With the end of Michigan's 2008 season upon us, we should all take some time to remember those most affected by this season's travails and its unceremonious end: the seniors who had to struggle through two consecutive down years, the fans, many of whom had to experience a true rebuilding year for the first time in their lives and will not be able to book a trip to San Antonio or Orlando for a bowl game, and even the typical college football fan, whose self-inflicted trauma watching ND/UM 2008 was akin to walking in on one's mother in bed with Mr. Belding dressed up like Ronald McDonald – unspeakably disturbing, yet still strangely familiar. These victims, though, will have their stories written, and all will have some sense of closure as a result.
One group that people will forget, though, are the ones most affected by the end of this most depressing of Michigan seasons, those whose hearts sank as that last Zoltan punt sailed through the cold Columbus air – ESPN and Drew Sharp. Throughout this year, while Maize and Blue fans across America tried to make sense of it all, they were there to hammer home the same talking points, the same reactionary dribble, the same “Oh my gawd” hyperbole that filled 3-minute spots on Sportscenter and College Gameday and led to a million drunken arguments in bars across America. Yet with the end of the season upon us, no one has spoken about the dark winter that lay before them, the months of yearning for a new pariah to pillar and new storylines to regurgitate like a group of friends who took part in the Ipecac challenge.
So, as a loyal reader and first-time poster here at MgoBlog, I feel that it is my duty to tell their story, or at least one that I imagine would take place in the weeks and months ahead.
Chris Fowler: I would like to welcome you all to today's meeting. I know that you all arrive with a heavy heart after Saturday's game, but rest assured that this meeting will help bring both closure for you as well as some direction on how to refocus your creative urges now that Michigan's season is over. I do want to apologize for the lack of food at today's meeting – Justin Boren stopped by to get my opinion on values in today's collegiate athletics and walked out with two of the pizzas after scarfing down the other four-
Kirk Herbstreit: Sorry to interrupt you Chris, but I just received a confirmed report that Zoltan Mesko is going to transfer to Ohio State next year, but he will first travel on the next space mission to Mars so that he can both practice punting in a completely new atmosphere, but also help in Earth's colonization of that alien-infested planet.
CF: Thanks Kirk. Since your sources are always spot-on, I just hope that Coach Mil- I mean Rodriguez can somehow find a way to fill the massive hole this transfer leaves behind.
Now back to the issue at hand. I know many of you deeply are concerned about what the end of this season will mean for you going forward. Yes, many of you can still pontificate on how great the Big 12 is provided they only play against other Big 12 teams, how the ACC is still filled with a lot of scrappy teams that can win on any Saturday, and how Florida is clearly the best team in America because they ran the score up on a bunch of teams that have a combined conference record of 16-15, but that still leaves at least 5 minutes/5,000 words that need to be filled every week. And with Michigan no longer playing, the question on everyone's mind is “What do we do next?”
Drew Sharp: Well, the advantage I have is that my employer, the Free Press, is so hard-up for column fillers that they'll let me basically write whatever I want provided that it drives some traffic to its site and antagonize its readership. Hell, UM could have gone undefeated this season, RR could have healed a blind child by simply placing his hand over the child's eyes, and strength and conditioning coach Barwis could have physically torn down and rebuilt Crisler Auditorium with one hand tied behind his back and I could still have written about how this season was a waste because UM paid Rodriguez's buyout. God my job is easy.
Lou Holtz: I know what you mean, Drew. Since I won a national championship back in the 80s and look and sound like Burgess Meredith from Rocky, I'm basically allowed to say whatever I want on television without any repercussions, no matter how crazy it may actually be. I mean, I compared a first-year football coach to a facist dictator who killed millions of people, and the only thing that happened was they took away my Metamucil for a day. So I know how it feels, Drew, to be abov- Drew? Hey, where did Drew go?
KH: He must have walked out...There's a note on his chair. It says “Off to shoot a segment for Jim Rome is Burning.” Huh, that's still on the air? Who knew?
LH: Well, anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that the higher-ups at ESPN couldn't care less about the substance of my rants, provided that I mention how horrible UM is this year and never, EVER point out that my old team Notre Dame was just beaten by Syracuse.
Beano Cook: What! (choking on a piece of roast beef) Notre Dame lost yesterday?!? Was Ron Powlus unavailable at QB because he was saving a bus full of schoolchildren from falling off a cliff? That has to be the reason. This loss is going to be a big hit to Powlus's chances at a 16th-straight Heisman Trophy. Well, sometimes it's just not your year.
CF: Okay people, we're getting a little off-track here. What we need to do is figure out a new storyline that will keep UM in the news while we should ostensibly be talking about teams that still have games to play. Now, we already drove the buyout “controversy” into the ground, and that has been paid up for months. We had something with Rodriguez's “get a life” quote until the damn Internet allowed people to see the whole statement in context and not the 2-second sound bite we blasted.
KH: Well, how about I look deeply into the camera and opine the fall of Michigan from the nation's elite and how I fully expect them to be back? I'm a former Buckeye and a TV heartthrob, so that gives me words extra gravitas.
CF: That works once or twice Kirk, but we don't want to go to that well too often. Plus, that really isn't a story – it's just a way to fill 30 seconds while Corso is fumbling through his costume chest.
Lee Corso: (Looking up from under the desk) I heard my name...
CF: Nothing, Lee. Go back to looking for that Alabama elephant... Speaking of elephants, maybe we are looking at this the wrong way. I mean, there are other 800-pound elephants in the room here, like Tennessee and Nebraska's continued mediocrity, Notre Dame's struggles under Charlie Weiss, just how bad the Pac-10 is after USC...
LC and Mark May: No!!!!!!!
MM: The focus has to stay on Michigan and, more generally, just how bad the Big 10 is! Sure, Penn State has a victory over the potential champion of the Pac-10 in Oregon State, but people must never forget that OSU lost to USC on the road without their best player 35-3. Repeat with me Chris – the Big 10 sucks, and every team in that conference would lose to the 10th-best high school team in Florida, Texas, or California. Got it.
Pat Forde: Yeah. Everyone needs to stay consistently on point with the message that the Big 10 is the worst conference in Amer-- hey, who's that? She's cute.
CF: Oh, that's one of our interns. She's a freshman at Uconn and wants to be a television producer. Figured she could shadow us during this meeting to see how the show comes together.
PF: Hey, do you think she'd like to be one of my Dashettes? I always need pictures of attractive women to make my columns look longer and take away from the fact that my knowledge of college football begins and ends with the weekend sports section of USA Today.
CF: Maybe later, Pat. Come on people! We need a new narrative. There has to be a storyline that we haven't driven into dust yet. The attrition? Sam McGuffie is potentially transferring back to somewhere in Texas, and we could always make it less about a kid being homesick and more about Rodriguez's lack of ethics or soul.
KH: Nah. We've already done that with Mallet and Boren, and it didn't seem to resonate with the viewers because they are used to seeing players leave when a new regime takes over. Plus, McGuffie may still come back after he spends some time with his family.
Brad Nessler: (poking his head from the doorway) Hey, wasn't McGuffie a youtube sensation?
Everyone in the room: Drink! (everyone takes a shot of coffee except Holtz, who yells out “Listen Mirer, you're gonna eat lightnin' and you're gonna crap thunder!”)
KH: Maybe we should just focus on other teams in college football. This was a down year for the Wolverines, but the fact remains that they have been one of the most consistent teams in the history of organized sport. They were playing a billion first-year players, were trying to install a completely new offensive system, and had to deal with a million distractions ranging from whiny fans to overzealous reporters. We are talking about 17 and 18-year-old kids here, and in spite of it all they were still within a handful of plays of finishing with a .500 record and going to a bowl game. Maybe we should reserve judgment on Rodriguez and his staff, as well as the future of this team, until we see how next year's team fares and how solid the recruiting class is both this year and in 2010. We've given the kid glove treatment to lots of teams before, whether they be USC, Notre Dame, Florida, Florida State, etc. What do you say?
Bill Simmons: Hey guys. I know I'm not part of this meeting, but I was stumbling around the offices looking for my old copy of Karate Kid and couldn't help overhearing your conundrum. I know how hard it is to keep coming up with fresh ideas about the same topic – heck, I've been writing about Boston sports for almost 15 years now, and I've only had 5 legitimately unique column formats in that timeframe. In this instance, I would suggest you guys not focus on the now or the future, but instead focus on the past. You guys know how I always talk about how great the NBA was in the 70s and 80s, especially Larry Bird?
Everyone: Yeah. (Except Beano Cook, who is desperately scanning through the “P” portion in the index of Notre Dame's 2008 media guide).
BS: Well, the reason I do that is because most of my readers weren't alive back then, and those that do were only little kids like myself. They either have an extremely murky memory of that time in sports, or none at all. Thus, whenever I talk about how pure the game was back then, how unstoppable the players were, and how the game is so inferior now than when Magic, Dr. J., Larry, and McHale played, my readers gobble that up because they don't know any better. Plus, by throwing in some pop culture references about shows and movies like White Shadow and Hoosiers, I bring up cherished (or non-existent) memories that add extra weight to my somewhat-true claims.
What you guys need to do is stop focusing on how bad this team was in the current context, but compare it to seasons' past. Not just 5 or 6 years ago, but decades. Talk about how today's team could never match up with earlier teams, and harp on the fact that the game was played so much better back in the 70s and 80s. Go on and on about Bo, about how defense wins championships and how this spread offense may work for teams like Purdue or Utah, but how teams like Michigan are selling their souls by ushering in any type of change. Since good football movies are less common than ones about basketball, you may have to use allusions to Varsity Blues and Rudy to make your point, but I have faith that you guys can figure that out. So from now until the beginning of next season, spend a few minutes every day talking about how this season was so tumultuous because UM turned its back on tradition and, more importantly, are playing the game worse than in years past. Plus, by condemning how UM plays, you also effectively condemn college football in general, which will help to fill even more air time as you argue amongst each other whether that statement is even true.
Oh yeah, and if nothing else fails talk about how UM would be undefeated if either Rajon Rondo or Terrelle Pryor played quarterback.
CF: Okay everyone, that's what I wanted to hear! So everybody knows the new storyline – Michigan football struggled this year because they turned their back on tradition and, more generally, the game is worse today than it was years ago.
KH: And don't forget, uncorroborated reports and rumors passed off as sage opinions, especially as they pertain to Rodriguez's comings or goings, are always a gold mine.
PF: And don't forget blogs from MSU, WVU, and OSU fans. You couldn't make up some of the stuff people say in there even if you did 5 lines of coke off the body of that intern over there...
DS: (Rushing back into the room, a faint trail of smug wafting behind him) What did I miss?
KH: Nothing much Drew. Just keep doing what you are doing.
DS: Great! Hey, while I was doing another guest spot on Jim Rome is Burning, on Monday thru Friday at 4:30 PM ET, I just thought about how my next column is going to focus on how Rich Rodriguez doesn't understand the history of UM, how Bo is turning over in his grave right now, and how I vastly underrated Carr's greatness as a coach now that he has retired. It's great, since I don't believe a single word I write but everyone spends hours posting in the comments section about how crazy I am. New Alexa traffic record here I come!
CF: This was a great meeting. Now everyone go home and start writing/talking about UM again. And don't afraid to expand on what we've talked about here today. The goal is to keep knocking UM down until they inevitably rise again, at which point we can trumpet their return with nary a mention of what we say now. Okay, any questions?
LC: Not so fast my frie.... Ah, nevermind. I forgot what I was going to say. I'm just going to put on this Boomer Sooner's hat and make another Gameday commercial.
KF: That's fine Lee. I'll see you in five minutes. Now, if there is nothing else...
Chris Spielman: (busting through wall) MINOR RAGE NO MATCH FOR SPIELMAN SMASH!