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.



September 20th, 2013 at 5:18 PM ^

He is a special player that we can all be proud to say we saw play the game. He was amazing, to say the least... I think even with the oh noes, he's the most electric player to wear the winged helmet that I've seen in my 39 years

Magnum P.I.

September 20th, 2013 at 6:05 PM ^

I never understood why our offense with Denard wasn't just random number generator of three plays:

  1. Denard run left
  2. Denard run right
  3. Denard fake run and pass to wide open slot receiver for touchdown

Seriously, sprinkle in a few other things here and there, but I never understood why #3 wasn't a staple of the offense.


September 20th, 2013 at 6:47 PM ^

Man that first play makes me wish we still had a functional interior line. Denard's got a big seam up the middle and hits the secondary totally untouched at full speed. And that's all he needs...


September 20th, 2013 at 7:09 PM ^

in his hands. Sure most of you remember a media employee asking RR who was the fastest player on the team. RR said, "Well according to the 40 yard dash we raced yesterday, that would be Odoms." Not even waiting for the guy to ask the obvious, he said, "Yes, that includes Denard."  But then I think back to his tremendous final leg in the state championships in h.s. while running for Deerfield. Must have been trying to make his teammates feel good. That's the type of guy he is, after all. Missing that guy already, but he's going to make it in life no matter what he does. Great, great young man.


September 20th, 2013 at 7:21 PM ^

...has left an amazing, indelible mark upon the legacy that is Michigan football --  the most storied program in all of college football. 

I love it when good guys win. Denard was most certainly a good guy.



September 20th, 2013 at 7:30 PM ^

at least on earlier operating systems than snow leopard. So you have paralized my ability to access the front page of mgoblog until those gifs side off. Maybe one or two is understandable, but that series is not. 

So you can tell me that those of us who are using a 3 year old system are the redheaded step children of mgoblog, but maybe you actually should have taken older OS's into account. You could have used a link with a warning.

Poor example of hubris my friend. I would have sent you an email, but contact only went to the gerenic account. 


September 20th, 2013 at 7:59 PM ^

For me there were three UM players like that. Could change the outcome of the game in 1 play: Anthony Carter, Tyrone Wheatley and Denard Robinson.

I consider myself fortunate to have witnessed Denard's first ever UM play from scrimmage live with my father and brother.  And of course, it was a touchdown.

Denard Robinson man. Go Blue!


Durham Blue

September 20th, 2013 at 9:50 PM ^

Man, do I miss that guy. Every time he took off to run I would get ready to stand up to watch a potential TD. A consistent home run threat. The guy is by far the most exciting and electric playmaker for UM in my memory. Godspeed Denard. I am forever thankful to have met you in the ATL airport on your way to the Sugar Bowl.

Tyrone Biggums

September 20th, 2013 at 10:17 PM ^

1. Woodson

2. Robinson

3. Howard

In the immortal words of Rainbow Guy. This incompasses my feelings of Denard on the field completely. It's rare that an athlete invokes so much emotion, but he did for me.

<weeping> It's too much! What does it mean?

Adam Schnepp

September 20th, 2013 at 10:16 PM ^

This seems like a good place for a Cool Story Bro.

I have a friend who was a student equipment manager during our time at Michigan. After a game during Denard's freshman season the student equipment managers were cleaning up the locker room, packing up shoulder pads and the like to take back to the practice facility. Denard, who barely played in the game, comes in and starts helping the guys pack up. They tell him he that he can go but he refuses, telling them that he has to do something that day to earn his scholarship.

Pat Stansik isn't the only one who loves Denard.


September 20th, 2013 at 11:32 PM ^

A young man from the middle of nowhere  from a poor Florida town comes to a once proud midwestern football power and embodies the spirit, the drive, the focus, the emphasis on the team, and becomes the spiritual embodiment on the field and on the sideline of the entire Michigan tradition and passes it on to those who will come after and achieve more on the football field, but can only build on the foundation he laid after that foundation was cracked and crumbled for 3 years of sheer frustration. 

Any of you who do not understand that being a Michigan Man when things are going well is nothing compared to being a Michigan Man during an on-going tire fire need to rethink your position on Denard beyond wins and losses.  The return of this team to greatness in the near future and the miracle of 2011 are both built on this man and his spirit and will and his embodiment of what it means to be a Michigan football player.

Now, that is a far more impressive accomplishment to me than winning the Heismann trophy or beating OSU 4 years in a row for any single player.


September 21st, 2013 at 1:32 AM ^

i love it i love it i love it.

great retrospective.  made me happy in many ways.

the remarkable thing about denard, to me, is that I might have appreciated him off the field even more than I appreciated him on the field - which was a considerable amount.  I'm glad you included a few of those clips.  to me he represents what an ideal "Michigan Man" is.  he was confident but humble, fucused but light-hearted, well-spoken but down-to-earth.  he embraced the university, the challenges his team faced, and tried to shoulder the burdens that he could yet didn't seem to fall under the weight that clearly was more than even he could carry.

and somehow he laughed and smiled the entire time, taking pleasure in playing for Michigan, and celebrating and participating with Michigan students.  

he seemed to understand, truly, the great gift and exceedingly rare opportunity he had been given to become not only a michigan player, but a star michigan QB.  at times he seemed almost like a fan-boy himself, and i think that helped all of us Michigan fan-boys connect with him unlike almost any other Wolverine of past years.

oh, and he was electric to watch play football.

i am quite certain that we will see Denard for many decades in Michigan - whether just visiting or for his work.  he built such good-will here that he will remain part of the Michigan family, much like Desmond Howard, who also has that sparkling personality that makes him in demand everywhere - but everywhere he goes, it is well known that he is a Michgan Man.  that will be Denard as well, and I'm looking forward to seeing that evolve.


September 21st, 2013 at 11:53 AM ^

The WMU debut in 2009, the UConn game when we knew he was going to be a very special QB, and that Bowling Green Measure Once Cut Twice game.  But there was never quite a moment for me like that first play against WMU.  What the video doesn't capture is how, just as he's turning it up the field and cutting off the block by the Mountain Goat and accelerating, right before the crowd decibels suddenly jump... there was this audible gasp, and I mean GASP, of 110k people.  

I have never seen someone look like they were shot out of a cannon like that, ever.  It was unreal, and for a moment, me and everyone else couldn't even get the stunned cheer out of throats.  What a moment.  

Whenever I question the decision I make 2-3 times a year to lay out around $700-800 to travel to Michigan for a game, I think of days like that, or UTL I, and think what those memories are worth to me over the rest of my life, and realize I'm getting a bargain.  That was never more true than when 'Ol #16 was on the field.


September 21st, 2013 at 11:43 AM ^

I remember watching that WMU scramble at 3AM in an internet cafe in Bali.  The owner of the place had no idea why I was screaming in joy at the computer.  Or why I was the only tourist in an internet cafe on a Saturday night, and not in a club.