I've been a fan of Michigan football since I was 10. I started watching during the 1996-1997 season. I remember sitting in the car, listening to Michigan beat OSU 13-9 on the radio because my parents were helping a friend move, and they wouldn't leave me at home alone. I watched the next season, as Michigan slowly, but surely gained steam and worked their way to the top of the college football world. I remember Michigan going into Happy Valley and laying a beating on Curtis Enis (which I laughed a lot about) and the Lions. I was in India, visiting relatives for the OSU game, but got a letter in the mail from a friend back home with the good news. I made it back in time to watch the Rose Bowl with a bunch of college students, and had the time of my life. I was in.
When we came out in 1998, I was pumped. We had almost everyone back, and there was this kid called Brady playing QB. And then Notre Dame happened. Ok, we can beat Syracuse. And the Donovan McNabb happened. I still remember him running circles around the Wolverine defense, once scrambling for a touchdown with only one shoe. But we regrouped, and eventually, as our defense woke up, we made it to a decent bowl game and won. I listened to most of those games on the radio. My parents didn't buy cable (as I'd spend too much time parked in front of the TV if they did), and there was no high speed internets back then.
1999 was special, as it was the first year that I had season tickets. That Notre Dame game to start the season is still one of my favorite to this day. I went with my dad, who probably stood through 30-40 football games with me, with minimal understanding, but coming along just to spend time with his son. I watched the Michigan state game and kept wondering, "Why hell isn't Brady in the game? Take Henson out!” I loved Tom. My season tickets were actually my dad's, and a friend of his wanted to buy a pair for one game. I decided to give up the Illinois game. And what a disaster that turned out to be, with Kurt Kittner, Rocky Harvey, and Brandon Lloyd tearing us apart after Lloyd took the starters out too soon. The OSU game was especially sweet, as we got to keep the Bucks out of a bowl. The 'Bama game was just as fun, watching David Terrell rally the troops back against Shaun Alexander. The missed PAT was anticlimactic, but awesome. And then Brady was gone.
2000 was a sad look at what could've been. Henson was too injured to start the season. Enter Jon Navarre. He looked great against two inferior opponents to start the year (why don't we play Rice anymore?). And then came the Pac-10 games out west. I hated playing out there - we always lost. UCLA was no different. Henson had to bail us out against Illinois, gimpy ankle and all. A last second loss on a FG by Travis Dortsch against Purdue was a heartbreaker, but the worst was yet to come. The insanity of the Northwestern game, and Damien Anderson, and that last fumble by A-train. Still, it was great to see the players walking out of Ohio stadium, gesturing that they were getting championship rings, and the Bucks weren't. In spite of having one of the best offensive lines ever in Michigan history, we only managed 9-3. We were 10 points away from an undefeated season. It was sad. And then Henson left. I felt betrayed. I still haven't forgiven him.
2001 was more of the same. An early loss to a Pac-10 team out west. A string of good games against mediocre Big 10 competition, and then a heartbreaker. This time it was Spartan Bob and the clock. After that game, I went up to my room, punched the door, and cried. I had been robbed. We had been robbed. I felt cheated. And then OSU happened. On a cold, dank, drizzly day, I watched UM lose in person for the first time. I hated Jim Tressel.
2002 was exciting. The Washington game, with Brabbs making the last second prayer was a memory I will never forget. So was the OT win against Penn State. But Iowa game was a debacle. I remember it especially, because I had passes to the press box for the game, and shook hands with Mary Sue. And as the score got worse, I saw the Iowa fans unfurl a banner saying: "Squeeze Mary Sue Blue.” I still hated Jim Tressel.
2003 started off great! The Notre Dame game was one of the most efficient performances I'd ever seen out of a Michigan team. But then there was another loss to a Pac-10 team out west. The buffalo stampede was also fun. The win against OSU was great. I was there, watching, taking it all in. I watched the students storm the field, and smiled. And then we ran into an angry USC team. And just like that, it was over.
2004 was weird. I showed up at Michigan stadium, excited to see what Matt Gutierrez could do. He'd never lost a game in high school. And the Chad's announced as the started. What the hell was going on? As I watched those first few games, I couldn't help but wonder, who's going to step up and run the ball for us? I was hoping it would be Mike Hart. I'd read about him on rivals, about how he was the all-time leading rusher in NY. I couldn't understand how he wasn't more than a 3-star recruit. Plus, he had a really cool name. We made it past the Notre Dame game, had the epic Braylon Edwards show against Sparty, and but couldn't close the deal against OSU. I really, really hated Tressel. The Texas game was amazing, but I wanted Braylon to go out with a win.
2005 was the year of pain. I made it to first two games, and managed to see Michigan lose in my last game before going to college. That Notre Dame game was tough. I didn't attend the University of Michigan, one because I lived right next door, and I needed a change of scenery, and two, because I'd been admitted to one of my dream schools (academically), and I just couldn't turn it down. So I moved out to Pasadena, and made friends with a Texas fan, an OSU fan, an FSU fan, and a USC fan. And they had too much laughing at me my frosh year. I finally had facebook (this was before they opened it up to everyone) and I made the Michigan Football Fanatics group at Caltech. I was the only member. When groups were allowed to go global, I did. I drew people in by keep the group clean, updated, and informative. It was one of the first major groups to link to Mgoblog and other Michigan blogs. That group is now one of the biggest UM FB groups on facebook. We have over 9,300 members now. The Minnesota game was a heartbreaker. I ran around my dorm yelling for half-an-hour after the Penn State game (which I'd update online as ABC was showing USC on the west coast). I never heard the end of it after the OSU game. And I still really hated Tressel. I came home for winter break, and watched the Alamo Bowl with my high school friends. I also really hate the Sun Belt, especially their referees.
2006 started off great as well! I got to go to a few games. A bunch of us got together for the Notre Dame game, and we decided to play football first. I, of course, was the A-train of the game - the guy who was too big to be brought down by the small quick guys, but too fast to be brought down by the big slow guys. I was running over and around people on offense, and plowing through linemen and sacking QBs on defense. Then my finger got caught in a guy's jersey, and it broke. My friends drove to St. Joe's, dropped me off, and went home to watch the game. My dad came by, the docs did an x-ray, and told me I had a spiral fracture on the second bone of my right index finger. I needed a cast. So a quick cast later, I left the hospital, and turned on the radio only to hear that the rout was on. I watched the rest of the game with my friends. The rest of the season flew by. I even started my own blog! It eventually failed because whenever we lost, I just couldn't find the inspiration to write. It sapped the life out of me. The Ball State game got a bit hairy, but we managed. Then Bo died. I sat at my computer that morning, dazed and lost. I didn't cry, I wasn't sad. I was just shocked. Bo had always been there, and now he was gone. And then came the game of the century. And we all know what happened there. I really despised Tressel. I hoped and prayed for teams to lose. I went nuts when UCLA won. And then Gary Danielson and his CBS bullshit. I really hate that guy too. But the plus side was that Michigan was coming to the Rose Bowl! I got my parents to change my ticket so that I could get back on the 31st. A few of my friends road tripped down and stayed with me. The Rose Parade was two blocks from my apartment. We walked to the Rose Bowl, watched the pain, and then left.
And then came the horror. I was in Ann Arbor for a few weeks, and the only game that I could make it to was the opener. I bought a ticket and went with friends, expecting a blowout, some tasty pizza from Howie's on the way back, and a general good time. I was left with nothing but shock and disbelief. The Oregon game the following week did nothing to help. Winning the cripple fight against ND was nice. I watched most of the games with my RA, who'd grown up in Detroit. The Illinois game was great with the WR pass from AA to MM. The MSU game was great, and I loved the little brother comments, especially after D'Antonio's douchebaggery. I hate him too. The OSU game was tough to swallow. We were so close, except for Chad's arm. And then Lloyd did what we were all expecting, and he retired. It was bittersweet, as I was excited for the future, but Lloyd was the only coach I ever really knew. It was fun to watch his grumpy face and angry demeanor with the media, and even better to see him smile once in a while. Getting into the Citrus Bowl was lucky, but we showed that we earned it. And I wondered, "where the hell was that all season?” And then, Mike, Chad, Jake, Mario, and Adrian were all gone.
Which brings us to this year. And there isn't much to say. It's been tough. But I must admit, I haven't been anywhere as emotionally invested in this team as years past. Love is something you feel, and with this team, and these players, I feel, well, very little. It's all just very numb and very quiet. Even my friends who normally heckle me to death whenever Michigan loses, just don't bother any more. I guess I'm just looking for something to hold on to, something to love. There's no single facet of this team that's made me emotionally invested, like there had been. And so I realize, that it’s really the players who make this team what it is. Yes, Michigan will always be Michigan. The block M, the Victors, the Winged Helmet, the Big House, they'll all be around forever, but they're set, inanimate commodities. You can be in awe and respect them, but you can't love them. You can't find an emotional attachment to them. For that you need a human face - players and coaches. In 1997, I had Chris Howard, Jerame Tuman, Tai Streets, Sam Sword, Glen Steele, and of course Chuck Woodson. In the Brady/Henson/Navarre years, I had of course ol' Tom, A-Train, Marquise Walker, Marlin Jackson, Chris Perry, Tony "Fat Elvis" Pape, BJ Askew, Bennie Joppru, Kevin Dudley, and Braylon. Then came 2004, and Chad, Jake, Mike, Mario, Adrian, along with the older guys like Lamarr Woodley and Dave Harris. These were my favorite players, the one's I'd love to get an autograph from. The players whose jersey's I'd happily buy. And then you have the coaches - Bo, Lloyd, RonE. Bo and Lloyd were Michigan men through and through. Their love was boundless and unconditional. Just watching RonE on TV scared me, his intensity was something I had never seen the likes of.
So when I look at this year's team, searching for my hero, I come up empty. RichRod hasn't been around long enough to be an epic figure like Lloyd or Bo. Barwis has lots of good stories told about him, but something's missing. Threet and Sheridan just don't fit. Mathews and Odoms are too young. Minor and Brown never captured my heart. DW and BG on defense have come close, but have yet to pick this team up on their backs and carry them, like Lamarr and Charles once did. I thought Sam McGuffie was going to fill the void left my Mike, but now he's leaving. I'm glad I didn't get too close so that I'd get hurt. But really, there's no one on this team who can step forward and act as the face of the program. This team has no identity, and that's why myself, and so many others, are having so much trouble loving it like we did in the past.
But I look to the future, and I see light. I have hope. I love this offense. It’s fun, quick, effective, and dynamic. It just needs the right players. It needs the right faces. I'm sure they'll be faces we'll all come to love and identify with. But we need time. Until then, there's a few ways to cope, to hold on. Some people will suggest coming out in full force regardless of what happens. Those are the younger folks. They're the ones who haven't been fans for so long. This is not an indictment against them by any means, but they just haven't developed the attachments the rest of us have. It's a bit tougher for us older folk, the more mature and seasoned fans, to move on. We might hunker down and withdraw a bit. It's because we're just trying to weather this storm, and at our age, we've fought too many battles to be able to ride out gung-ho all the time. Because it really hurt to put yourself out there 100% emotionally, just to have your heart ripped out. It takes a toll on you. So a simple request to the young, bold fan - be patient with us veterans. Because one day, you'll be in our shoes.