national champs baby
10/14/2006 - Michigan 17-10 Penn State - 7-0, 4-0 Big Ten
"WE'RE PENN STATE...
AND THEY'RE NOT."
-Beaver Stadium scoreboard during pregame chintzfest
"If you put a pit bull in a ring with a chihuahua, don't expect the chihuahua to win."
-Chafie Fields, former Penn State wide receiver, after the game
It's polite to respectfully clap for a fallen opponent has he makes his way from the field. It's good etiquette, etiquette of course being a sophisticated structure of lies designed to ease social interaction. Things in our section being a little touchy, I lied with my hands as Anthony Morelli jogged groggily off the field. But my eyes danced in blood.
Watching Michigan's defense gore Penn State quarterbacks was the closest I've come to watching gladitorial bloodsport. I now have some insight into the animal pleasure of a prone, wounded opponent. Unlike Derrick Williams' freak injury last year, the parade of bewildered quarterbacks wandering off the field asking for pudding was very much the doing of large angry men in winged helmets. It was... well, not right but correct that Morelli was literally knocked into next week, if not further, by Branch. Reportedly, he asked the trainers who attended to him whether his last pass had been completed. Somewhat miraculously, it had been.
Furthermore, it was correct that his backup suffer under siege for a quarter before getting crushed by David Harris and Lamarr Woodley, making way for some guy the Michigan students aptly dubbed "Rudy" no doubt picked fresh from the residents of Paternoville. Once the fluky events that conspired to place an emphatic exclamation point on the Michigan defensive line's complete-utter-total dominance of an entire football game occurred, our mental histories rearranged themselves so that they were inevitable. How could one man possibly endure an entire game of that?
The man sent out to try could not and neither could the man sent in his stead. Thus in just seven quick games, a Michigan defense faced a cornered team driving for the game and I felt nothing but irritation at the two screen passes that had allowed the Lions the faint heartbeat they possessed. The residual terror from the Year of Infinite Pain -- which had me somewhere between "alarmed" and "panicked" into the fourth quarter of a *$ing BEAT DOWN against Notre Dame -- had receded.
Then: near interception, four-yard out, incomplete, incomplete, ballgame. Instead of a roar there was but a flat, damp squeak as Michigan landed the final clubbing blows and emerged from the lion's den with a rug in tow. There are no arguments about this game. No two seconds, no questionable heels or holding calls or other fantasies about if this or that. There is no "if". Michigan has still not been threatened this year. No opponent has moved the ball except when fortunate or permitted to. Its dominance is unquestioned by the foes it leaves battered in its wake. Sometimes -- and I know this is hard to believe -- seven points is a very large lead indeed.
Penn State learned that Saturday. We rolled through the undulating hills, slowly bridging the gap between Beaver Stadium and I-80. In the brief windows of radio clarity provided by high points or fortuitous angles or small eddies in the general bloody-mindedness of the universe, once excitable Penn State partisans glumly pondered the future of the program. Fields uttered the above quote and several others along the lines of "this is a tough conference" and "we aren't playing Temple." His cohosts muttered in agreement. Resignation hung thick in the air.
Only the increasingly deranged callers -- the hour being late and the liquor steadily disappearing -- seemed to remember that once upon a time that scoreboard exhortation would have been something other than hollow and humorous. Once upon a time they were Penn State. Last year seems just as far away for them as it does us, a dream that we've woken up from into harshly different realities. 8-0; 0-8. A transposition makes all the difference.