When I was twelve and thirteen I would go with my best friend every summer to Ann Arbor to participate in Michigan’s basketball camp. I have fond memories of playing hoops in Crisler even if I was a chubby, awkward adolescent with a manic jump shot. We stayed in the dorms and, obstentiously, ate too much pizza and stayed up too late. We got jock itch and figured we could solve it by blasting ice cold jets of athlete’s foot spray on it because when you’re twelve that makes sense. I met Steve Fisher, twice, as he would have his picture taken with every kid in the camp. And one day I met Jimmy King and Ray Jackson who were at the time, just being students hanging around Crisler over the summer. They were both eminently polite and nice to the throng of us that went over and asked for autographs and as they scribbled their names on my shirt I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe as the two worlds I had always known, my own and that of Michigan athletics, had somehow seamlessly blended into a new reality. Walking home from Crisler that day it had begun to rain and I hurried back to the dorm and was dispirited as I noticed the rain had caused the autographs on my shirt to run and fade into barely discernable yellow-ish scribbles.
Then a few years later it all came crashing down. We all know what happened so it’s not like a history lesson is warranted here but it hurt. Deeply so. And it would be a decade before I returned to Crisler to see a game after a work associate offered me some tickets. We drove down, got into our seats and on February 21, 2006 watched a Michigan team led by an inspired Daniel Horton knock off a highly regarded Illinois team with Dee Brown and James Augustine. Horton dropped 39 points and it felt like he couldn’t miss that night. I was seated up from the back left side of the basket and in the second half it felt as if the Michigan players were coming right at me. And as Horton drained three after three I couldn’t help but stupidly feel that, somehow, I was being told that it was alright to be a fan again.
I’ve spent the last week or so turning the simple idea of Michigan basketball over and over in my mind. I live and grew up around East Lansing where something as simple as a tournament berth hardly scratches the local papers. Where seeding is the real issue and where it’s not so much a concept of “if” as “how far” when it comes to the tournament. My friends will no doubt needle me by extolling Clemson and openly pondering how much Michigan will lose by and they don’t seem to notice that I just smile and laugh with them because they simply can’t understand that just being there is enough. Just being able to talk about Michigan losing in the tournament is a reward in and of itself. They’ll hopefully come a day to demand more out of this program; when it won’t be enough to make the tournament, but to succeed after doing so. But that day is not this day. This is enough.
I still have those pictures and that shirt locked away in a footlocker where everybody keeps things just because they hold personal, not actual, value. Every once in a while, usually after a move, I’ll dig back in there and pull out the photos and shirt. But now when I look upon the picture of the chubby kid with the bowl cut standing next to Steve Fisher I just feel flashes of anger at the rosy cheeked, balding man standing next to me. But when I pull out the shirt I always look to see if the signatures have returned or if they’ve somehow become clearer in time. And over the last couple of years the signatures haven’t actually been restored, but somehow my reverence for them has.
Note: This is a piece I wrote and posted elsewhere a couple years ago before the NFL Draft. I'm posting it here to have a record of it and also because a couple friends have expressed interest in reading it because it is no longer accesible where I originally posted.
Lately there has been much debate over Brady Quinn's prospects as an NFL quarterback. Many comments have been liberally applying the dreaded "Harrington" tag on Quinn as a prediciton of his NFL prospects.
Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one and they all stink. However, I'm really bored, so let's break both of them down statistically:
Height/Weight are nearly identical if ESPN has accurately reported Quinn's stats from the combine.
So let's then compare their junior and senior seasons. It should be noted that Quinn played one more game than Harrington in each of these seasons:
Harrington 2000: 195/355, 52%, 2694 YDs, 20 TDs, 13 INTs 2001: 186/322, 58%, 2415 YDs, 23 TDs, 5 INTs
Quinn 2005: 292/450, 64.9%, 3919 YDs, 32 TDs, 7 INTs 2006: 289/467, 61.9%, 3426 YDs, 37 TDs, 7 INTs
It's easy to see that Quinn's numbers far surpass Harrington outside of Harrington's 2001 INT total, though it should be noted that Quinn had 145 more attempts.
Harrington and Quinn played in radically different offenses. Oregon had a stellar two back running game for Harrington's last two years while ND's running game looked apathetic and ineffective at times throughout this season. The burden of the offensive production was constantly on Quinn and he produced the overwhelming majority of the time. I could not locate sack statistics for Harrington's collegiate career (the NCAA had not yet formally begun recording them) but I think we all could make a pretty good guess as to whose numbers would be larger in looking at both the team's records in the two comparable years (2001 & 2006) and the quality of competition played in terms of opposing defenses that can be used to evaluate the relative strength of Oregon and ND's offensive line. Let's take a look, shall we?
In 2001, Oregon had the 49th toughest schedule in the nation with opponents having a combined 52.3% winning percentage and finished 11-1 with their only loss coming in the Stanford game mentioned later. Oregon finished the year with the 22nd ranked offense and 81st ranked defense in the country.
In 2006, ND had the 34th toughest schedule in the nation with opponents having a combined 55% winning percentage and finished 10-3 with every loss coming to a team that finished in the top 10 at the season's end. ND finished the year with the 23rd ranked offense and 65th ranked defense and allowed 85 sacks.
Find it funny that ND had the tougher schedule considering all the crap they took for scheduling "soft."
Looking at the numbers, I'm sure you'd jump to point out that, statistically, ND had a better defense and subsequently should have had a little more success in lieu of their tougher schedule than the 2001 Ducks. Also that had Quinn performed better in the "big games" (ridiculous) ND would have had a much more successful season. However, you have to look closer at the numbers to understand what's going on:
In 2001, Oregon had the 33rd best scoring defense in the nation as opposed to the Irish's 2006 ranking of a dismal 67th. There were 119 D-I college football teams last year and ND only ranked in the 56th percentile! While rush-pass defense comparisons would yield to ND's favor, the sizable gap between the two's scoring defenses must be the point of focus. ND's defense simply couldn't keep teams out of the endzone and we see (CONSTANTLY) what happens to teams who are simply trying to score in bunches to win games; they cannot sustain the pace for a season and subsequently fall apart when the offense has an off day and there's no way the defense is able to save their asses.
You may also point out that the teams had similar offensive rankings so the sack numbers would be comparable, but again you'd be wrong. In 2001 the Ducks has the nation's 25th best rushing offense while their passing game ranked 50th. In 2006, ND had the nation's 72nd best rushing defense and 13th passing offense. With the disparity in attempts noted above it would be logical to assume that Quinn took more sacks than Harrington as Oregon had much more success running the ball and was a more balanced offense than ND's.
Quinn's senior year was even though the only quality win the team had this year was an early trouncing of Penn State. The previous year they beat three ranked teams (Michigan, Pittsburgh & Purdue) and nearly beat USC in a game that will probably go down as a somewhat controversial classic. Let's looks at how Quinn did in the three losses this year:
Michigan: 24/48, 50%, 234 Yds, 3 TDs, 3 INTs USC: 22/45, 48.8%, 274 YDs, 3 TDs, 0 INTs LSU: 15/35, 42.8%, 148 YDs, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
The losses to LSU and Michigan accounted for 71.4% of his interceptions for the entire season. These games were played against teams with exceptional defenses particularly quick and strong on the DL. I think it should also be noted that in the loss to LSU, Walker had more carries (22) and yards (128) than in ND's previous two losses (10, 25 YDs vs. Michigan, 14, 56 YDs vs. USC.)
Can't win the big game
People criticize Quinn for an "inability to win a big game," an unfair criticism if there ever was one simply because one player does not win a game of football (believe it or not there are actually 22 players on the field at THE SAME TIME! 22! Wowee!) Harrington went 10-1 in his senior year, soundly beating #3 ranked Colorado 38-16 in a game that was built as "the other national championship game" noting that had Nebraska beat Miami, Oregon could have potentially been awarded the championship. Oregon finished #2 in the country. Harrington went 28/42, 66%, 350 YDs, 4 TDs and 1 INT in that game, probably the most complete one of his college career. The Ducks' only loss came in a 42-49 loss to Stanford. Those of us who actually remember that game remember one hell of a game when Stanford scored 21 straight in the fourth to win. Throughout his college career, Harrington won a number of big, non-conference games (in the previous year Oregon beat #12 ranked Texas in the Holiday Bowl) who finished his collegiate career with his best game in the biggest one he ever played in and under a lame duck offensive coordinator. In the 2000 season, Oregon went 10-1 and was utterly screwed over by the BCS who gave spots to OSU (9-2) and ND (9-2) over an Oregon team whose only loss was to #1 ranked USC at the end of the regular season.
Side note: Anyone else remember the absurdly large "Joey Heisman" billboard Oregon put up in NYC to combat the "east coast bias" of Heisman voters?
Why in God's name wouldn't Quinn be hyped his senior year??? All he did in his junior season was break ND records in attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns. Believe it or not, ND is not exactly the Toledo, they actually have quite a tradition of football there. Check it out if you don't believe me, they've been playing football a really long time! Honest! Since like… forever! ND has more Heisman trophy winning QBs (4)than any other school (though there is no way Hornung should have won it) and Notre Dame has had more QBs play in Super Bowls than any other school (Joe Montana, Joe Theisman and Daryle Lamonica.) When you do those things at a school as rich in history, tradition and a high quality of play, you get deserved hype.
The bottom line is that Harrington had a team around him that was head and shoulders better than this year's ND team. Harrington had the support of two 1,000 yard rushers in Onterrio Smith and Maurice Morris while ND has had one the last two years (Walker) who, frankly, I was never too impressed with. It's never fair to compare two quarterbacks who played at different times and in different systems. And I think it's fair to say that pretty much every QB's success or failure can be somewhat attributed to the quality of the hog mollies up front.
Oh, and Charlie Weis should probably eat less.