I loved Brian's piece the other day regarding his World Cup fandom journey and thought I might share a little about my own. My World Cup fandom journey began in 1985, nine years before I saw my first World Cup game on TV.
I was sitting in the office of my Spanish teacher in East Quad, expressing my doubts about my ability to handle an 8 credit hour intensive pass/fail course that has been compared to giving a canary a drink with a firehose. My Chilean teacher didn't exactly let me cry on her shoulder. "It's not my job to give you 8 credits," she told me. "My job is to teach you Spanish. If you pass this course it will be because you read, write, speak and comprehend Spanish fluently. If that is your goal I will help you. If not, you should definitely look for another class."
I decided to drop the course, then decided not to. By the end of my freshman year I was fluent in Spanish and in love with the culture; staying in that class had changed the entire direction of my life.
Years later, in 1994, I had the opportunity to live in Bogotá, Colombia, as a missionary. It was a dream come true for me. My Spanish had already been solid when I arrived in Colombia; within 6 months I could understand the play-by-play during soccer telecasts and was cracking pun jokes in my second language.
January '94 seemed like an ideal time to arrive in Colombia. The country's worst era of narco-violence was receding and Colombia was gearing up for the World Cup. What a team they had! Loaded to the gills with star power. Part of their World Cup qualifying had been a 5-0 drubbing of hated soccer powerhouse Argentina - in Buenos Aires. The entire country was enamored with the greatest Colombian national team of all time.
And then it happened: el disastre del '94.
I remember watching the Colombia-U.S. match with around 40 kids from our church youth group. They were consoling me before the game had started. Sure, Colombia had unexpectedly imploded vs Romania, but this was the U.S.! An lopsided goleada was imminent. No big deal, I told myself. I can handle some good-natured teasing.
Then my friends all watched in horror as 26-year-old defender Andres Escobar sent an errant clearance into the Colombian net. A 2nd U.S. goal turned the party into a funeral. Colombia had been eliminated in group play...by the gringos.
I didn't rub it in that much. I just couldn't. It's hard to describe how devastated people were. Yet as impossible as it seemed after the match with the U.S., it was about to get worse.
I was on vacation in Cartagena when the news broke that Andres Escobar had been shot and killed in his native Medellin. I got on a public bus the next day and the faces of the people told the story: shock, disbelief, sadness, anger. Silence.
Watching the 30 for 30 episode The Two Escobars was an emotional experience for me. It really has taken Colombian soccer 20 years to recover from that traumatic event. The '98 team qualified but wasn't expected to do much, and they didn't. Colombia would then fail to qualify in '02, '06, and '10.
Meanwhile, U.S. soccer was on the rise. The surprising Americans stunned the world by giving eventual champion Brazil all they could handle before losing 1-0. I was torn between feeling proud of our guys and feeling awful for my friends, who cared so much more about the World Cup than I did and whose team was actually considered to have a chance to win the tournament.
My friends told me they would be getting revenge by proxy when the U.S. found themselves in the same group as Argentina for the '95 Copa America. Again, I readied myself for some ridicule. Then the U.S. went out and thumped the Argentines 3-0. Oddly enough, we went on to make the semi-final, lose, and then find ourselves in the consolation game...to face Colombia. Only a year after the infamous autogol match, the Colombians fired shot after shot on the American goal, winning 4-1. It was the expected goleada - one year too late.
I wound up living in Colombia for three years. I still love that place with everything within me, and I am still a fan of their national team. I am blessed to have a job for which I travel extensively in the Americas (I listened to Denard's 500+ yd game vs Notre Dame via internet radio while poolside in the Dominican Republic and watched UTL 1 from a hotel room in Havana). Colombia is a regular stop. I can't tell you how much fun it is to see the Colombians fall in love again.
20 years after the disastrous '94 World Cup, this Colombia side is finally exorcising the demons of their soccer past. They don't have the star power of the '94 team. All they do is win.
On the eve of a potentially epic soccer armageddon with Brazil, the Colombians have the confidence of knowing that there is no team in the tournament (France excepted) that is playing better than their team. The heat and humidity that has been wilting so many players and teams will not be a problem for the cafeteros. They play their home games in Barranquilla, just as hot and humid as anything Brazil has to offer.
So tomorrow I throw on my classic 1994 Andres Escobar jersey (#2) and take my wife and daughter to the home of Colombian friends here in Chicago. An Argentine friend is grilling the meat. We will join three or four Colombian families in screaming our lungs bloody and hoping against hope that the cafeteros will make soccer history by making the semis for the first time in their history. The Brazilians look vulnerable, the Colombians have the tournament's leading scorer so far, and everything seems possible again.
The ghosts of '94 are already gone; fresh -and hopefully glorious- memories wait to be made.
Nothing I say here is in any way intended to disrespect our defense - I think it's fairly well established that we have some significant challenges there and this has been more than adequately covered elsewhere.
That said, I think we saw today who our most important defensive player is, and I think it is Denard Robinson.
14/19 3rd down conversions? 36 minutes of possession? Nearly 200 rushing yds? 19/22 passing for 188 yds and a score? No pics?
All of that adds up to our D being on the field less, reducing their error opportunity and keeping them fresh. If our offense continues to click like this I think that we will see a lot fewer 2nd half collapses. Defensive coordinators all over the B10 are in for some sleepless nights trying to game plan for Michigan this year.
What a great day for Michigan - I know we all got excited last year only to crash when the B10 season started but I do think this is different. UConn is not Western Michigan, and Denard is deadly not just for his speed, but for the way he's grown into the system.
And he's still just a baby!
Life is good - very, very good. Sure, the B10 season will bring tougher challenges - but Denard is the goods. This really doesn't seem like last year. THIS is the electricity we were hoping for when we brought in RichRod. When the talent on the defensive side catches up...
Last spring I wrote a diary called "Please God, Let me be Dead Wrong About Michigan Football 2010". Part of my concern at the time was Michigan's lack of upperclassmen in the secondary. Like most other Michigan fans, when T-Wolf was injured I felt my whole world collapsing in on top of me.
Having had some time to think it over, I'm much more hopeful than I thought I would be.
Two main reasons:
1. Our offense could be on the verge of a breakout year.
*Denard really sparkled in the spring game. I know, I know, it's just a scrimmage, and he wore a red jersey. However, more encouraging than his accuracy on the short routes and the long TD to Roundtree was the understanding he showed of the offense and his role in it. He sold the pass and THEN ran.
*If Denard is not the starter, I still feel very confident in Tate. Wingless helmet or no, he's added 20 lbs, will have a much better line, and showed a lot in his freshman year.
*Devin is apparently the goods. This means that while our QB's are young, we are in VERY good position for this year and beyond.
*O-line looks good, with upperclassman starters and solid redshirt underclassmen for depth.
*Receiver core is experienced.
*Sure, RB is an open question - but the talent seems to be there, and with a solid O-line we could see a breakthrough (especially if our top 2 RB's are not injured off and on thru the whole season)
*RR's offense has succeeded everywhere he's ever been. At Michigan he hasn't had the personnel he's needed on the field - until now.
*Conclusion: yes, the D will be a weak spot, and yes, we can safely assume that our secondary will be awful. BUT in contrast to 2008 and 2009, one of the two units should be solid, and possibly dominant. Only when BOTH units are bad can we say there is no hope. If one is spectacular, as our O could be, we should be at least .500 and possibly better.
2. Contrary to the what pundits are saying, I do not believe that RR has to win 8 or 9 games to save his job
*What if Michigan wins only 6 games and loses to OSU again, BUT the offense makes major strides, averages 25-30 pts per game, and Denard looks like Pat White? What if Demetrius Hart sees that and says, "Huh, they only won 6 games but the offense is finally up and running, I want to be a part of that"?
*The defense will get better as the talent we already have ages. Defensive recruits could see our progress on the offensive side of the ball and think, "Hmm, their D stinks, so I can step in right away, but their O is dominating, so I know their program is moving in the right direction..."
I am much more hopeful than I thought I would be. We should be much better this year than last, at least on one side of the ball. This should diminish the number of plays we have on defense, and thus reduce the error opportunity of our D-backs. B10 title? Not this year. Victory over The Hideous Minions of Evil? Not likely. But don't be surprised if we surprise. I trust RichRod, and I think that after this season a lot more of the doubters will as well.
I was recently looking at Bo's career numbers and just had to marvel anew at his dominance of the B10, and his consistently successful teams. A few things I noticed about Bo's 20-year tenure at Michigan:
*Bo never lost more than one game in the B10 until his 11th season at Michigan
*Bo only lost multiple games in the B10 four times in 20 seasons
*He finished outside the Top 20 only once
*He finished outside the Top 10 only 4 times
*He finished in the Top 5 seven times
*He finished lower than 2nd place in the B10 only 4 times
*Of course, there is the well known and very rare winning record against Woody Hayes
Here is a question though: does anyone know Bo's record against Top Ten teams?
I have tried to find this info via Google and have come up empty. However, I seem to remember that Bo's record against Top Tens was not very good, even apart from his well-known failures in bowl games (5-12 overrall record).
Searching for Bo's record vs. Top Tens, I stumbled across this article regarding OSU's chronic and long-standing difficulties against Top Tens, going all the way back to Woody:
This made me wonder...given that Bo is part of Woody's coaching tree, is there a reason that both men struggled against the best competition? Is it possible that both of them were master recruiters who got the best talent, then prepared and drilled relentlessly, then overwhelmed teams with inferior talent by sheer, brute force?
Hey, no complaints about sheer, brute force here. This is football, after all. However, you can't typically go to the Rose Bowl and overwhelm USC with your superior level of talent. When talent and preparation are equal, creativity, game planning, and adjustments come into play.
If this is true, then perhaps Rich Rod is the perfect man to lead Michigan football over the top, making it into more than a very good and storied program that wins significantly more than it loses. Maybe it is under a coach like him that Michigan becomes feared again, for this simple reason: over time, the challenge of facing Michigan won't be simply that their players are more talented and better prepared. It will be that, plus that fact that opposing D coordinators won't have any idea what Michigan is about to do next.
Imagine facing all that frightening talent, channeled through an unpredictable system with virtually limitless options. Will the QB run? Will he throw short? Will he throw long? Will he hand it to a slot receiver? Who do we double cover? How can I prepare my defense to react effectively to all the deception, counters, reverses, etc.?
This team's offense is frightening right now. Imagine what it will be when Tate has more experience, when true game-breakers are recruited at RB and WR, and when the system is fully, 100% installed. Can you imagine it when all the starters on both sides of the ball are juniors and seniors?
This isn't going to be merely a pretty good team with a storied tradition and cool uniforms. This is going to be an aggressive threshing machine that rips off people's arms and legs. People are going to fear Michigan again, not just respect them--all the way down to Columbus, the lair of the Hideous Minions of Evil and their Supreme Commander, The Sweater-Vested One.
As it should be!