TO THE HOT TAKE CANNON
With all due respect to Brian's "Worst Plays of the Decade List", I disagree with number one and believe either the 100-yd interception return or the missed chip-shot field goal from the Toledo game in 2008 is the worst play of the decade. It's long-winded and more negative than I usually let myself get with Michigan football, but here's my explanation:
There is no disputing that the 2008 version of the Michigan Wolverines was bad. Awful. Under certain metrics, the worst ever. Undebatably the worst of my lifetime. Bad.
Nonetheless, going into the season, with a new coach and a relatively solid defense (especially along the defensive line and at corner), we didn't know what we had. Regardless of what it was, we knew it would be a Michigan football team. A different team, to be sure, but still a Michigan team.
In fact, as bad as the team may have been, from a talent perspective, in 2008, they didn't cease to be a "Michigan" football team, as we understood it, until the Toledo loss. As strange as it may sound, through all the 8-4 years, Michigan was a program very used to winning (some would say expecting). Regardless of the circumstances, there was always a belief that Michigan could win. The last sentence speaks to both the fans and the players.
Its this belief that brought Drew Henson's team back against Illinois, John Navarre's team back against Minnesota, and Chad Henne's team back against Michigan State. While the listed games are drastic examples, they characterize a mindset throughout the program that this team would not lose. Or, at the very least, they would not quit. Michigan always had a chance to win a game, could (not would) always find enough plays to pull the game out (or, too often, just a couple plays too few).
I'm certainly not suggesting Michigan always won. Simply that Michigan was always a tough out. Other than otherwise "flukey" games (Iowa in 2002, Oregon in 2007) where some (spread offense) team would go nuts against Michigan, there were close loses. And Rose Bowls with USC. But, mostly just a lot of close losses. (I realize there were a ton of wins, those obviously count in the "Michigan was very good" category)
Michigan had been outmatched before. They had clearly walked into situations with the lesser team in tow. Or, at the very least, the team that looked worse on that given day. But, always, even in loss, the team fought. Someone would make a play, someone would do something. The defense would hang on just enough, the offense would show just enough sign of life, that we could always believe Michigan would win.
Some of those close losses were embarrassing. Appalachian State comes to mind. As does Northwestern. But, at the very least, those embarrassing losses were upsets! Big ones, in fact.
And so the 2007 season [my bad ... 2008] began. The first game of the year was a 2-point loss to a Utah team that went on to finish undefeated and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. In that game our offense was just not working. I remember sitting in my seat in the Big House and wondering if this was really what we'd become. But then the defense awoke, the special teams made a play, Steven Threet entered, and Junior Hemmingway showed a flash. While we lost, we did what Michigan has always done when overmatched. They perservered. They found some way to compete.
The Utah game was followed by a close win against Miami (NTM). An uninspired, closer than it should be win against a MAC team? Not usually after a loss, but sure. Why not, this time.
How about a flukey turnover fest, in South Bend (where else?), during a monsoon? The monsoon's a nice added touch ... hmm, did we outgain them? We did. Ok, good then. I've seen that game before too. Nothing new.
Wisconsin game heroics inspire hope. One of the Bowden's writes a column about how "Michigan is BACK". We're 2-2, and we've been here before. We all know this Michigan team.
The following week was a disheartening loss to Illinois. Michigan blew a lead against a dynamic dual-threat quarterback in Juice Williams. Though a strong sign the house was on fire, the smoked Wolverines had been turning every mobile quarterback they faced into a Heisman candidate. This was nothing new.
The Toledo loss, caused significantly by the 100-yd interception returned for a touchdown and a missed field goal at the end of the game by Michigan, was the nail. It was at that point where Michigan ceased being Michigan, and suddenly became a team that might actually lose to Toledo. Everyone's gut reaction was to liken the Toledo loss to Appalachian State, but that was being far too kind.
Appalachian State was an epic upset. Toledo got lucky and beat Michigan? This was plausible. I didn't field a thousand text messages that said "SRSLY?", "WHAT IS GOING ON! FIRE LOYD NOWW!!", and "dont wry, youll win". I didn't stare at a wall in disbelief. I was fine. Resigned. The world had changed, not just then, but had been changed, and the realization wasn't sudden or explosive. It was resigned. I disconnected. I, at that moment, realized that getting too upset about a Michigan loss was no longer an option. My defense mechanism, to ensure I kept my sanity, was to emotionally distance myself. Michigan football, as we all had known it, changed at its core following that loss.
By the next week, Brian had stopped honestly previewing our opponents, The now-infamous PSU Preview begs us to reconsider our existential relationship with the Michigan football universe.
My vote for number 1? Anything that contributed to that Toledo loss.
Sorry to be a downer.
Having read the article and the response, I'm pretty comfortable in knowing that the NCAA is not going to drop the hammer on Michigan. There will likely be no probation or scholarship reduction. All this is a distraction. One that will blow over soon. So why are we so upset? Why can't I get excited about the season again?
The fact is, the story is out there, and herher everyone laugh at scUM (uh .. we still went 3-9 last year). Also, everyone laugh at Tennessee, USC, PSU, and Iowa, etc., schools whose issues are, in my epinion, far more serious and pervasive than Michigan's. In fact, almost all schools have some experience with this level of "distraction". The deeper question is, why are we, as well as the national media, so concerned?
Is it because we run a squeaky clean program? Or because we never get in trouble? For those that think the issue stems from the fact that Michigan never, ever dreamed of skirting a rule prior to Rodriguez, I submit David Terrell's "3.3" GPA. Anyone that is familiar with DT knows that he was not the "bomba$$student". Something always stunk about that to me. Love it or hate it, but the puppet show that is Michigan football shows strings when you look close enough. Maybe DT was like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. Or, maybe something fishy was going on.
So, is it that we never get in trouble? There's no doubt that we haven't been in trouble, especially in football. But, we aren't immune to bad press. I'm a biased observer, but it seems like the press can't wait to pile on Michigan. Likely caused by years of excellence and large fanbases of our three rivals, but when Michigan does bad, for a lot of the country, the news is good. Lest anyone forget, we are not the only historical powerhouse (or the first) to lose to a D-IAA team. Just the most publicized.
IMHO, what's happening here is a boiling over of frustration. It's easy to deal with the negative when we own the Big Ten, save OSU. Things are much more personal when we're losing. However, it is important to note that, perhaps other than Notre Dame, we are the school that people love bad news about. Bad news about Michigan and ND sells.
With that backdrop, I think Bo/Gary/Lloyd is what Michigan needs. A headman that treats everyone outside of the program as a liability. An insular program that defends those inside aggressively, and keeps outsiders at bay. Also, we as a fan base, need to take a similar stance. Are we perfect? Nope. But, with the good and the bad, Michigan football is ours. As a fanbase, we need to understand that others love to tear our institution down. And we need to move on. So what that there are some silly accusations being leveled (it's not like we're paying off players, having player's get arrested, or cursing in practice). We need to be confident enough to blow it all off and move on. Stay excited for the season, and hopefully not feed the machine that will chase off RRod. To the extent that he isn't a homegrown "Michigan Man", the guy cares ... about the team, about his players, and about the institution.
Go Blue! Let's beat the Bronco's on Saturday!