that's unfortunate, but at least the interest is there on both sides
This should be how we remember Devin Funchess. It is not. [Fuller]
Losing isn't conducive to hero worship. This is, perhaps, an obvious point. For every Minnesota-era Kevin Garnett, a beloved star on a bad team, there are many New York Carmelo Anthonys, nitpicked and questioned to an unreasonable degree while surrounded by lesser talents, hampered by poor coaching, or both.
Which brings me to Devin Funchess. In 2013, Funchess could do no wrong as the matchup nightmare foil to Jeremy Gallon's production by precision. Expectations entering last season were so high Brian had to repeatedly clarify that Calvin Johnson comparisons weren't entirely reasonable:
So Devin Funchess probably isn't Calvin Johnson. Michigan should try to prove that assertion wrong. Expect something between first team All Big Ten and an All-American followed by an early entry into the NFL draft. He may even win the Mackey award, because people don't pay attention.
Funchess's 2014 initially met expectations; he looked like a man among boys while scoring a trio of touchdowns in the opener against Appalachian State. Funchess managed 107 yards against Notre Dame as Michigan got whomped, but the seeds of discontent were planted:
Devin Funchess tore ligaments, crack bone in a toe in the ND game. Took a shot in the toe before Utah. Re-injured it. Never got better
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) March 21, 2015
We didn't know this, of course, because Brady Hoke didn't talk about injuries. "He's fine," Hoke said, days before he'd hold Funchess out of the Miami (OH) game.
Funchess didn't look the same for the rest of the season. He didn't record another 100-yard game until the season finale at Ohio State; he reached the end zone just once after the opener. With the offense—and the season, and the Hoke era—crumbling around him, the focus turned to his occasional drops and a perceived lack of effort. Save for Devin Gardner and the coaching staff, Funchess drew more ire from fans than any other member of the program.
Never mind that he clearly played hurt. Never mind that his quarterback had the worst year of his career. Never mind that his catch rate actually improved from 53% to 62% despite him being targeted on nearly a third of Michigan's passes—and even more frequently on passing downs, when it became obvious to all that the ball was going his way. Never mind that when Gardner threw his second interception against Northwestern, Funchess blew through two block attempts, chased down Ibraheim Campbell after a 78-yard return, and laid a lick on him for good measure:
This didn't fit the narrative. Funchess wasn't an otherworldly talent gamely battling through injury in a lost season even if it meant hurting his draft stock. He was a prima donna wide receiver who hadn't earned that status, a guy who didn't care about winning, if you interpreted an unfortunate postgame presser soundbite as so many did.
When Funchess declared for the NFL draft, the reaction from many Michigan fans wasn't one of disappointment or sadness; instead, the news was met with indifference or, quite often, a list of all the reasons why he'd fail as a pro. That list got longer when he ran a disappointing 4.7-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine a month ago. It was only after, when his draft stock and earning potential had taken a serious hit, that we learned he was still recovering from an injury of which we never knew the full extent.
I can't say for certain whether Funchess will succeed in the NFL. If I had to guess, though, I think he will. At his best, his combination of size, speed, and body control is up there with anyone; we just didn't get to see him at his best last year for reasons almost entirely out of his control. If he works through his too-frequent battles with butterfingers, he's got the potential to be a defense-bending number one receiver.
In an alternate universe, Funchess may very well be Braylon Edwards, whose game was eerily similar right down to the frustrating drops. We remember Braylon in a very different light; winning helps quite a lot, as does avoiding injury and being surrounded on all sides by NFL talent. I hope we'll come around on Funchess and similarly celebrate his accomplishments instead of bashing him for failures not of his own doing. If, and hopefully when, he's skying over NFL defenders like so many Mountaineers, we'll be glad we did.
For weeks now, I've had half-baked column-type things on Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins saved on my laptop, begging for an easy narrative the subjects couldn't provide. This is MAAR's offense now? Well, he just went 1/7 with four turnovers at Indiana. Dawkins provides a steady shooting presence? It's too bad he just shot 1/8.
This shouldn't be a surprise. Michigan's two late recruiting pickups for 2014 weren't supposed to have significant, let alone starting, roles on this team. As recently as December, when Michigan hosted Syracuse, both registered DNP-CDs. That all changed with the injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, of course. Instead of easing them into the college game, John Beilein had little choice but to throw them in headfirst and hope they could tread water.
MAAR and Dawkins combined for just seven points on 3/12 shooting against Ohio State; Sunday's game nevertheless displayed their progress.
Abdur-Rahkman drew the unenviable assignment of guarding future top-five pick D'Angelo Russell for much of the game, and he did better than anyone could expect of a freshman defending one of the top scorers in the country. Russell had a hard time freeing himself as Michigan jumped out to a big first-half lead, going just 1/4 in the first stanza; he'd finish with 16 points, but needed 17 shot equivalents to get there, and he turned it over five times.
Time and again, MAAR fought his way over and around screens to stay in Russell's hip pocket, forcing a series of difficult shots. He knew where to be—no small feat for a freshman on defense—and he seemed acutely aware that he'd have to expend most of his energy on that end of the floor. Then, at the end of a rough day on offense, he came through with one of the biggest assists of the game, finding Zak Irvin on a drive-and-kick for a corner three that gave M a six-point lead with six to play. It was the type of play we'd hoped to see from MAAR for weeks.
Dawkins, too, came through late after struggling for much of the day. Shortly after MAAR's critical assist, Dawkins got past Marc Loving and tried a short pull-up from just outside the paint. Although the initial shot went off the mark, Dawkins corralled the rebound after a tip, then pivoted past Jay'Sean Tate to scoop in the putback (above, Fuller). I don't think it's a play he makes in December, when Michigan's freshmen had to think their way through all 40 minutes.
They're still developing, of course. Dawkins made an ill-advised foray to the basket early in the shot clock with Michigan clinging to that late six-point lead; while the Buckeyes blocked the shot, Max Bielfeldt bailed out his teammate with a tough rebound. MAAR got himself trapped next to the Buckeye bench and had to sweat through a lengthy replay in the final minute. Overthinking (or underthinking) is still an issue.
Especially when one notes Kam Chatman's unexpected six-point run in the first half, though, it's hard not to be encouraged by the progress of Michigan's freshmen after Sunday regardless of what showed up on the box score. MAAR is hitting 55% of his twos in Big Ten play while developing an outside shot and building confidence on defense. Dawkins has that tantalizing athleticism and truly impressive shooting numbers—he's fourth in the conference in true shooting percentage.
Michigan doesn't have a superstar like Russell in the freshman class, but it's becoming easier and easier to see what John Beilein envisioned when he recruited these guys. It's still hard to come up with a smooth game-to-game narrative to attach to them. That's kind of the point, though—freshmen are unpredictable. Instead of waiting for them to string together enough similar performances to declare they're here, sometimes it's best to note the highs and the lows and realize they're getting there, and that's just fine.
Indoor soccer leagues are not particularly good about keeping things balanced. We were getting the shit kicked out of us because we were all 30 and out of shape and these kids were in high school. Since they were in high school, they were dicks. I'd just about gotten fed up when their goalie started making forays up the field in an attempt to score. Repeatedly. Just rubbing it in.
I started tracking him the next time he did it, with every intention of cleaning him out. As I reached him, he passed the ball. My fate was sealed anyway.
Without any semi-legal means of letting this guy have it, I punched him in the face. 30 seconds of rolling around later, my glasses were in tatters and I'd gotten a healthy suspension from an amateur indoor soccer league I didn't care very much about.
This is not at all what Frank Clark did. I am not drawing any sort of equivalence between the two events.
But I have been there, in the place where part of your brain that says "maybe we should think about this" is overwhelmed by a need for violence. I understand that many—too many—people come at this from the perspective of someone who has experienced or knows someone who has experienced the other end. That is valid. Of course it is. I come at it from the other end. I am a relatively normal person with a nice life, and there but for the grace of God and wife go I.
I struggle to say the appropriate things here because I think the idea of "thoughts" going out to the victims of such things is condescending at best. If you're ever in a position to help a person in that situation do it and if you're not then don't puff yourself up about how roundly you condemn such behavior. I don't see a whole lot of difference between people with the gall to blame the victim and those loudly proclaiming Clark a miserable waste of atoms.
This gets on my nerves because it's a quick leap from pointless moralizing to dismissing a guy forever as only that one thing in that one moment. I saw this picture and it took the wind out of me.
"Clark refused to look at the camera at the Perkins police station"
What did I do?
"Look at the camera."
That's not who I am.
"Look at the camera."
I thought I had left this behind.
Maybe Frank Clark's a bad guy. Or maybe one of the assholes waving him goodbye in the comments to make themselves feel better about themselves would have made the same screwup in the same situation, bottle-deep in a miserable football season after literally living a feral existence on the streets of Los Angeles for most of his youth.
It's not acceptable; Michigan had to make the decision it made. For once the program managed to handle something right. There have to be severe societal punishments for these things, and Clark's going through that.
He's got a choice now. He can be a guy that this happened to once, and he put it all away and forced all of that down as best he could and it never happened again. Or he can let it recur, and be the guy the internet says he is now. It's up to him. I don't know which way it will go, and that photo suggests he doesn't either.
I hope he makes it, and feel badly for him. Yes, as the perpetrator of a terrible thing. Yes. It is possible to be a bad person in a moment because you are wired to be angry, a wiring that comes easily when you've experienced way too much fear growing up. How many people are shitty all the time without tripping a line like Clark did?
It is heartbreaking for Frank Clark to almost make it. You should feel that part of this too.
I've never run so fast in my life.
The roar emanated from Stadium & Main and echoed down State Street, where I'd just emerged from the shortcut behind the field hockey, er, field. The year, 2004. I was a junior in high school; as a freshman, I'd run cross country, and specialized in sprinting the last 200 yards of a 5K because puking was absolutely worth not finishing behind the guy in front of me.
On this day, however, I wasn't in a pack of pimple-faced skinny dudes in uncomfortably short shorts. I had not planned on running; sullen trudging, eyes cast down to the sidewalk, was the plan as I, my brother, and my dad's old college roommate headed back to my parents house from a certain loss to Michigan State.
The roar changed those plans.
It was just chilly enough to feel the wind in your bones. DeAndra Cobb broke his second long touchdown run of the evening to put Michigan State up 27-10 partway through the fourth quarter. Dusk settled over Ann Arbor.
They were my dad's roommate's seats. "I've had enough," he said, or something to that effect, and my brother and I tacitly agreed by standing and exiting with him. We were young and polite and stupid, in about equal parts.
If I'd simply believed I was missing one of the greatest Michigan comebacks in history each time I ran a race, perhaps I wouldn't have quit cross country after one unremarkable season on JV. I'd certainly never started a "race" so fast after hearing a cheer that could've only followed a Michigan touchdown. A part of me had wondered if I'd regret leaving; now I knew I regretted it, and I don't remember having to say a thing before I took off. My brother followed. Sorry, dad's roommate, but this was your choice, after all.
Not that I didn't know better. In 2004, you didn't have to know much about football to know which Wolverine would be the one to spearhead a wildly improbable comeback. Braylon Edwards always seemed larger than his listed 6'3", and he always came down with the damn ball, somehow. Growing up as sports junkies, we used to call catching a jump ball over a defender "Mossing" when we played football at the park or in the backyard; beginning sometime in the Fall of 2003, we began calling it "Brayloning" instead.
I ran out of guilt. I ran out of excitement. I ran through the front door and between gasps asked my father, "What did Braylon do?"
We missed the first one, of course. The second one, as I recall, was replayed again and again just after we made it home. We finally got to share in the jubilation of the third, but it felt a little cheapened; we'd bailed, and "it was cold and we didn't think they'd do it" no longer felt like a sufficient excuse.
This year's Michigan team, like the last several, doesn't instill the same confidence that 2004 squad did. There's no Mike Hart equivalent, nor a Jake Long or Jason Avant or Steve Breaston or LaMarr Woodley or Marlin Jackson. Devin Gardner compares far better to Half-Broken 2007 Chad Henne than Fully Operational 2004 Chad Henne.
Unfocus your eyes just a little, though, and you'll swear Braylon is still out there, and he's been spending time in the weight room.
I'll be watching today's game from my couch; I had no interest in making the trip to East Lansing after last year's debacle, especially since a repeat performance appears disturbingly likely. But the television will stay on until all doubt is gone, and even after all that's happened since Braylonfest a decade ago, I'll let that doubt gnaw at me far more than it used to.
Go Blue. Throw it up to
Over the past three days, Michigan's addressed the Shane Morris incident in three different ways:
1) Two-paragraph statement with boilerplate language about student health that claims Morris was removed from the game because of a leg injury and doesn't even mention the possibility of a concussion.
2) Testy Hoke press conference in which Hoke says Morris would have practiced Sunday if not for a high ankle sprain, says there is a statement from medical staff forthcoming, says he hasn't talked to Brandon since Saturday.
3) Medical staff release becomes Brandon statement released at 1:30 AM in which it is admitted that Morris had a mild concussion BUT BUT BUT all this other stuff.
I'm not particularly interested in arguing about whether Brady Hoke is a great dude who's too incompetent to be Michigan's coach or a careless rub-some-dirt-on-it dinosaur who's too incompetent to be Michigan's coach. Either way his lifespan in our lives is measured in weeks, with no pardon coming.
You say he's a great dude, fine. Michigan's still been blown out by every Power 5 team they've played in year four. I'll agree with you that he's a great dude as long as he's a great dude with another job.
The real issue is Dave Brandon. Michigan is caught in a web of contradictions that the Rosenbergs of the world will contort themselves through to say that Michigan technically didn't lie to the world about player safety, and fine! I'm not even going to comb this pile to find the parts that directly contradict other parts. Sure, Dave Brandon is… a great… dude. Let's even stipulate that.
He just evaporated for 52 hours, left his coach out to dry with information that was incorrect, contradicted him on half the stuff he said after most of the western world had gone to bed, and helped spin Michigan Can't Protect Its Players from
- a one-day story in which Michigan acts like adults about a bad situation and addresses the failures that culminated in Morris putting his helmet back on to
- a three-days-and-counting story that makes Michigan look like a mendacious clownshow.
The Brand has been tarnished by Dave Brandon's incompetence, by his instinct to obfuscate and cover his ass. The #1 play of this athletic department is to not quite lie to your face and ask "are you calling me a liar?"
I am. And you need to GTFO.
There is no GIFs post this week, because hell no, so instead I'm taking the opportunity to write about lemons and health and whatnot. If you're looking for the video of Brian finally fulfilling the terms of the Bolden/Morgan lemon bet, click here. Below is me eating a lemon for entirely different reasons.
I have an odd way of stumbling into life-changing events.
My first "real" writing job came when I responded to a thread on The Wolverine's message board announcing they were looking for an intern, despite my only qualification being a couple years of blogging on a site I created on blogspot. They hired me, for some reason, and from that point forward writing about sports went from hobby to potential profession.
I landed my job here eight months after graduation. I'd done nothing to find another job, instead writing on the blog I'd created while at The Wolverine and hoping someone would notice. In the span of a few short weeks, Tim Sullivan got hired by The Wolverine, TomVH got hired by ESPN, and I found myself in the Michigan Stadium press box covering a weather-shortened game against Western Michigan.
In the interim, I'd been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which appeared to explain many of the myriad health problems I'd experienced since the latter half of high school. Eventually, I'd write about dealing with CFS as I spent the better part of a year working from my bed in my parents' house. I did my best to write about it positively and within the framework of sports, because facing the realities of having a debilitating illness with no proven cause or cure is scary and depressing, as is the prospect of openly discussing it with a rather large audience.
Writing how I actually felt—depressed and scared, mostly, of the reality of my situation and whether it would get better and whether I could keep this job and whether I should date anyone and whether it would ever be safe to have children because the best my CFS specialist could tell me was "use a condom and it should be fine"—was not something I could face head on, and I was genuinely distracted from that pain by Michigan's wonderful basketball team, so I chose to focus on that latter bit.
I began to feel better enough this summer that I once again began the process of moving out of my childhood home, this time to a townhouse in Ypsilanti with my brother and one of his co-workers; my brother does an amazing job of providing support, and I still would be living close enough to home to keep that support system intact and available. At some point, I needed to begin real life, whatever that is, and trying to do that from my parents' house wasn't very easy, as you can probably imagine.
As I prepared for the move, I saw my physician for a routine checkup in July. Outside of my immediate family and closest friends, I trust this physician—who from the outset had been wary of my CFS specialist, who is as much a researcher as a doctor, which has its positives and its considerable negatives—more than anybody I know. Two hours after I'd left the doctor's office, I got a call from him. It was after 6 pm. The office had closed at 5.
He'd been going back through my medical records, and noticed that six years ago something in those records indicated a potential gluten allergy, and in the whirlwind of doctor's visits that led to my CFS diagnosis this had slipped through the cracks. I immediately began to research gluten allergies, and what I found explained so much: symptoms I'd stupidly attributed to "well, I have an illness about which little is known, so this probably just that," rather serious symptoms at that, were listed with eye-opening accuracy to my real-life symptoms on any site or forum I visited.
I cut gluten out of my diet immediately, even before undergoing testing for celiac disease—celiac tests are notoriously unreliable and don't cover the full spectrum of gluten allergies, so the best way to find out if I had a gluten issue was to see if my symptoms improved while going entirely gluten-free. They did. Confirming our suspicions, I began feeling more acute symptoms on the (many) occasions when I'd accidentally "gluten" myself—a strong signal that gluten is, indeed, the problem.
This has been life-changing, to say the least. Instead of dealing with an illness with no known cause or cure and little funding for research to change that, I'm dealing with a food allergy, and while the solution involved cutting more foods out of my diet than I ever could've imagined, there was a solution.
This brings me, in a very roundabout way, back to Brian's lemon bet, and strange coincidences. I'd been trying to figure out a way to write about this for the last month or so, once I was pretty certain that gluten, not CFS, was the real problem for me. When Brian didn't initially eat the damn lemon, one of our dedicated commenters, WolverineDevotee, started a Twitter hashtag: #EatALemon. I clicked on it. I never click on hashtags.
When I scrolled down, I eventually stumbled upon a link to a Facebook post by an organization called FARE—Food Allergy Research & Education—containing this video. It's a nine-year-old boy named Luke, inspired by the Ice Bucket Challenge, eating a lemon to raise awareness for life-threatening food allergies:
As you can see in the video at the top of this post, this in turn inspired me to do the same—how could I not after stumbling upon this? In the last couple months, I've just begun to realize the prevalence and danger of food allergies, and how difficult they are to manage.
The stats are here, and they're frightening: around 15 million Americans—and one of every 13 children—have a food allergy of some sort, and while I'm lucky enough that mine hasn't had more severe consequences, many of them can be outright deadly. The consequences for me eating gluten-contaminated food, at this juncture, are migraines and fatigue that last a day or two. The consequences for people like Luke can be far, far worse.
Perhaps the biggest issue is the one I faced. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, 83% of Americans with celiac disease are either undiagnosed or wrongly diagnosed with another condition, often the type of autoimmune illness with which I was misdiagnosed. The average time to get a correct diagnosis is 6-10 years. I'm about average in that regard, and lucky to be properly diagnosed at all.
So I have this platform, and I'd like to use it for some good. Whether or not you'd like to film yourself eating a lemon and posting it on the internet—it's really not that bad!—I hope you'll consider donating to FARE.
I have an additional request, as well. While I've been lucky enough to have a change in my diagnosis, my father still deals with CFS, a disease for which research is woefully underfunded. I've witnessed my dad act as a guinea pig for experimental treatment for over two decades, and the rollercoaster of symptoms he's had as a result. Simmaron Research is doing what they can to get even the most basic research for CFS funded and underway, and I hope you'll consider giving to them, as well. Any little bit helps.
I'm doing better now, though the early stages of dealing with a previously untreated allergy can be difficult; I'm still doing my best just to not contaminate myself on a daily basis with mixed (though improving) results, even though I've eschewed any attempt at eating out in favor of preparing all my food myself, while making an extraordinary effort to keep my part of the kitchen separate from my roommates'. While my energy and ability to think clearly is improving by the week, I'm still woefully underweight—at 5'10", I've weighed in the 125-to-130-pound range for the last two years—and eating anywhere but in my own home is a major obstacle.
But I know what I must do, and that's an incredible development compared to where I was a few months ago, when my treatment boiled down to get some rest and hope. I'm hoping, by raising whatever awareness I can about my situation and countless others', that more people can make a similar discovery.
*Since I plum forgot to do this in the video: Seth, BiSB, and Bryan Fuller, consider this a formal challenge.