national champs baby
I'm writing this at a Starbucks in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, already one 20-ounce beer deep after a most depressing lunch at a nearby Chile's. I packed three shirts for this trip, all maize; my 2006 student football shirt draws pitied looks from those in red, hollow stares of sadness from fellow Michigan faithful.
Last night, I surveyed the carnage from my perch in the second deck; all I could think of was Switch, staring at inevitability.
Not like this.
Not like this.
Vincent Smith rush for 3 yards to the Mich 34 for a 1ST down.
The one Alabama fan I spoke to at length has but one question as we prepare to go through security and enter Cowboys Stadium. He is the archetype of the middle-aged Tide male, red polo with the script 'A' tucked into his khakis, carrying the air of a man who's seen the bottom of many a bottle.
"So, do y'all really think you have a chance?"
The question isn't spoken derisively, at least on its surface—like the others, he's almost disarmingly polite. Over the course of the next four hours, this particular trait goes from charming to infuriating.
Vincent Smith rush for a loss of 1 yard to the Mich 33.
The two words are reflex, easily deciphered by the amateur lip-reader any time an Alabama fan appears on the behemoth jumbotron, spoken any time two groups of fans pass in the concourse, emblazoned on T-shirts, seared into my soul.
Vincent Smith rush for 1 yard to the Mich 33.
Denard Robinson's third carry comes on the first drive of the third quarter. The scoreboard reads Alabama 31, Michigan 7.
Had I known this was the plan, I'd have watched from my couch.
Vincent Smith rush for 2 yards to the Mich 40.
Vincent Smith's fourth carry comes on the first play of the second quarter. To this point, Michigan's 34 yards of offense are almost entirely offset by their 25 penalty yards.
Had I known this was the plan, I'd have not watched at all.
Vincent Smith rush for a loss of 2 yards to the Mich 38.
Alabama's five-star running back, Dee Hart, hurtles down the field and connects flush with Dennis Norfleet. This is a kickoff return. Hart is on the coverage team. Had he stuck with his initial commitment to Michigan,—and after yesterday, nobody can blame him for not doing so—Hart would have started at running back for the Wolverines. He certainly would not have played kickoff coverage.
Half of the stadium erupts. It is not my half.
Vincent Smith rush for no gain to the Mich 5.
My friends and I enter the stadium at six o'clock local time. After locating our section, we exit the concourse to stand at the railing behind out seats and stare agape at the jumbotron. It is as advertised, so mind-blowingly large that it takes every effort to avert my eyes and watch the players on the field. I briefly note how much larger the Alabama players look before going back to ogling the screen.
A 30-something man wearing crimson from head to toe strikes up a conversation. He tells us that he's really a Michigan fan, too, and still was trying to decide upon a team for which to cheer. He is gregarious, pleasant, and wishes us all the best when we head to our seats.
I hate this man.
Vincent Smith rush for 2 yards to the Mich 12.
Seven Wolverine defenders—Joe Bolden, Keith Heitzman, Mario Ojemudia, Ondre Pipkins, Terry Richardson, James Ross, and Jarrod Wilson—make their career debut.
None can stop the bleeding, of course. They are but freshmen, and freshmen cannot save you here.
Vincent Smith rush for 3 yards to the Mich 25.
Each Miller Lite costs $8 at Cowboys Stadium. This is criminal, of course, but the alternative is so much worse.
I'll take two, please.
Vincent Smith rush for no gain to the Alab 46.
Thomas Gordon finishes with nine tackles, leading the team, and—in my memory, at least—missing at least as many.
God bless Thomas Gordon. He tried, long after the point when I'd given up hope.
Vincent Smith rush for 1 yard to the Mich 15.
Hours before kickoff, we park in Lot 10 to begin tailgating. The signs for the lot bear the image of a Dallas Cowboys legend of some sort, though I don't recognize the face. We are next to a Wal-Mart. It is a stark reminder of where we are, and where we are not. By the time this sniveling jackass graces the big screen...
...I'll have vowed never to attend a regular season neutral site game again.
Vincent Smith rush for 22 yards to the Alab 48 for a 1ST down.
Vincent Smith—God bless him, too—finally turns the corner on his 11th carry, scampering 22 yards before screeching to a halt in front of an Alabama safety, falling to the turf when his legs cannot dance as his panicked mind intends. A Michigan fan behind me then utters the stupidest sentence in the history of man:
"He could’ve gotten about three more yards if he ran through that guy.”
I nearly miss Devin Gardner's touchdown two plays later as I frantically tweet to save the quote for posterity's sake.
Vincent Smith rush for a loss of 1 yard to the Mich 7.
This morning, before we load our luggage into the rental car, my friend Dan grabs an unopened 12-pack from the trunk.
Last night, in our haste to reach the hotel and never talk about that again, we forget to drink away our sorrows.
Vincent Smith rush for 2 yards to the Mich 28.
We find ourselves in the exclusive club section of Cowboys Stadium. We shouldn't be there, but Dan's girlfriend has that invaluable charm that renders such things moot. After a day of drinking and ignoring more basic needs, I am hungry. The concession stand offers a $13 Kobe Beef BBQ Burger, so of course I order one.
I eat my burger on a marble countertop. I state unequivocally that it's the best burger I've ever eaten, and long after the beers wear off I stand by that statement.
That turns out to be the highlight of my evening. An hour later, Alabama is up 21-0, and I've barely had time to get comfortable. I gaze at the field, resigned.
Not like this.