One Frame At A Time: Denard

Submitted by Ace on September 20th, 2013 at 2:55 PM

If the GIFs are slowing down your browser, hit 'escape' on any browser except Chrome to stop animation. If you are using Chrome, I highly recommend adding the extension "GIF Scrubber" to have video-like control over each GIF.

Denard Robinson's introduction as something more than a lightning-fast curiosity came in Michigan's 2010 opener against UConn. Fittingly, the game marked the unveiling of the Michigan Stadium luxury boxes, a new attendance record, and the completion of Brock Mealer's journey from paralysis to walking out and touching the banner. It's an easy argument to make that this game represented the high water mark of the Rich Rodriguez era, a moment when anything and everything seemed within the realm of possibility.

The Big House was gaudier, a man had gone from never walking again to walking again, the much-maligned defense shut down the Huskies, and Denard ... well, a Michigan quarterback record of 197 rushing yards is what we remember most, and he also completed 19/22 passes for 186 yards and a score. Rodriguez introduced the first iteration of the Worst Waldo play...

...and when it looked like UConn finally might be able to slow down Denard, he used their eagerness to finally lay a finger on the guy against them:

Michigan raced out to a 21-0 lead within the first 21 minutes of the opening kickoff, then cruised to a 30-10 victory. Denard became an overnight sensation. A fanbase beaten down by 3- and 5-win seasons the previous two years had reason to think that perhaps this could work out after all. Most of this optimism stemmed from Denard, of course, who helped matters by being one of the most eminently likable athletes to ever step on campus.

This summer, I went back through Denard's career and made a whole bunch of GIFs, with full intention of writing up an ode to the man who—often single-handedly—dragged the Wolverines from the depths of 3-8 and put them in a position to succeed in his three years as a starter and beyond. Like Brian with his HTTV article, I sat down and just couldn't go through with it.

I think I'm ready now. Hit the jump for a GIF retrospective on the career of one Denard Robinson.

[JUMP, obviously.]

Click on the stills/links to open each GIF in a lightbox. I didn't do this for every GIF; again, hit 'escape' to stop animation on those.

I'm not going to attempt to rank these, as I imagine picking a favorite Denard moment is akin to choosing a favorite child. Watching Denard play football was unlike any experience I've ever had as a sports fan; I've heard fans compare the excitement he produced simply by having the ball in his hands to watching Anthony Carter—the difference, of course, is that Carter touched the ball 338 times in 48 career games, while Denard had the ball in his hands on every snap, finishing his career with 747 passes, 723 rushes, and even three receptions.

There's only one place to start, of course, and that's with Denard's first career carry, when he turned a broken play into a jaw-dropping spectacle:

Robinson was used sparingly—clearly unready to step in and play quarterback immediately—for the rest of his freshman season; we had seen a glimpse of the future, though, and it dazzled in its brightness.

If Denard's first start wasn't enough to convince fans that they had something special taking snaps, a school record 502 yards of total offense the next week at Notre Dame did the trick. That included the longest run in Notre Dame Stadium history, when he revealed that tackling angles simply do not apply to him:

Denard also completed one of the more unlikely passes I've ever seen:

The threat of his legs made this one a whole lot easier; we'd see this many times throughout his career, to the point that I'll most remember Roy Roundtree for being the main beneficiary of not having a defender within 20 yards of him:

Three steps. That's all it took to make a receiver as open as you're ever going to see.

Oh, and then Denard ran in for the game-winner, dropping to a knee in the end zone, as thankful as we all were.

Two weeks later, Denard measured once, cut twice, and turned it into a Sportscenter moment:

He once juked an Indiana safety so badly that it was embarrassing even by Indiana football standards. We won't discuss the rest of the 2010 season, because that is the territory of GERG and stuffed beavers and a team that no longer could play 100% for their coach, and this isn't about that.

This is about Denard. If Notre Dame fans thought they'd seen the worst of it, they were in for a rude awakening—at night, ironically—in 2011, when Michigan's magical quarterback shined brighter than the new stadium lights. With his team down 24-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Denard bailed out Stephen Hopkins to make it a game:

He was the first to trust Jeremy Gallon's rocket boots, throwing him the first of two pinpoint back-shoulder fades. Then, with the game on the line, he escaped the pocket and found a cloaked Gallon all alone in the secondary, hitting him in stride while throwing on the run across his body:

The very next play, well, you surely remember:

When Chris Fowler told Denard of his absurd stat-line, he couldn't believe his ears; the game was over, but its reality had not set in:

Denard capped his junior season with Michigan's first win over Ohio State since 2003, dashing past their defense for the team's first score...

...then running nearly as fast to his fellow students as the final seconds ticked off the clock:

While Al Borges and Denard struggled to find a cohesive way to effectively run the offense during those final two seasons, Denard's smile never dimmed, even when his career as a quarterback was effectively ended by an elbow injury; along the way, he continued to provide moments of athletic genius. Just ask Tanner Miller.

Or Ohio State's secondary.

As a football player, Denard was a once-in-a-generation talent, capable of doing things we've never seen as Michigan fans, or even fans of college football as a whole—he holds the NCAA career mark for all divisions in quarterback rushing yards, has the most 200/200 games of any FBS player in history, and recorded the only 1500/1500 season in NCAA history in 2010. As an ambassador for the school and the game, he was just as remarkable. He stayed at Michigan when the coach who recruited him—one of the few to trust him as a quarterback, not just an athlete—was unceremoniously fired, then spent his final years at Michigan showing up to athletic event after athletic event. Denard and Treezy dancing to "I Can't Turn You Loose" is as indelible an image as any left by those two, and that's saying something:

I don't even remember which game this is from; it doesn't matter, really, as the pure joy on his face makes the context irrelevant:

He showed just as much enthusiasm supporting his teammates, even when circumstances gave him every excuse to sulk—something we'd seen from his immediate predecessor.

I could go on (and on and on), but I think the point is clear. Even as the program continues to improve, I still miss seeing Denard in the winged helmet, and I don't foresee a time when that won't be the case. As a quarterback, a pure athlete, a fan, and a person, Denard made it fun to follow a team that, in almost every other regard, wasn't remotely fun to follow. That he sometimes seems more appreciated by non-Michigan fans, who focus on his best moments, than those who support the Wolverines, who focus on his shortcomings (and yes, there were shortcomings) fills me with a mixture of sadness and anger; one look at any of the above, however, and that all goes away, replaced with the memories of the joy that one man, his untied shoes, his incredible speed, and his ever-present smile gave me.

Comments

gwkrlghl

September 20th, 2013 at 3:01 PM ^

For one, that was almost literally the only play of significance in his career (other than maybe the almost-fumble recovery TD at UTL1 right?)

For two, I thought that was the intro of Richrod's offenses doing that crazy ninja "wow that guy is insanely wide open" thing all the time and Richrod showing his offensive genius but that didn't work out too hot either

Edit: Also, nice work on the "We've got him" gif. I'm trying to stiffle my laughter here in the office

CooperLily21

September 20th, 2013 at 3:32 PM ^

I think the last pass to Gallon at UTL blows all other plays out of the water as the most significant single play, but I guess its debatable?

And that QB Oh Noes play to Robinson was just one of many.  See the first play from the Illinois game to Roundtree in 2010 (?).

Don't be THAT guy.  Rain on wedding day, free ride when you're already late, good advice you just can't take, etc.

BlockM

September 20th, 2013 at 3:09 PM ^

Sheesh, remember how fun that guy was?!

The moment I remember most for some reason wasn't a good play, but his interception at Iowa that sealed our loss. After he saw it was picked he collapsed into Molk's arms. He cared so much, it's awesome to see all his brightest moments in one place.

Erik_in_Dayton

September 20th, 2013 at 3:11 PM ^

I have a hard time imagining that I'll ever be more fond of a Michigan player than I was/am of Denard.  Perhaps the best compliment I can give him is to note that my die-hard OSU-fan best friend even liked him. 

Blue and Joe

September 20th, 2013 at 3:15 PM ^

One of the most likable and enjoyable players we will ever have the pleasure to watch. People want to point to his record against MSU and OSU and say he wasn't good enough. Screw that. This kid from Florida became a bonifde Michigan Man in the program's most desperate times. What would we have been like in those years without Denard?

Earlier this week I bought myself a #16 Michigan jersey, a year after Denard graduated (another thing that makes him great), because I realized he is the player I will remember forever. We were damn lucky to have him, and it's sad not seeing that smile every Saturday.

CooperLily21

September 20th, 2013 at 3:21 PM ^

Thank you, Ace.  Thank you very much.  I will share a link to this page with everyone I know.

I'm glad you waited a bit to post this - the delay avoided me having to explain tears at my desk that would have surely flowed had this gone up a few month ago.

You are correct in your calcation of Denard being a once-in-a-generation talent.  I do not expect to ever see anyone as exceptional as him wearing the Maize and Blue for the rest of my lifetime (and I saw Desmond and Woodson in person numerous times).  And that makes it even more sad to not be able to see him one more time.

dnak438

September 20th, 2013 at 3:22 PM ^

And easy to want him to succeed. And, for a program that can have a reputation of being stoic and conservative and boring, Denard was a wonderful breath of fresh air.

Blue Since B.C.

September 20th, 2013 at 3:24 PM ^

On the verge of tears at work = time to go home.  Great tribute, Ace.  This kid epitomizes everything that is great about Michigan, and makes me proud to be a fan.  Such great silver linings out of such a dark time.  I can confidently say that he'll be my favorite Michigan football player of all-time.

Now...FEED HIM THE DAMN BALL, GUS BRADLEY!!

MGoShoe

September 20th, 2013 at 3:25 PM ^

...Ace. This will bring much joy to the MGoBlogerati. Screw the rest of the Michigan fanbase if they can't understand why you focus on the upside of S-As vice their shortcomings. Especially when the upside for Denard was so glorious. 

I'll never forget watching that TD scramble vs. WMU from my seat in the lower rows of Section 13. When Denard ran into the end zone right in front of us, I turned to my wife and said, "I can't believe I just saw what I saw." What's incredible is how many more times I said that throughout Denard's career. 

He was quite the gift to Michigan Football.

And thanks for the GIF Scrubber extension recommendation. Works like a champ (but interestingly, not on lightboxed GIFs).

goblue1327

September 20th, 2013 at 3:32 PM ^

As the dorky kid dancing next to denard and tree, I would just like to thank him for including me in a tiny piece of mgoblog history.

Also, all that other awesome stuff he did. 

LSAClassOf2000

September 20th, 2013 at 3:35 PM ^

I think what Ace has managed to do here - and so handily - is capture the thrill and the excitement and the electricity of Denard's on and off-field presence without needing to say much at all. The GIFs bring back a wonderful flood of memories that have indeed made me feel better on an otherwise blah day here in SE Michigan. 

Thanks, Ace. Excellent work!

PeteM

September 20th, 2013 at 3:39 PM ^

I pretty much 2nd everything said above.  Denard is my favorite Michigan athlete of all-time, and I've been watching Michigan football and basketball since the 1970s.

One quick thought -- what if Denard had played week.  While watching I was thinking -- while it was certainly possible that Denard would made some of the same mistakes as Devin -- that even with a subpar offensive line Denard would have run 20 plus times, run or passed for 3-4 touchdowns and put the team on this back. 

This is not a critique of Devin.  By all accounts, Devin is a more polished passer and is also an excellent runner.  I just think that the incredible speed and running ability of Denard would have put too much pressure on Akron (allowing some "oh noes" on top of long runs), and that he would have exploited whatever tiny holes the line opened.

Again, this is not Devin-bashing (I suspect that Denard couldn't have put together the game Devin had against ND the week before) but instead just a recognition that Denard could do things virtually all by himself that few other players could.

Wee-Bey Brice

September 20th, 2013 at 3:40 PM ^

Denard loves Michigan just as much as we love him. One of his teammates from Ohio put a Buckeye hat in his locker and he wrote "Go Blue" all over it. Some of our fellow MGoBloggers would say "but he was only 1-3 against Ohio, he doesn't have the right". Luckily for us, Denard doesn't just view how much of a Michigan man he is in terms of wins-losses but also in the way he carries himself. Aside from obvious football reasons, I appreciate him even more for being the perfect face for the university. The most dramatic thing we heard about him  during his time on campus was when someone made a fake twitter page. How can you not love that guy in a day & age where school administration is doing damage control for the actions of athletes every two weeks?

readyourguard

September 20th, 2013 at 3:41 PM ^

I remember calling my buddy in Chicago after Denard's first play against Western.  I told him I've never seen a football player run as fast as he did on that play.

I also remember calling that same buddy during the UConn win and telling him, "this is the year.  The offense looks unstoppable, and the defense was stout"

I really miss seeing Denard do his thing, and I feel fortunate I got to watch his entire career.

Thanks Denard.  Go Blue!

Wolfman

September 20th, 2013 at 9:05 PM ^

he is our all-time leader in yards and that, my fellow poster 134 years of us moving the football. Thomas Harmon who passed, ran, caught passes, intercepted passes, etc., kicked fgs is the closest I can come up with in terms of perhaps our most dangerous offensive weapons, given the respective eras.  If AC had been with a Michigan team that featured just one qb who went onto play in the NFL, his legend would have even been larger than the huge shadow already emanating from that small frame. He was in an era of about 12-14 passes a game and scored every fourth time he touched the ball. Consider Steve Smith threw for a completion percentage of 39% during the first four games of the '81 campaign and he seems to grow even larger.  This young man did not have the luxury of a RS year and considering he was being tutored by yet another freshman for a year and the ensuing injuries, I'm very happy with what he did. Of course, he wasn't a great passer, but neither was Leach or Franklin-my favorite UM qb incidentally- but they both were put through the grinders of that option attacks for 3 and 4 years respectivelly.  They were great, Denard was great and is, without a doubt, the most exciting offensive player I've watched in the maize and blue in my 44 years as a fan. 

bluebelle

September 20th, 2013 at 4:06 PM ^

Yep. Totally tearing up at work. I have a feeling Denard will always be my favorite Michigan Man. Not just because he was such an exciting player and seemed like such a fantastic person, but also because of the spark he gave the program during such a discouraging time.

Double Wolverine

September 20th, 2013 at 4:05 PM ^

I was lucky enough to have my college years match Denards. While I only met him a few times (very briefly at that) he was always so happy and fun to be around. He is the most electric player I can remember watching, anytime the ball is in his hands he has the chance to break a long one. I'm gonna miss him in a Michigan jersey but wish him the best in the NFL.

MGoManBall

September 20th, 2013 at 4:21 PM ^

One of my favorite plays that he made wasn't his greatest but it showed how he could put the team on his back. After this play I just had the feeling in my gut that good things were about to happen. Musberger did too as he says "and the irish better get ready.."

TrppWlbrnID

September 20th, 2013 at 4:16 PM ^

odoms is about 7 yards behind him and sprints to get in front as he cuts and just blocks a dude. mountain goat'n is born.

 

it was fun because there was no pressure, now, bluechips everywhere... this place can get so unfun sometimes

Wolverines Dominate

September 20th, 2013 at 4:17 PM ^

I remembeer before the 2010 game when M haters and analysts were saying, "Watch out for UConn, Michigan." Then we smashed them. I feel that people are doing it again, but the result will be an even larger victory for Michigan.

michiganman01

September 20th, 2013 at 4:55 PM ^

Man I remember those five games to open the season in 2010. 

67/96 1008 yds 7 TD's 1 INT

98 carries 905 yds 8 TD's

He had probably the best season by any Michigan football player ever. 

It was a shame we could never put 2 and 2 together. In 2010 with RR he was the best but our defense didnt allow him to do to many things. Then when we get a good defense the offenseive coordinator is not right. This led to all the inconsistencies with Denard. I was sure he was going to win the Heisman once after those 5 games. Of course my expectations where to high (and the fact that he didnt have the 2 and 2) but he did save Michigan football and brought it back to the national eye. And his injury is the reason we didnt win the big ten last year. 

MGlobules

September 20th, 2013 at 5:42 PM ^

with you bastards!!!! :)

EDIT P.S.: I still wear my Shoelace t-shirt religiously on game days, and the law will have to take it from my cold dead hands. 

P.P.S. Are afterburners the same as retrorockets? Denard has them.

MichFan1997

September 20th, 2013 at 5:12 PM ^

what any other Michigan fans thought of Denard. Whether they appreciated him or not is irrelevant to me and quite frankly, their loss. What I do know is that I appreciated him and enjoyed every last second of watching him. To this day, I've still only ever been to one Michigan game that Denard didn't play in. Also, a blue #16 jersey is the only Michigan jersey I have ever bought and it will take an EXTRORDIARY effort to get me to buy another (Looking at you Peppers). 

In closing, I love you, Denard!