Snakebit

Submitted by Swayze Howell Sheen on November 27th, 2016 at 6:59 AM

I've watched Michigan football since as early as I can remember. The vaguest of memories is that first game where I saw Michigan come out (as always, as I would later learn) a bit sluggish in the Rose Bowl against Washington in 1978. I was 7 and didn't much understand football but my dad and I sat down to watch it together. Blink and it was 20-0, and my dad started pacing around the house, agitated. But if you recall any thing about Bo's teams, they had heart. They never gave up. And sure enough it was soon 27-20 with Leach driving them down the field to tie or maybe win. Leach looped one to Ralph Clayton who almost made another miraculous catch for the TD - a near miss. A few plays later, Leach threw a pass to Stanley Edwards (Braylon's dad), and for a second it looked like he caught it and was going to be down at the 2. Yes! But, somehow, the Washington guy picked it off. After a long delay, the replay showed the ball bounce of Edwards' hands, go up off his helmet, drop down his back, somehow get pinned against his body by the Washington guy, who then picked it off. Game over (well, almost). My dad said, "We're snakebit". I didn't know how right he was. He threw his cup at the TV at this point. Luckily, it was just a paper cup.

Yeah, we lost to Warren Moon in '78. At least it wasn't the refs... yet.

Next bowl game I remember was the very next year at the very same Rose Bowl. This time, USC. Only later did I learn that when Michigan plays USC in the Rose Bowl, strange shit happens. This game was the famous phantom TD, a play often listed as one of the worst calls in history. For those too young to remember, Charles White strides into the endzone to make it 14-3 in the second quarter. The only problem: he didn't have the ball, and Michigan had recovered. No replay yet*, so the call stands. Michigan loses 17-10. I cried. My dad could barely watch the game. We were convinced Bo might never win a bowl game. At this point I said something like "the referees seem to have it in for Michigan". My dad told me sometimes the calls go one way, sometimes the other. He was wrong.

The ball, clearly not in CW's hands.

Bo's era ended on exactly such a note, and perhaps, in a Greek tragedy** kind of way, appropriately. I was a freshman then, and the year started with Rocket Ismail returning two kickoffs for TDs. Watching that game in the rain was a great way to start freshman year, let me tell you. But the real charmer was the end of the year, and of Bo's career. Once again, the Rose Bowl. Once again, USC. The year was 1990, and that USC team was stacked (Junior Seau, Mark Carrier, among others), but Michigan had some fight in them (much like what we saw yesterday). The game rolled on and soon it was late in the 4th quarter, Michigan down by a touchdown, doing everything it could to win Bo his last game. 4th and 2 sees Michigan call for a fake punt, and it was a thing of beauty. 24 yards! First down! But hold on, a penalty. A holding call. Game over. Read this article if you want to weep. In it, Bo says: "Oh, I'll remember this play! This play will go down in history like the phantom touchdown and all those others." He was right. The ref more or less later admitted that he just wanted to screw Bo; as overheard near the ref's locker room after the game: "There's no way I was gonna let that son of a bitch win his last game here." Snakebit.

Bo in his last game. He deserved better.

I had great seats a year later in a terrific matchup against Michigan State. Michigan scores to pull within one late in the game, 28-27, with just a few seconds left on the clock. Back then, kicking the extra point meant tie game, so Mo and staff decide to go for two. and the win. Great call, and Desmond is open, cutting past Eddie Brown into the endzone. Brown is beaten so he does the only thing he can: tackles Desmond. Somehow Desmond almost makes the catch anyway, but the ball sputters out. Game over. Refs calmly walk off the field. Help me understand why the refs at the Horse Shoe and other places always seem scared of the home crowd, but at Michigan Stadium they seem to know they'll be safe regardless of the shit they call***. We yell, we scream, and then just stand there for a while. The game is over. I walk home to my dorm room alone. Snakebit.

Howard almost makes the grab anyway. Almost...

I grow up. Great job, kids, wife, all that. But still hooked on Michigan football, of course, as is anyone reading this blog. It's 2001 now, and once again we play Sparty, this time in East Lansing. You know the game. The one that should have ended with Michigan stopping MSU near the goal line for the win. But "Spartan Bob" and his trigger finger stopped the clock, and 1 second remained. On the next play, Smoker lofted one that seemed to hang in the air forever, before dropping into TJ Duckett's arms. This time, I was watching the game while holding my little daughter. I yelled something at the TV as the game ended, and she started to cry. This, I think, is why she doesn't like football. It makes dad "act crazy".

Clockgate. I hate that everything is called SomethingGate, this included.
But mostly I hate Spartan Bob.

Let's go to 2006. The Game of the Century. I still think about what would have happened if Henne had hit a wide-open Manningham early on to make it 14-0. What if? But sure enough, this game would also come down to a game-changing call by the men in stripes. 3rd and long and Troy Smith rolls out. Coverage his great. He chucks it and it falls incomplete. Michigan is going to get the ball back, and I am convinced we will march down the field and win. But wait, a flag. Crable called for a late hit. Yeah, he came in a little high. But man those refs were sure happy to make that call. I don't quite get it; fast-paced game with a mobile QB and he's following through with a passing motion and somehow you are supposed to avoid hitting him in that situation? And if you don't think we're snakebit, well, remember the other big event of that week. Bo skipping his appointment with a doctor to give the team a speech. Bo dying not long after. The game felt like a funeral, and the outcome the bitter, final words of a eulogy as told by your worst enemy.

Fucking "late" hit. 

Finally, yesterday. When OSU needed a call to extend a drive, they got one. When OSU committed a penalty to stall a Michigan drive, these same referees seemed to be watching some other game. And finally, when a 4th and 1 run put the game on the line, the refs knew their job. Quick, spot it as a first down. Be the hero! Win the game for the hometown Bucks! Once I saw the spot, I knew Michigan was going to lose, and this was going to be another one of those damn games I'll remember for the rest of my life. Same damned snakebit team, screwed by the refs again, with history recording it neatly as a W for them and a big fat L for us. Man, fuck it. 

How I wish there was just one more angle on this damn play.
Though somehow I doubt it would have mattered.

The thing that really gets me about it all is the finality. While there is always next year, this damn year is ending on this damn note, with no justice of any kind to be had. Sure, I will cheer like hell for OSU not to make the playoff, and I will cheer like hell for them to get stomped by somebody, and I will eventually recover from yet another snakebit loss - after all, it's not like I played the damn game. But just once I wished some referee wouldn't get in the way of what would have been an absolutely beautiful and just ending to a game Michigan deserved to win. Just one damn time.****

---------------

* I understand that this presumes the referees would overturn the obvious fumble. I understand that such optimism is likely misplaced.

** What was Bo's tragic error, to deserve such a poor fate in Rose Bowls? I've always suspected it was his singular focus on Ohio State. The team would play the whole season for that game. The cost was the resulting Bowl Game loss, year after year after year.

*** I know, I know. We're so classy and polite. I hate that we're classy, sometimes. 

**** Thanks for allowing this post. Honestly, it was mostly just self-therapy. Writing it down helped, but only a little, if I'm honest. Age helps: I really didn't mind the Iowa loss, for example - we got outplayed. But I still can't quite get over games where I feel like the better team lost, thanks to all the help from the third team on the field, the refs.

 

Comments

xtramelanin

November 27th, 2016 at 7:09 AM ^

(ytgr) had warned me about that ref before the game.   at that time greg had been coaching UCLA and was well aware of the ref, telling me that he was a USC (expletive).   his words proved to be prophetic. 

mGrowOld

November 27th, 2016 at 7:09 AM ^

Four thoughts OP

1. Your history is my history. Lived all those moments of pain right there with you.

2. We were actually tied with USC when Bo faked the punt, not down. The phantom hold plus the 15 yards they tacked on for unsportsmanlike on Bo completely flipped field position.

3. You could also add Bo's heart attack the night before Rose Bowl #1. Has that ever happened to anybody else-EVER?

4. Bump to diary. Kinda of a long read for the board.

But man do I get why you wrote it.

SugarShane

November 27th, 2016 at 7:12 AM ^

Am I the only one didn't think the spot was a bad call?

Why are people blaming the refs when speight LITERALLY handed that team the game. Or coaches who decided to throw 6 plays away using the fucktarded wildcat that even Illinois could stop.

Stop blaming the refs, they missed a couple calls but you don't win games when you thro two virtual pix 6s, fumble on the goal line,and only put up 17 points.

Goggles Paisano

November 27th, 2016 at 7:34 AM ^

I thought Speight played well except for the 2nd pick.  The first pick his arm was hit by the LB so I can't totally get on him for that.  

The goal line fumble was great field position that we then quickly converted into the Hill TD - so not really a detriment in my opinion.  

As far as the spot, you are certainly in the minority.  I would like to see an angle from the sideline.  I don't know what the ref saw as it was hard to see where the ball was in JT's right arm.  I have to trust that what Harbaugh saw on the sideline about being a good foot or more short was probably indeed what happened.   

jmblue

November 27th, 2016 at 11:33 AM ^

 

Why are people blaming the refs when speight LITERALLY handed that team the game.

That first INT really isn't on him - an unblocked blitzer got in his face and he had to get rid of the ball, being in our endzone.  Smith needed to pick the blitzer up.  And we wouldn't have even been in that situation on the field if Perry hadn't run into the punter, negating a short punt, and leading to a longer one that pinned us in the shadow of our own goal post.  (We lost about 30 yards of field position on those two punts.)  It's a team game.

As for the fumble, I don't know if that was specifically his fault or Cole's, but OSU helpfully gave us the ball back 20 yards later on the fake punt, which we scored off of, so that was essentially a wash.  

The second INT is on Speight.  It was a poor decision and led to seven OSU points.  But Speight's play otherwise was worth more than seven points to us (he threw two TDs, for starters).  There is no reason to single him out.  

As for the officials, I'm not that worked up about the spot (I thought it was very close) so much as the double-standard regarding pass interference - they kept alive OSU's last regulation drive with it while killing Michigan's 2nd OT drive by not calling it on a virtually identical (but more catchable) play. 

Communist Football

November 27th, 2016 at 7:21 AM ^

I was too young for '78 but I remember all the rest of these games.

I do believe in Harbaugh and that we will field NC contending teams for the rest of his tenure here. Let's not give up yet!

JTrain

November 27th, 2016 at 7:32 AM ^

Yesterday stings. A lot like the aforementioned stories above. A lot like the Sparty loss last year.
I hate that they gave Ohio state a first down yesterday but, lets face it...EVERY Michigan fan knew that they would not overturn the spot.
The frustrating part is I think everyone knew this was our opportunity. We had the players. We had the schedule. We have the best coaches. Now...do we take a step back for a couple years? I hope not. But man is it going to be hard to unseat Urban and OSU from the top of the Mountain. The guy is a great coach and a great recruiter and when our teams clash over the next 10-15 years with these coaches, I have a feeling it's going to come down to intangibles. A play here or a play there. A judgement call.
Let's just hope our luck somehow changes. We got msu off our back this year. Maybe next year at home we can ruin Ohio states season.
(((GO BLUE)))

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StephenRKass

November 27th, 2016 at 7:45 AM ^

I agree that we were snakebit. I remember all those terrible losses, and others besides.

The thing is, I personally think you can never leave the game in the hands of the refs. Never. You have to control what you can control. I definitely think Michigan got jobbed. But it just looks like sour grapes to non-Michigan fans.

For me, the turning point was that second interception. That is when that familiar sense of doom and foreboding set in for me. Our defense was tremendous, but it is hard to overcome those turnovers.

I also am ready to move on with our OL. I feel like we just haven't been able to impose our will. Also, Hutchinson made the comment that we were playing not to lose, instead of playing to win. I kind of agree.

KC Wolve

November 27th, 2016 at 8:05 AM ^

Completely agree. Did the calls suck and make a huge impact, hell yes they did. Did Speight turn the ball over 3 times? Did Cole make an idiotic decision to basically punch a defender in the face and grab his face mask for no reason at all on an excellent screen call? Those are what stand out to me. Those things you can control. If the Cole penalty doesn't happen, 1 turnover doesn't happen and UM most likely wins.

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Mr.Jim

November 27th, 2016 at 8:21 AM ^

since 1973, when I was just a wee lad of 10 years old. Have suffered through every moment you just cataloged. I think watching and rooting for the Michigan football team for the last 43 years has probably taken 10 years off my life expectancy. 

Regarding the most recent screwing-over, I have to believe this will only motivate Jim Harbaugh to double-up on his efforts to beat O$U. The Michigan football program...and JIm Harbaugh...will be better for what took place in Ohio Stadium on 26 November 2016. Mark it down. This will be a positive turning point for the Michigan football program. Go Blue!

Mannix

November 27th, 2016 at 9:16 AM ^

Good read.

Curious why Hill didn't wrap up and drive or hold on until help came, which was close by.

He dove and tried to cut Barrett'a legs, which didn't really do much.

JT falls forward for the 1st if his holding TE isn't in the way.

FlytheM

November 27th, 2016 at 9:34 AM ^

Thanks for posting - speaking for myself, I appreciate it.  In reading this, it reminds me of being a Cubs fan.  I've been a Cubs fan all my life and felt many of the same sentiments (with different triggering events, of course) over the years.  But in particular the family and community bonds of being a Cubs fan ring true to me when compared to being a Michigan fan. 

The Cubs fandom was handed down to me by my grandmother, who passed in 2006 - never having lived to see the Cubs win the World Series.  For all those years, I had her, I had my friends and having lived through it all in Chicago (other than my Michigan college years), I had the broader Chicago community with which to comisserate - and, well, now (finally) the Cubs have a championship.  I went through something similar with the Blackhawks who I grew up watching because of a passion for hockey passed down to me from my dad - and like Cubs - three+ decades of Blackhawks fandom (mostly with dismal teams that were painful to watch) also recently paid off.  The memories I have of these events, the city coming alive and being electric with excitement are memories that I'll forever cherish.

But for me, my Michigan fandom tends to be a bit more isolated.  I started the M tradition in my family and though my little sister followed, she doesn't live and die with the team's success quite the same.  While she married into an M family, my wife is an ND alum and from an ND family.  Sure, I text with my buddies and so on, but it's not the same.  And certainly when I go into work, I'm just as (if not more) likely to encounter someone wanting to revel in Michigan's loss than talk it out like with the Cubs or Hawks.  So a post like this one does remind me of the shared community I have.

It also reminds me that yesterday's game is but one in a history of many like it.  Much like the Cubs had won a World Series before I came along, I wasn't a Michigan fan in 1997 when Michigan split the championship.  I am became a Michigan fan a couple years later when I attended Michigan.  I can only hope that Michigan with Harbaugh and Manuel follows a trajectory not dissimilar to the Cubs with Theo and the Ricketts (and the Blackhawks with Q and Rocky Wirtz before them) where this year for M is like last year for the Cubbies - close but no cigar.  And so next year (yes, there's always next year) for M might be like this year for the Cubs.  And if not next year, then soon. 

As painful as it is, these are the moments that make the payoff that much sweeter to enjoy.  Having lived through that twice now with the Cubs and Blackhawks, all I can say is keep the faith ... it's worth the wait.  There's always next year ... and this year, that actually means something.  #FlytheM

P.S. Thanks again for your post - I've read this site for years and this is the first time I've been spurred to post something (even had to create an account).

flashOverride

November 27th, 2016 at 9:46 AM ^

I much prefer this take to the "Big Ten is rigged against us" talk. Let's leave that type of behavior among Sparty fans where it belongs.

It is definitely hard not to feel snakebitten, though. The Colorado Hail Mary, Appalachian State, the Clowney hit, last year's MSU ending, this program sure seems to make "all-time" highlight reels for the wrong reasons, like we're still paying for Desmond's Heisman pose or something. 

Amaizin' Blue

November 27th, 2016 at 10:00 AM ^

Great post. My Michigan fanaticism only truly began in '89 also my freshman year. I recall most of the earlier history but didn't experience it as a true fan like you.

I will hat ND to this day for many reasons but losing to them in my first game at Michigan Stadium in a downpour lit the flame

I was fortunate that we had the "Luckeyes" number in the 90s. Unfortunately they then sold their soul to the devil, cheated, got away with it and are on their historic run... with some luck and help from the refs

We have gotten shafted many times. Harbaugh is like Bo in not allowing it to go unnoticed. I hope his calling out the refs creates some real change. All the money in NCAAF and we still have part time amateur officials with no accountability

Thanks for sharing the history with great pictures. We will be back! Go Blue!

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victors2000

November 27th, 2016 at 10:14 AM ^

So what movie version of football would we be, Platoon? The Perfect Storm? As a kid I always had this unexplainable feeling that we would always lose the big games. Now I know why.

jsa

November 27th, 2016 at 10:19 AM ^

Disagree on M deserving to win.
lost the turnover battle 3:1 (including direct points lost on the pick six and fumbling inside the osu 5). On the road, you cannot do that and feel like you deserve to win. Period.

I agree that the calls were questionable but without the "down the line" replay, that call should not be overturned.

big john lives on 67

November 27th, 2016 at 10:21 AM ^

Add the whole tiebreaker scenario with Big Ten hosing us out of the Rose Bowl, and the horrible officiating in that bowl game against Nebraska in 2005. Just off the top of my head. Also, the Split NC vote in 1997 and Florida leapfrogging us in the polls in 2006. People are very secure in stealing from M because they know we will take the high road all of the time.

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BeatOSU52

November 27th, 2016 at 10:44 AM ^

Not only was it the last second thing,  but also if you watch the final play there was a CLEAR holding going on that didn't get called.  I know things like that usually aren't going to get called on the last play but this is as clear as day as one of Michigan's d-lineman was getting tackled.

2Blue4U

November 27th, 2016 at 11:41 AM ^

The aftermath of the 10-10 tie in 1973, where they assumed Dennis Franklin could not play with a broken collarbone, just like they assumed Speight would not play this game.

The field goal that wasn't in the Horseshoe in 1974.

Trey Burke foul in the National Championship game.

To be Snakebit requires a Snake. 

After fifty years of observation, I have concluded that our penchant for striving to be the best and to be good persons as well, leads to perceptions of arrogance and snooty superiority, which often leaves us victim to the jealousy of individuals who may or may not be lesser men.

 

This is a built-in impediment which will have to be overcome as long as we insist on doing things the "right way" .  So, yes it is not a fair game and we will have to play better than we did to overcome such obstacles.

I'm sorry if that sounds like the embodyment of "snooty" , I see it as a fact.

HAIL-YEA

November 27th, 2016 at 12:30 PM ^

thing that told me all I needed to know about the refs yesterday was Harbaugh getting a personal fould for throwing his clipboard on the sidelines. That made it obvious to me the refs were out to get him, and until something is done they will keep coming after him. 

HAIL-YEA

November 27th, 2016 at 12:30 PM ^

thing that told me all I needed to know about the refs yesterday was Harbaugh getting a personal fould for throwing his clipboard on the sidelines. That made it obvious to me the refs were out to get him, and until something is done they will keep coming after him. 

MichiganMan20

November 27th, 2016 at 2:43 PM ^

That 4th and 1 play reminded me of the game in 2011. Remember when Fitz scored a td to put us up 10 and the officials reviewed it and marked it at the 1/2 yard line when there was no evidence he didn't get in? Thankfully we still won that game but how is it they can make a call like that in the big house but not in the horse shoe? Fucking bullshit if you ask me.

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M-Dog

November 27th, 2016 at 5:15 PM ^

I liked this post so I upvoted it.

But in truth, every fanbase could make one of these.  Even Alabama could lament the "Pcik 6" as snakebit.

We could also make one of these threads were things went our way.  During our National Championship year of 1997 we could have easily had 3 losses.  

Ohio State could have easily beaten us in '97 . . . Brian Greise threw a pass directly at an OSU defender deep in our own territory.  Had the OSU guy been turned a couple of inches the other way it would have been a Pick 6 and an OSU lead very lead in the game when we were struggling to move the ball at all.

You always have to have some luck go your way.