By Bryan MacKenzie
I was doing some woodworking with power tools, as I had done so many times before. I was not doing anything particularly new or dangerous, nor was I being particularly inattentive. And I was a quarter-inch from not even knowing that I had been in any danger at all. I just—juuuuuust—tapped the end of my pinkie to a router blade. It made such light contact that I initially didn’t know if I had hurt myself. Then it started bleeding.
In a way, this was the experience of every Michigan fan 364 days ago. An almost impossibly small distance from everything being fine. Inches from going about our business with a smile on our faces, and yet left bleeding and lamenting the myriad ways this could have been avoided. We were hurt by the hurt, but also by the knowledge of how needless the hurt was.
See, it doesn’t matter how many ways you didn’t screw up. If you are familiar with the story of McGregor the Bridge Builder, you know that it isn’t the hundred tiny, thankless steps up the hill that people remember. It’s the slip. And the fall.
Michigan was a better football team than Ohio State in 2016. They outplayed Ohio State in 2016. And even setting aside The Spot, they had multiple opportunities to win that game. If they don’t fumble on the goal line, or throw two brutal untimely interceptions, or committ an untimely hands-to-the-face penalty, or… or… or. The point is, they didn’t. Ohio State came out on the right side of the cosmic inch, so they don’t have to worry about how close they came to the blade.
The other thing my run-in with spinning steel reminded me, though, was how sometimes the littlest things can completely change your expectations. German general Helmuth von Moltke famously explained that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Or, if you prefer your philosophy to be more Face Tattoo-y, Mike Tyson opined that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. I had big plans for Sunday, and then I moved my finger a quarter-inch in the wrong direction, and then I was changing a week’s worth of plans.
Ohio State walked into Kinnick as a significant favorite, and one offensive play into the game they were on their asses. In 2013, Michigan busted an 84-yard play on its first offensive series, and the game was on. This year, a couple of series into the Michigan State game, Michigan looked like it would handle its business comfortably, and one Ty Isaac fumble later things… ended differently.
To win this game, Michigan doesn’t need the world to tilt off its axis. They just need a break or two. Maybe Brandon Peters heals quickly. Maybe JT Barrett has an off day. Maybe it’s a bounce or a catch or a drop or a play call. And this time, they get it.
Michigan 11, Ohio State 10
By Nick RoUMel
I began writing in 1994 for Michigan Football Guide, the free programs that were handed out by volunteers before Michigan home games. When the Guide went defunct in 2007, I thought I’d done my last Counterpunt. But a series of shadowy negotiations between Guide publisher Dave DeVarti and MGoBlog founder Brian Cook, resulted in the resurrection of “Punt/Counterpunt” in 2012. “Sky” Walker and I resumed our collaboration with enthusiasm.
I’m now on my third “Punt,” and it’s time to hang up the crystal ball.
Sky didn’t need no stinkin’ animal familiar to be Punt. See ya.
But before I go, I must make one last prediction. To prepare for this pronouncement, I went back into the past, to see how I did calling the Buckeyes’ previous visits to Ann Arbor. If my record is any indication, take the final score at the end of this column to the bank.
1995—The Wolverines were reeling, stunned at home by Northwestern and smarting from losses to Michigan State and Penn State. The Buckeyes rolled in to the Big House sporting an undefeated season and #2 ranking. Yet I picked Michigan for the upset, 24-12, hearkening back to the historic 1969 game. Michigan actually won 31-23, behind Tshimanga Biatabutuka’s 313 yards rushing—helping Counterpunt to finish a perfect 7-0 for the season.
1997—The Buckeyes hoped to return the favor and spoil Michigan’s undefeated season. I wasn’t biting, picking the eventual national champions 24-10. Charles Woodson led the 20-14 victory with a punt return TD, interception in the end zone, and long pass reception to set up an Anthony Thomas touchdown.
I wrote in that 1997 column:
“I have great respect for the University, and they take their football seriously. John Cooper is an excellent coach who has put together some spectacular seasons, while Michigan has struggled in recent years. Still, it is indeed pleasurable to watch Cooper’s chin quiver, as he explains his annual Michigan loss to the media.”
1999—Of the 8-2 Wolverines, I stated the obvious: “Tom Brady has been a phenomenal leader,” while predicting a 35-20 Michigan victory against a relatively weak Ohio State squad. The Buckeyes made it closer, but the home team still prevailed, 24-17.
2001—I was skeptical, writing, “Ousted OSU coach John Cooper was definitely Michigan’s “boy,” losing pitifully for 13 years. Jim Tressel was hired to buck the trend … and will take advantage of Michigan’s frozen offense. As cold November winds swirly through the big house, the final score reads: OSU 17 – Michigan 13.” Actual score: OSU 26, Michigan 20.
Now 2003’s column is lost in the annals of home clutter. But I do know this: I went to the game with my college buddy Mike (see: Counterpunt PSU 2017 and my description of our driving adventures to Bloomington this year). Mike lives in Ohio and was getting sick of the woofing from fans of the #4 Buckeyes, and was so pleased when we polished them off 35-21 behind Chris Perry and Braylon Edwards, that he presented me a framed Ann Arbor News article featuring a photo of Perry with a rose between his teeth. My head and heart tell me I called that game correctly as well (any hoarders out there, let me know if you find my article).
2005—I feared a loss, writing, “… [C]unning OSU coach Jim Tressel keeps finding ways to win, and threatens to stretch his record against University of Michigan coach Lloyd Carr to an eye-popping four wins in five years.” I called it 17-13 OSU; the Buckeyes won 25-21.
Fast forward to 2013, our first opportunity for Punt and Counterpunt to predict the outcome of an Ohio State visit to the Big House, in this fancy new medium of “computers.” The wheels were coming off Brady Hoke’s team, limping into this game 7-4, with two of those victories narrow escapes against Akron and Connecticut. Fans were restless (sound familiar?).
Sloopy was undefeated, and few thought Michigan had a chance. But I was one of them, writing: “I am behind these boys 100%. If you don’t get pissed at being a 17-point dog at home to these stupid evil Buckeyes, then there isn’t a blue bone in your body. It is indeed great to be a Michigan Wolverine.” MICHIGAN 28 - OSU 26.
A hobbled Devin Gardner played perhaps the most courageous game of his career, but his late two-point conversion to win was picked off, and Ohio State survived 42-41.
2015 was supposed to be different. Jim Harbaugh’s first year raised expectations and hopes that we could start beating our rivals, but then “that thing” happened against MSU. Still, Michigan was #10 as they hosted the #8 Buckeyes. I went with OSU to win 23-19, writing, “Sure, Sparty exposed some vulnerability. But don’t expect Michigan’s offensive line and running game to enjoy the same success, and I think that Barrett/Jones/Elliott will fare better offensively, especially with Ryan Glasgow’s absence in the middle.” Fare better they did, cruising to a shockingly easy 42-13 win.
Coming into 2017, I have a 6-1 or 7-1 record, depending on whether you trust that I called the 2003 game correctly. The one game I missed in 2013, I picked a close win against heavy odds and we lost by a whisker. I have a lot on the line for this year to preserve this success, so what’s the call?
For those who believe in intangibles, and that the game is affected by what we wear, where we sit, and who we attend with, then the 2017 game today is blessed with a good sign. My friend Mike and his wife Sue are attending their first Michigan-Ohio State game since that 2003 victory Mike memorialized for my den.
But alas, as much as I would like to see the Wolverines catch a break—something Punt sees happening—and to make my final call for they boys in Maize and Blue, I just don’t see an upset in the making. Our team is still young and formative, and on top of everything else, is more unsettled at quarterback than ever. The Buckeyes aren’t unbeatable, but it won’t happen today.
Ohio State 30, Michigan 17
PS Thanks for the opportunity, Brian; it’s been a privilege to work with you, Seth and Ace, and to match wits with Sky, Heiko and Bryan on the top of this page. Forever and always, Go Blue.
We’ll miss you too, CP