I've been watching Michigan basketball for about 30 years now. These are some of my memories.
1986. Big Ten Title on the line. Indiana coming to Crisler Arena for the big showdown. Off the tip, Richard Rellford gets the ball on the wing and slams it down as Crisler goes crazy. Michigan blows out Indiana 80-52 to take the title. A freshman named Glen Rice has to tape his fingers because all he does is slam the ball.
1989. Illinois visits Crisler. Kenny Battle, Kendall Gill, Lowell Hamilton, etc. Everyone on their team seems to be the same height and they take turns slamming the ball on us all night long as we lose badly. Though we beat them later in the Final Four, anyone who saw this game as up close as I did thinks that Illinois was the better team.
1989. Final Game. Amazingly, we are down to Seton Hall by 5 in the OT. Does anybody remember that part? After the win, a number of us stroll around downtown to soak in the atmosphere. Just the other day I heard that Seton Hall also had a 20-year reunion for their almost-national-championship team. They still are complaining about the call at the end. It is silly
to complain, because we were about to score anyhow. Rumeal had passed the ball to Mark Hughes, who was open for the winning shot. People probably don't remember, but some mystic kook told Fisher to keep Hughes in the game because he would hit the game winner.
1993. Final Four. We drive down for the weekend, which goes perfectly ... at first. The food is great. The atmosphere: New Orleans! Also great. And the first game: beyond great. The Kentucky game is amazing; Webber puts us on his back and carries us in a game not many thought we would win. Webber's final line for the night: 27 points, 13 rebounds. Does anyone remember how Webber won us this game? I do.
After the game, numerous Kentucky fans, in tears, shake my hand to congratulate us. For this, I still think fondly of Kentuckians, despite all the in-breeding.
1993. Final Game. No, they don't remember Webber v. Kentucky. All they remember is this one moment. I still blame Fisher. The entire game is a blur. How come we keep letting Donald Williams shoot three pointers? I recall hearing Coach K. on TV after the game, saying "it is not enough just to tell players once that you have no timeouts. You have to tell your point guard to tell everybody repeatedly during the free throws too. It gets crazy out there on the court." Or something like that. That is why I blame Fisher. It is a long 18 hour drive home.
At a gas station in Ohio, some asshole looks at our plates and outerwear and asks: "how was the basketball game last night?"
The Gap. Somewhere in there we hear about "the next fab five". We hear about a great young coach with "Duke credentials". It is all very forgettable. So I have chosen to forget.
2009. A game at Minnesota no one thought we could win. A loss, and NIT Amaker classic is ours to win again. Down by double digits in the second half. And yet they dig deep. And they do it. Manny, Sims, everyone: they are amazing. And then Iowa. Easy to letdown. Easy to let it slip through our fingers, once again. Instead, a blow out. It is no Big Ten Title, but it reminds me of that Indiana game from my childhood. A big game, with something on the line. A big game, with the fear that all that happened during "the gap" will come back and haunt us. A big game, and a big win. Go Blue. And thank you, to this team, to this Coach, for wiping away those many years in the Gap and giving us something to remember, again.