No Twitterverse this week. Instead, we shall plumb the depths of our collective sadness.
We live in some the headiest of times of modern Michigan fandom. The basketball team is coming off a NCAA runner-up season and it is bringing in another bumper crop of highly-ranked recruits. Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison are in the early stages of assembling some sort of Megazord. Michigan’s facilities are new and shiny and fantastic. But to move to the future, it is important to understand the pain of the past.
So, with a few weeks before anything actually happens in the sports world, this seems like a good time to try to answer a simple, cathartic question: what was the worst moment to be a Michigan fan?
Like the Highlander, there can be only one. So I guess this is our search for the Lowlander. Use whatever criteria you wish, but bear in mind what we’re trying to determine. We’re limiting the competition to the 1990’s and on. Obviously crappy things happened before that, but many of us can’t remember too much farther back. The events in question have been divided into four regions:
The Daggers Region: It was there. It was so close. WE COULDA HAD HIM, MAN. And then... lightning bolt blue screen of death.
The What-Could-Have-Been Region: The quantum mechanical gateway to an alternate universe in which we were showered with glory and the heavens rained Pop-Tarts and pleasing music played throughout the land.
The Well-That-Was-Thoroughly-Unenjoyable Region: These were the games or events that hurt your soul from start to finish. Nothing about them was pleasant. Hope was crushed consistently and repeatedly, and then The Fates really went to work on you.
The General FML Region: Generic embarrassments. A catch-all for the stuff over the years that still has you saying, "ugh, don't even get me started on ______"
We’ll cover the first two regions this week, and the other two soon enough.
I’ve included some concise arguments for and against the thing in question being the worst thing ever. As a palate cleanser, for each entry I’ve also included a comparable event that went Michigan’s way. The wonderful Yang to the craptastic Yin, if you will. When you’re done reading, Vote HERE: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/99RQK2Y.
On the boards, Michigan Arrogance asked whence the great Spartan trollers of yesteryear? Perhaps with MSU recently closing the gap from 39 games back to just 36 in the all-time rivalry, things have gotten a bit more sanguine. Also the fact that Michigan State is a great university with a great athletic program that has beaten us in football three years running under a great football coach. RationalMSUfanpreviews the offense, while bama blue has their best-in-the nation defense covered. Smile, Mark Dantonio (at right, HT Six Zero):
Maybe it's just that the trolls coaching one of the big Detroit programs (HT: MGoAndy) and Spartan Bob (HT: Everyone Murders) have both been shipped out the of state. The Spartan Bob article makes it sound like Michigan fans are a bunch of classless griefers but nobody I know ever said they hate him; we hate that a guy named "Spartan Bob" was in a position to hair-trigger the clock when the Spartans needed it most.
After the jump: more from the board, a three-part preview of Three and Out, and other things Michigan is better at than Michigan State.
Early in the third quarter of the 2009 Illinois game, Michigan is leading 13-7 when Tate Forcier hits Roy Roundtree on a seam up the middle. The safeties are out of position and Roundtree sets sail for the endzone, Terry Hawthorne in tow. Hawthorne tackles Roundtree at the goal line; the play is initially ruled a touchdown but correctly called back on replay. Four attempts from the one are stoned; instead of being up 20-7 Michigan is up 13-7. From there the defense gives up 31 points to a terrible team, causing mass chaos.
This, unlike everything else on the list, was not something that directly lost a game. It's actually a great play, a strike down the middle of the field that set Michigan up with a first and goal from the one. Michigan's chances at winning the game went up after it, also unlike everything else on the list. In now way should Roundtree be held responsible for getting tracked down at the one after seventy yards. Sometimes the other guy is just faster than you.
It was what happened afterward that enshrines this play in Michigan infamy. Up until the exact moment Roundtree's knee hit the turf Michigan was on track to recovery from the 3-9 season. Preseason projections of a 7-5 and a crappy bowl game were well within reach, as Illinois was sure to pack it in after going down 20-7 early in the third quarter and Purdue was flailing around. Michigan's losses had been acceptable: a whitewashing at Penn State was ugly but the other two were at MSU in overtime and at Iowa in a two-point game. Big deal, first and goal, let's put it in:
That happened. Then the defense caved in, allowing 31 second-half points.
In the aftermath, this blog got locked down, I talked about how my soul-dong had been crushed, and Rodriguez's job came under serious threat for the first time. If this year is the end for Rich Rodriguez—and Michigan sets off on another awkward transition—the beginning of that end was right here.
5. Spartan Bob
Michigan State scores a last-play touchdown to beat Michigan after the home timekeeper freezes the play clock early. Larry Stevens is roped to the ground like a pig in a poke, too, but… yeah. The cheat was blatant enough for ESPN to break it down frame-by-frame and declare Michigan hosed. State "wins" 26-21.
Once back at the dawn of time I was playing Tecmo Super Bowl against my brother. As it is with brothers, games were intense, unsporting things in which I, the older, invariably prevailed. Once, though, I called the crazy reverse flea-flicker play deep in my own end in an unusually tight game. My brother tackled the receiver at about the two, but after he'd pitched the ball back to the quarterback. Tecmo Super Bowl glitched spectacularly, though, and did its little ditty as it declared my receiver to have taken a game-sealing safety.
Enraged, I immediately hit reset.
That was this play-type substance, except the glitch was an intentional act and life, as of yet, has no reset button. Compounding matters is that Larry Stevens was spectacularly held—a primary reason Jeff Smoker had eons of time to find TJ Duckett. End result: rage like has never been seen before or again in a certain rental house belonging to a friend of a friend on Plymouth. As a blubbering Bobby Williams wept through a post-game interview I swore little demons into existence as I declared my eternal hatred of the man. Eventually I stormed outside so I would not be kicked out.
In football, you might not get justice all the time—see the 2005 Alamo Bowl, please—but at least when you don't there is the tiny consolation that the gibbering sack of incoherence that robbed you of justice didn't mean it. This is something wholly different.
4. Nick Sheridan hurls a wobbly duck in the general direction of four Utah defenders
With under a minute left in the first half against Utah, Nick Sheridan drops back to pass and, under little pressure, lofts a mortar that four Utah players have a better shot at than the best-positioned Michigan receiver. Brandstatter groans "oh, no, Nick." Utah intercepts it and punches it in a few plays later.
This did end up in a rankling Utah touchdown that extended the Utes' lead to 12; that touchdown would end up being the winning points after Michigan scratched its way to a competitive second half. So it was a game-losing play.
But that was small potatoes compared to what the play represented. First of all, the whole idea was preposterous, a terrible throw into triple coverage in a situation where caution was a priority. Worse than that was the back-foot windup Sheridan deployed to chuck an artillery shell 30 yards downfield. Such was its accuracy that any of three Michigan receivers could have been the target-like substance; such was its pace that if one Utah secondary member didn't pick it off another one would have found it gently tickling his fingers as it nuzzled its way into the crook of his arm.
As Michigan Stadium settled into a halftime funk, the hivemind thought: we are so fucked. In one searing instant Sheridan erased all the foolish hopes Michigan fans had that their walk-on quarterback could be anything approximating functional and exposed the vast talent deficiency that's driven Michigan to the bottom of the Big Ten. If there was ever an oh, shiiiiiiiiiit moment for Michigan football, this was it.
The next week this ran through my mind as I told WCBN that the upcoming Notre Dame game was "critical for bowl eligibility." It wasn't but only because that wobbly-duck-induced panic was so, so right. There were probably worse things that happened in 2008, but as the indignities piled on each other numbness sets in; the Sheridan interception was the knockout blow. The rest was just kicking a man on the ground.
3. Anthony Thomas fumbles for no reason whatsoever against Northwestern
Leading Northwestern 51-46 in the craziest game ever played by the Wolverines, Anthony Thomas bursts through the Wildcat defense for a game-clinching first down, then drops the ball without being touched. Northwestern recovers and scores to win.
I didn't actually see this play live. Michigan was playing Michigan State back when the CCHA was the Big Two and Little Ten and if there was anything I hated more than Ron Mason's brand of energy-sapping anti-hockey it was how unbelievably good Ryan Miller was. Michigan State games at Yost were pure bloodsport, so I headed out. The final quarter of this game is the only Michigan football I've missed since my enrollment.
This was a good thing, because when I finally found out what had gone so terribly wrong with the force sometime during the first period I was in disbelief. Michigan needed a first down to seal the game. Anthony Thomas broke through the line and could have guaranteed a Michigan victory merely by falling over. Instead he dropped the ball without a Northwestern player so much as touching him, allowing the unstoppable Wildcat offense the opportunity to win the game. If I had actually watched this live I probably would have died. Even though I never had the raw emotional experience of it, finding the clip was a sickening experience. There should be "I Survived The Anthony Thomas Fumble" t-shirts.
The costs were severe. Michigan finished in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten with Purdue and Northwestern, sending the Brees-led Boilers to the Rose Bowl. There they lost to the 10-1 Washington Huskies. Michigan had to settle for a Citrus Bowl date against Auburn.
2. Shawn Crable blocks the outside guy
The Horror: trailing 34-32 with hardly any time left on the clock, Chad Henne throws a hopeless moonball to Mario Manningham that Manningham actually comes down with, setting up a makeable field goal. That field goal is blocked because Crable and Greg Banks split like a cheap zipper, allowing an opponent to run unimpeded at the kicker.
I'd already started my exit from Michigan Stadium before the moonball that set Michigan up with an improbable final attempt at evading the biggest upset in the history of college football*. I was disgusted and given the situation, the slight chance of winning the game was less of a priority than not getting stuck in the Stadium longer than a nanosecond after it ended. So I watched the final drama from the aisle.
I didn't even know that an Appalachian State guy had picked the ball up and started trucking for the endzone until Tuesday. I was already stalking my way home.
*(At least for the next few weeks, anyway. Before the season was out not one but two bigger dogs rose up and overcame. Syracuse and Stanford, we thank you kindly.)
1. Shawn Crable goes helmet to helmet on Troy Smith.
Ohio State, 2006: Michigan trails by three late in the fourth quarter of a game with no defense and finally manages to get Ohio State into a third and long. Troy Smith drops back, but can't find anyone. Smith gets pressure and bugs out, flushing up out of the pocket and scrambling uselessly on third and forever. Shawn Crable comes up to knock him out of bounds; in doing so, he bashes Smith helmet to helmet, drawing a 15-yard flag that extends the Buckeye drive. OSU would score a game-clinching touchdown.
The previous play has much to recommend it as the worst thing that's ever happened to anyone outside of a Lars Von Trier movie, and, yes, even if Crable pulls up Michigan is a long way away from actually beating Ohio State. Michigan's last ditch touchdown drive that allowed them an onside kick required a terrible fourth-down pass interference call to be successful and for much of that drive Ohio State's strategy was to give up yards as long as it bled the clock. Up only three, OSU would have been considerably less accommodating unless Jim Herrmann was pulling a Mission: Impossible stunt on the opposing sideline.
But if you're looking for a moment at which Michigan ceased being Michigan, this is it. Ohio State had evened, then tilted the balance of the rivalry their way in the first few years of Jim Tressel's tenure but a Michigan win in Football Armageddon would have made it 2-3 in the Tressel era with the all-important Biggest Game Ever in Michigan's corner. They would have put up more of a fight against Florida if only because the left tackle was Jake Long and would not have been a turnstile all night. In some extremely abstract sense Bo's death would have been avenged, or something. The five hours I was stuck in Columbus afterward, waiting for a man not named Skeeter and wondering if I was actually going to strangle him with my bare hands, would have been almost pleasant.
None of that happened. The next three things to happen to Michigan football were another uncompetitive Rose Bowl against USC, The Horror, and the Post Apocalyptic Oregon game. The Bo era had persisted through a couple coaching changes, 8-4 malaise, and the Year of Infinite Pain; it ended at the same time I crumpled to my seat in the OSU student section.
That play against Ohio State(2007) … a John Navarre pass deflects off the bottom of Braylon Edwards's foot and is intercepted by USC in the 2004 Rose Bowl (2003) … Hayden Epstein misses a 27 yard field goal against UCLA in a 3-point loss (2000) … KC Lopata misses a 27-yard field goal against Toledo in a three-point loss (2008) … Steven Threet throws a 100-yard pick six in that same game (2008) … Washington blocks a would-be game-clinching field goal and returns it for a touchdown (2001) … on the next play a Navarre pass is batted skyward by a Michigan receiver and Washington returns that for a touchdown, too (2001) … Marquise Walker drops a sure touchdown during Michigan's storming second-half comeback in the 2001 Edition of the Game … John Navarre promptly throws a game killing interception afterwards (2001) … Tennessee's Jason Witten outruns the entire Michigan secondary at some point during the 2002 Citrus whitewashing (2001) … Braylon Edwards is called for offensive pass interference against OSU (2002) … Chad Henne wings an interception directly at a ND safety when he had Avant open for a touchdown (2005) … Henne fumbles on a QB sneak from inside the one in the same game (2005) …virtually any defensive play during the Post Apocalyptic Oregon Game (2007) … Tate Forcier chucks a terrible interception in overtime against Michigan State (2009) … Denard Robinson chucks a terrible interception on the last drive against Iowa (2009) … Mike Williams lets a deep post behind him on third and thirty-seven in the same game (2009) … Forcier gives Ohio State a free touchdown to start the 2009 Game (2009) … and then throws five interceptions (2009).