coach was Schembechler, Moeller, or Carr. Notre Dame, however, was in the midst of selling its soul under Lou Holtz who was himself in the midst of getting his second of three straight schools at which he coached in hot water with the NCAA (Minnesota before and South Carolina after ND). Ethics aside, Holtz was a darn good coach which made his bizarre personality and speech pattern all the more obnoxious. At least John L. Smith has the decency to be nothing but comedy relief.
Holtz took the reigns in South Bend in 1986. After losing his first game against Michigan (and debut as Irish coach), 24-23, Holtz then led the Irish to 4 straight victories over Michigan, a stretch that included the 1988 national title for the Irish as well as the "stop kicking it to Rocket Ismail, please" game in 1989 when the Irish and Wolverines were ranked 1-2 to start the year. During this time I ranged in age from 4-7 and my father, like any true Wolverine would, grew an intense distaste for Holtz and the Domers, which I of course fully absorbed. I needed no other reason to hate Notre Dame, but then NBC made it even easier with their absurd TV contract. Half of my Michigan-Notre Dame viewing experiences have featured Tom Hammond (honorable mention in terribleness to ABC/ESPN for subjecting me to Brent Musberger for the other half)
Anyway, 1991 rolled around and in came the Irish to Ann Arbor looking for an unfathomable fifth straight win over the Wolverines. Michigan fans are rightfully (much of the time, anyway) noted for their arrogance, but in 1991 if there was one fan base that could out-smug the Wolverines it was Notre Dame. I was already destined to be a Wolverine slappy, but this cemented me for life:
That play and Remy Hamilton's winner in 1994 are the two that most stand out to me in my early Michigan football memories (of the positive ones, anyway. Don't even mention Miami in 1988. Crap, I just did). Holtz "retired" following the 1996 season. There still isn't a stated reason why. Holtz said "it was the right thing to do." Irish aficionados will tell you it was because the school's brass didn't want Holtz to surpass Knute Rockne's all-time wins record of 105. The likely reason became clear in 1999 when the Irish were hit with probation by the NCAA for failing to report improper benefits and academic fraud during the tenures of Holtz and his successor, Bob Davie. In any case, Holtz was gone and the first of many mediocre coaches to roam the sidelines in South Bend had taken over, so life must have been dandy for the Maize and Blue, right? Not so.
The Irish kept managing to defend their home turf despite fielding lousy teams and despite things like the hilarious hiring gaffe of resume doctor George O'Leary. The "Return to Glory" and "Field Goal Jesus" jokes were always funny, but not as funny as they should have been because Notre Dame still found ways to maintain some relevance by beating ranked Michigan teams. It wasn't until Charlie Weis' "decided schematic advantage" and then Brian "Grimace" Kelly that Michigan was able to put more than one consecutive win together against the Irish. The three most recent saw the Wolverines snatch victory in the waning seconds (I think the first two were by design; Rich Rodriguez didn't know how to win any other way) and the two most recent saw jaw-dropping offensive numbers from Michigan's quarterback, Denard Robinson. The 2012 game brought an opportunity for Michigan to win four straight against the Irish, matching the Irish's streak at the end of the 80's. Notre Dame is Salty Sam, always up to no good until, just when you thought all hope was gone, along Comes Jones in the form of Denard Robinson. There are three verses to the song. This would be Robinson's third and final game against the Irish. The thought of a third thrilling victory for Robinson was just delightful. The idea for this post came to me on Thursday, but I didn't dare say anything about it for fear of the jinx.
This game would be played in South Bend, however, and other than a couple blips on the radar South Bend has been the Bermuda triangle for Michigan. Whether it be an errant pass somehow still completed in 1990, Carlyle Holiday fumbling on the 1 and still getting a touchdown in 2002, or the 2008 slop-fest, good things don't often happen for Michigan in Notre Dame Stadium. The Ghost of Irish Past reared its ugly head again on Saturday and Robinson, with a little help from his friends, had the worst day of his Michigan career. 5 interceptions and a fumble and Michigan still only lost by 7 points. You can make a case that the better team has lost in this game for four straight years now. I was mad, but if you've watched enough of Denard Robinson it's impossible to really be upset with him. He's seen more in his 22 years (oh yeah, Saturday was his 22nd birthday) than most will in their lifetimes. His humility is equally evident in victory as well as defeat. So, instead of seething over this game for two weeks (Michigan has a bye on Saturday) like I would do pretty much every other year, I'm going to try damn hard to get past it because there are only 8-10 opportunities left to watch Denard Robinson in a Michigan uniform. Sure, he's a feast-or-famine kind of player, but when it's been feast I haven't had as much fun watching football since Charles Woodson donned the Maize and Blue.
As for Notre Dame, they've decided to opt out of the rivalry after 2014 due to
joining the ACC scheduling issues. The good news is games like Saturday's won't happen so much, but I'll still miss the rivalry. To me Notre Dame will always be Salty Sam, trying to saw Michigan all in half. It sucks when they succeed, but there's nothing sweeter than when Jones comes along and saves the day. Michigan-ND was a game I looked forward to more than any other; it was better when it was the first game of the year, but sadly Lou Holtz put and end to that by scheduling warm-up games in the early 90's. There's no doubt Bo was right ("To Hell with Notre Dame!"), but it was always truer when Michigan sent them there.
Week two. Ann Arbor. Shit got peculiar.
Going into week two I had a nervous feeling that a chicken may get when crossing a high wire over a pit of rabid mauling crocodiles. Coming off a win of an abnormal scenario, there was a chance of a letdown that would put Charlie Sheen’s live standup routine in Detroit to shame. There was going to be lights, security shipped in from Blackwater, jets flying over, paratroopers dropping in at halftime, and uniforms that a future art student at age seven made on NCAA ’12. If it weren’t a football game, many people in the Ann Arbor vicinity may have thought Red Dawn 2 was being filmed in the Big House.
Notre Dame was coming off an embarrassing loss to a far less talented team from the swamps of Florida. One emotion of the Notre Dame Fighting Kellys was obviously anger. Brian Kelly is the only coach I know of that earned his coaching degree from the Homeland Security Department. It was Kelly that spurred Tom Ridge and other brainiacs to come up with the color coded alert levels. After last week, the South Florida Bulls are now on the U.S. Terrorist List.
Notre Dame was gunning to ruin a night of history in Michigan Stadium. They are not a team that lacks neither talent nor coaching skill (notice I didn’t say class). After doubling up the offensive production and producing a stifling defense against South Florida, they themselves lost the game due to the curse of Lou Holtz. Ever since ridding themselves of Lou Holtz, spittle traced back to Dr. Lou’s DNA can be found on every game ball ND touches. This logically explains the many fumbles and miscommunication. I believed naively that the curse would be lifted against Michigan due to Kelly’s coaching prowess and it just didn’t sit well statistically that Michigan could beat ND three years in a row. I respect statistics and precedence. Three in a row, especially with the transitions and coaching clusterfucks Michigan has experienced the past four years, just didn’t seem plausible.
The game began and I didn’t watch it. The beginning of it that is. I was too busy caught up watching ESS EEE SEE FOOTBAWW as Georgia went 0-2 against the Gamecocks of South Carolina in what seemed to be the longest two minutes of fourth quarter in college football history. I think it can be chalked up to a combination of a lack of number skills and a conference hell bent on ruining the lives of scholarship players and intelligent people everywhere.
When the game finally came on, I witnessed a déjà vu of last week’s first drive by the opponent. Michigan made Rees look like an All-American. Brent Musberger was getting off on being able to show off his counting skillz by constantly updating an already irritable Michigan fan base watching on TV the pass attempt/pass completed ratio of Kelly’s poodle QB. After the first drive, I expected a repeat performance of Michigan’s offense moving down the field in electrifying fashion. I couldn’t have been anymore wrong. Denard seemed like a mortal man that had his shoes not tied out of choice, but because he was just incapable. The offense was grim and the defense, well the defense was reminiscent of the finest looking Swiss Cheese west of the Prime Meridian. Not only was Notre Dame racking up passing yards that went mostly to Calvin Johnson Jr., but the running game of Notre Dame’s was also slicing and dicing the Michigan defense. The game began looking grim. Michigan looked more helpless than a bag of kittens smothered with BBQ sauce sitting on a silver platter in front of John Madden. Halftime ended 17-7 in favor of the Notre Lame Fighting Kellys.
Once halftime started, I had to take a shower. I had this disgusting film of disappointment covering my body. As mentioned before, I did not expect this game to have an outcome that I desired, but I did expect MANBAWW FOOTBAWW to put up a better fight than a nun in a UFC fight. I texted one of my colleagues that was sitting inside the Big House amongst the mass of people that was watching the horror show live to walk into the locker room and demand that HOKE either start pointing magical rays of football into the players or get out while he still could and join me at a shindig in Detroit I was readying myself for. The shindig included many beautiful women and alcohol. I was not sticking around to see Notre Dame light up the scoreboard as I sat alone in my Livonia basement mancave. Alcohol seemed to be the perfect remedy to obliterate my memory and women seemed to be the perfect cure for a bad case of grumpypantsitis due to their nurturing demeanor.
Once the third quarter started I smelled good and was ready to cut rug in Detroit. I figured I’d wait one or two more drives to see if HOKE inspired the team, the team, the team to fight back and make this a respectable game. I was at first sorely disappointed again. ND scored making the first night game in Michigan’s history 24-7 bad guys. As I started making the finishing touches on making myself presentable to the public eye, Michigan scored! Not only did they just score, they made a play that became a cliffhanger for me. Denard threw a long bomb to Hemingway as a ND defender gnawed upon his leg. I guess he could make this throw and play due to the drills in practice where Gorgeous Borges holds onto Denard’s legs preventing him from running and making insane plays with his legs. This forces Denard to make insane plays with his arm.
After that score making the game 24-14, I decided to stay, so I could be a champion. I am glad I did. Sitting helplessly in my chair I worried that this game would keep my hopes alive just enough that I didn’t get to use my new pack of razor blades I picked up at Ace Hardware earlier until the end. Then the hour would be too late to get a quality suicide hotline operator to talk me down. The graveyard shift gets its name for a reason. Not only was I working on my third ulcer, but my ex-girlfriend half a world away thought it would be a wise idea to send a shitstorm of insults at my team’s first night game just because she was jealous that her alma mater of Penn State‘s only tradition was waving a cane at a pep rally and excusing himself for foul language the night before. This night could not be anymore nervewracking.
The fourth quarter turned out to be a footballgasm that I will never forget. Michigan outscored ND 28-7 to defeat the Fighting Kellys. Not only was it a comeback of a lifetime, but the way ND crumbled was pure Shadenfreude. The most memorable was when the curse of Dr. Lou attacked Rees into throwing the ball…without the ball. At this point, the Michigan National Guard was put on high alert as the Kelly Alert Level reached violet. From late in the game on, the breaks bounced Michigan’s way. The Hopkins fumble into Denard’s magical hands and the five turnovers in all seemed to be luck that slid in the direction of the Maize and Blue. Michigan pulled out a victory of epic proportions and I felt like a champion for staying. I texted back by ex’s comment of this being an embarrassing moment of Michigan football history, “Fuck your history.”
As for the seeming luck that the Irish did not have and Michigan did, I believe there was something more. I think it was Vince Lombardi or someone important like that that once said, “Luck is when hard work meets opportunity.” After watching this game I believe this quote a little more. This team for the last three years, would have never been able to pull this off. You can bicker about it being the coaches, player’s age, or lack of skill, but I saw a team believing in themselves that I haven’t seen in a long time. The breaks in the game have not bounced in Michigan’s favor against a formidable opponent in such away for at least three years. You may argue Wisconsin 2008, but they ended up 7-6. As I said earlier, ND is going to be a decent team this year. As a matter of fact, I expect them to knock off Michigan State. Brian Kelly will turn Notre Dame into kamikazes before he lets ND go 0-3. I am sure they are practicing ball handling skills with duct tape and battering rams at this very moment. Anyways, this Michigan team shows fight. Something I knew the last couple of years they didn’t. In the past, as soon as the offensive momentum ceased, so did the whole team’s chances. Not in 2011. This Michigan team may end up 7-6 or something close, but at least I know they will die fighting.
Screaming, yelling, and having your face mocking a chameleon in heat may be therapeutic for some, but a resolve to never give up and keep giving your opponent everything you got on a big stage at home in the style I saw last Saturday night, is true Homeland Security.
I was looking at Rittenberg lunch links and this gem is on there.
Holy Schnikes! The world comming to an end.