"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
Pregame - Tailgating
With the game scheduled for an 8pm kick off, we naturally began tailgating at 12:30pm at a Fraternity House near the stadium. Tailgate food was pretty standard, with additional foods such as Brunswick Stew and a Chick-Fil-A platter. Delicious.) Needless to say, with about 7 hours of tailgating, there were plenty of beverages consumed and shenanigans to be had.
The attire was different. Pledges wore shirts and ties, some had pants that matched the color of their team (e.g. Tech students had yellow slacks, while some Georgia students had red slacks...yikes!)
I already was aware that the girls wore sun dresses to games; but, when it gets cooler they wear jackets matching the color of their schools. This may be more accurate for those in the Greek system at Georgia Tech, but I saw many folks with outfits that match school colors, but don't explicitly say the school's name. I did see people with jerseys, shirts etc., but not among the Frat/Sorority crowds.
Speaking of attire...
I of course had to be "that guy" with my Michigan hat on. The top two questions people asked me were:
1. "What do you think of Rich Rodriguez?"
2. "You think y'all are going to fire him?"
My response probably came off a bit defensive in nature, but I responded that I am a supporter/buyer of what Rodriguez brings to Michigan and that I think the general public won't expect as much from Michigan, which will play in his favor nicely when he wins 8 or 9 games next season. (Homer? Maybe...) I also ran into a someone who yelled out a 'Go Blue!' Found out he was born in Grand Rapids but moved to the South, which confirmed, you can't go anywhere without running into at least one Michigan fan.
Similar to the Victors' Walk, Georgia Tech has a Players' Walk down Yellow Jacket Alley. The band, cheer leaders and Ramblin' Wreck and fans all participate. One interesting note here is that they allow the Recruits to join in on the walk. I'm not sure if we do this currently, but I noticed it specifically this weekend. I bet the recruits loved it. If you click the above link, you'll see what it was like for Saturday's game. You'll also notice how much closer everyone gets to the players, coaches, etc. than we do at Michigan.
During the Game:
The night atmosphere was pretty awesome. The sky was clear and the Atlanta skyline looked gorgeous. I was sitting in the Georgia section with my girlfriend, a GaTech alumnus. If I had to compare Georgia fans to MSU or OSU fans, I'd say our Big Ten rivals are worse, but when Georgia fans bark at you as part of their chant, I'll admit there are few chants that are more annoying.
I spent the first half in the Georgia section and the second half in the GaTech section. In the UGA section, we were above the GaTech band; due to acoustics I couldn't hear the Tech band. We heard Georgia's band pretty well from across the stadium.
The neatest thing to note, is the fact that Georgia Tech had a rap song (I think by Soulja Boy called "All the way turned up" as an official theme for their hype videos that were playing on the big screen. Not only was the song piped in throughout the game, the band also learned to play it too!
Here's a version of the hype video.
While this song is pretty atrocious, it pumped the student and alumni crowds, and it also prompted the crowd to get loud on key defensive plays. Supposedly, some of the hype videos played before key plays/downs were created by players on the team. To me, that shows that the players and students totally bought into the team and its direction. It also shows that the athletic program affords its players the freedom to be creative and have real ownership of the direction of the team. (Note: Again, the song is bad, but I like the idea of involving the players to help engage the crowd on the big screen.)
Another cool thing to see was in between the third and fourth quarter, the GT band plays the Budweiser song. The video doesn't really do it justice. It's a fun thing to see in between the 3rd and 4th quarters.
The game was an exciting game that unfortunately slipped through GaTechs hands, literally. The crowd was in it the entire game. I stood the entire game, shouting and yelling, and not once was I told to sit down. That felt nice. The loss however, sucked as much as if I had gone to Tech.
Once Demariyus Thomas dropped a pass on fourth down, the entire stadium fell to silence, save the scattered sections of barking Georgia fans. The interesting thing though, was that Georgia Tech fans were more upset that both Clemson and GaTech lost to "bottom" SEC schools than anything else. They really have conference pride. Perhaps it's a geographical thing for ACC fans?
At any rate, I strongly recommend a game at Georgia Tech, or any other school in the country for that matter. If you go to a game somewhere else, I'd love to read your observations on the game day feel. I'm planning on attending the Rutgers-West Virginia game; I may tone down the Michigan attire so as to avoid confrontation.
I think it is important to take a step back from all that is going on in the media, and really take a look at the big picture.
First, I visit mgoblog 965.44 times a day, and consider myself to be fairly looped in to what’s going on at Michigan athletics (props to the mgoblog community.) While I don’t have any inside information, I think it is fair to say that this year’s team is very different from last year’s team. Watching daily videos and reading interviews from mgoblue.com, it’s obvious the players are working hard, having fun, and are having an impact on the community.
When I saw the reports on a potential NCAA violation, I was pretty baffled and confused. Again, I don’t go to practice, I’m not on the team, so I can’t speak on whether or not these allegations are true. What I do want to highlight is how the media have greeted the new Rodriguez era at Michigan.
The media notoriously sensationalize news. Politics (Howard Dean’s Rick Flair moment), health (“Africanized” Bees, swine flu), are excellent examples of times where the media focused all too much attention on minor stories, and exchanged journalistic integrity and responsibility for higher ratings.
The topic of athletics is no different. The media (often prematurely) release stories that will rile up a fan base. Once the fan base is riled up, they then report on the discontent of the fan base. In cases where the stories prove false, or not as severe as initially thought, the media follow up with “maybe everyone’s looking at this topic in the wrong light after all. The person or team in question isn’t an evil wrong-doer, despite ‘public perception’.”
For example, the media took Rich Rodriguez’ comments on the QB situation and ran with it, concluding we will certainly have three QBs, and a few analysts even added that we are doomed.
They also questioned Michigan’s culture and character:
- Feagin situation gets viewed as a Rich Rodriguez error in judgment.
- Players are transferring because RR is pushing them out.
- Most recent allegations of violating NCAA’s practice policies.
The media then report on how upset the fan base is, how things aren’t going so well at Michigan. Personally, Rich Rodriguez hasn’t given me a reason to question the direction of Michigan football. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. I’m very happy with the direction. GPAs are higher than they were before he got here, the kids looks happy, and they’re doing great work in the community.
Winning? Last year
was difficult, but I saw glimpses of what will be. I look forward to improvement this
season. And I especially look forward to
the years of dominance to come. One
thing that has never changed, is the integrity of the Michigan football program. I trust and believe in Rich Rodriguez, and he
has done nothing yet to lose my trust.
Again, while I don’t have insider exposure to the program, I
have learned a lot more about the program from places like mgoblog. Unfortunately, the average Michigan
fan doesn’t spend as much time reading about Michigan athletics outside of the confines
of ESPN, SI, CBS Sports, etc. They don’t
see the more complete portrait of Michigan
One thing I’m almost certain of, is when Michigan is cleared from all this, and Michigan is playing respectable football, with a solid record (somewhere in the mid-season) ESPN will have a segment on RR and how he managed to keep his team focused despite all the “negative attention” Michigan’s received. ESPN will then prove to be the hero that helps clear Michigan’s perception and Rich Rodriguez’ image. Whew, thanks College Game Day!
I came across an interesting article written by John U. Bacon and thought I'd share it for those of you who haven't yet read it. (Note: I tried to post this earlier but thought it didn't go through, so forgive me if this is a duplicate.)
After reading this article, I realized RR has done a lot with the little he's been afforded, both in his personal life, and his career in athletics. Very admirable trait! In the same light, I can only imagine what he'll be able to accomplish with what he'll get here at Michigan.
Article can be found here: http://michigantoday.umich.edu/2008/11/rodriguez.php
John U. Bacon
"As of this writing, Michigan's football season is not over—but Rich Rodriguez has already endured enough travails to fill a decade of Saturdays.
Just one year ago Rodriguez had a golden opportunity to get his second-ranked West Virginia team into the national title game. But in their last regular season game, the Mountaineers were stunned by lowly Pittsburgh, knocking them out of title contention.
A few days after that crushing defeat, Rodriguez got some good news: Michigan was on the line, prepared to propose. It was a whirlwind courtship between the most successful program in college football and the sport's fastest rising star—and consummated within a week.
You'd think the story might have ended there—but that was only the beginning. Still ahead: a seemingly endless lawsuit over a buy-out clause in Rodriguez's West Virginia contract, and the loss of ten of eleven starters from his new Michigan offense—five to graduation (four of whom were good enough to play in the NFL), two more who jumped early to the NFL and three who transferred to other schools.
"The last seven months have been the hardest of my career—hands down," he told me. "We should have been able to enjoy the honeymoon, instead of dealing with all this."
Next up: the most trying season in recent Michigan football history—one that has seen the Wolverines' blow a seven-game winning streak against Michigan State, a nine-game winning streak against Penn State, and a 24-game winning streak against the entire Mid-American Conference. Add it all up, and you have the first losing season since 1967, which will break a 33-year streak of bowl games—the longest in the sport—and Michigan's first eight-loss campaign ever.
But when you consider the long, winding road that has led Rodriguez from Grant Town, West Virginia, to Ann Arbor, this past year looks less like a roadblock than a speed bump.
Rodriguez's grandfather left Spain for the coal mines of West Virginia. Looking for a better life, the family moved to Chicago, where he was born.
His father soon became fed up with the crime and intimidation of their rough neighborhood. So one night he rented a U-Haul and a guard dog, packed the family's scant belongings in the middle of the night, and headed for tiny Grant Town, West Virginia, under cover of darkness.
"I was in the second grade," Rodriguez recalls, "and I'd never even heard of West Virginia. Man, I just hated it. But what saved me was sports. I could go outside, and bounce a ball off our roof for hours—a baseball, a basketball, even a football, it didn't matter—until my dad got a hoop and bolted it onto the roof. Looking back on it, for a family that was getting government cheese and didn't have enough money to pave our dirt driveway, that was a hell of a gift."
Rodriguez shot on that hoop every chance he had. In the winter, he'd grab the family snow shovel, pack down the snow, put his gloves on, and keep shooting. By his senior year in high school, he was the state's leading scorer.
"I knew two things: I wanted to spend my life in sports, and I wanted to do it on the biggest stage around. I wanted the pressure!"
He turned down scholarship offers to play basketball at Davidson, Marshall and Army because, he says, "I really loved football, and I wanted to play for the Mountaineers. That was always my dream. So I decided to walk on and take my chances."
As a 4.0 student in high school, he had cobbled together enough scholarship money to last one year. After that, he either had to earn a scholarship—or drop out.
When his father drove him down to the University of West Virginia, it was an adventure for both of them. Neither had ever seen the campus before. "He dropped me off with just a single hand bag—that's all I had. We left me at the stadium—on the wrong side! We didn't even know where the locker rooms were."
The assistant coach who welcomed the walk-ons didn't know Rodriguez's name. When the coach barked out the list of walk-ons, he called off "Gonzalez," thinking it was Rodriguez.
It's been a tough season for Rodriguez and U-M football, but the coach says he's faced longer odds before. (Photo: Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services.)
"Once I realized they had no idea who I was, my plan was simple: I was going to get in as many fights as I could the first week, just so they would know my name! They put me at defensive back, and I was getting in everyone's face, especially the offensive linemen, because they were all taped up and couldn't really get you. The other guys might not have liked me too much, but the coaches remembered my name!
"I played hard—every play, every practice and every game. No exceptions. I played desperate—because I was. If I didn't get a full ride by the end of the year, my college days were over."
At the end of Rodriguez's freshman year, Coach Don Nehlen offered him a full ride. He'd made it. His gamble had paid off.
Since then, Rodriguez has repeated the formula at every stop: Turn down the sure thing, bet on himself—then work to make it come true.
In his first season as Glenville State's head coach, his team posted an anemic 1-7-1 mark. "We were so bad, the crowd would literally give us a standing ovation if we got a first down," he says. "Trust me, just to keep that team together, that was the best coaching job I've ever done!"
The next year he knew he had to shake things up to get his offense going. "I started thinking about what was the toughest thing to defend when I played defensive back. To me, it was the two minute drill. Well, let's see if we can do that the whole game."
From that point on, Rodriguez's team skipped the huddle, went to a shotgun snap, spread the receivers out and started taking chances to get some points on the board—and kept it up for the entire game, every game.
It worked. Glenville State's radical offense left opponents chasing their tails and gasping for air. His revamped squad started rising up the ranks, and finally won the first of four league titles in just his fourth season. For good measure, they also won the Division II national championship.
As an offensive coordinator, Rodriguez worked the same magic for Tulane and Clemson before becoming the head coach at his alma mater in 2001—where he did it again, taking a 3-8 squad his first year and transforming them into a national contender.
Coach Rodriguez's invention, the spread offense, the very scheme that was once considered the last resort for desperate Division II teams, has now taken over the college game. You might argue it's worked too well, because many of the teams Michigan faces every year now employ Rodriguez's stratagem—and it works for them, too.
This season has tested Rodriguez in every way imaginable, on and off the field. After Michigan's 48-42 loss to Purdue left the hopes of a winning record—and with it, a bowl game—in the dust, Rodriguez faced one of the greatest challenges of his career. How do you motivate a team to keep playing hard the remaining three games of the season when you have virtually nothing to play for? It was a new problem for a Michigan coach.
When he addressed the team the night before the Minnesota game, he said, "You seniors can make a statement about your careers in the last three games, and you freshmen can make a statement about the future. Like the movie says, we need to get busy living, or get busy dying."
Instead of packing it in, the Wolverines packed a punch, dominating heavily favored Minnesota 29-6, to keep the Brown Jug, their confidence up and their hopes alive for the games—and the seasons—ahead. It's difficult to remember a Michigan team so happy to hoist the Jug.
"People say it's harder to be at the top than the bottom," he says. "But I guarantee you, anyone who says that has never been at the bottom.
"We're going to get there. It won't be tomorrow, and it won't be easy, but we're going to get there." "