Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Deep. Then let it out.
I used to think it was difficult to be a Michigan fan. I envied those who followed lesser institutions, lesser football programs. No expectations. Every win is big. Every loss is forgotten before you get home. At the tail end of a second consecutive season that no one seems to know how to deal with, I must admit, I am getting almost comfortably numb. The part of me that used to proclaim dominance no matter what the situation, the part that would be talking about how we were going to Madison to kick some badger ass and would be preaching about 1995 and 1996 to put Ohio State on notice...I don't know where that part of me is anymore. 1995 and 1996 is a long long time ago. 1997 too. The chances of winning another game are seemingly slim and none, and slim just got shoved out of the way by Bill Martin
Since the turn of the century, since the inception of UMTailgate.com, Michigan has rarely failed to disappoint me. Sure, there have been bright spots. We've done some amazing things. Some amazing comebacks. Some amazing seasons. Reaching for happy memories, I can invoke images of Chris Perry doing his Hulkster impression at MSU. Rushing the field in 2003 after winning the 100th game over OSU, a rose clenched in my teeth, excited about returning to Pasadena. Matt Gutierrez getting pulled in favor of a true freshman named Chad Henne. Alabama missing the extra point on millennium New Year in our first overtime game. The unstoppable force that was Mike Hart's heart. Braylon reaching, and literally stealing, catch after catch as we mounted the ultimate comeback. Touchdown Manningham against Penn State. Drew Henson pointing towards the traveling fans the corner of Memorial Stadium in Illinois as he temporarily ended the Navarre era by leading us to victory after halftime.
I witnessed all of these things, not on TV, but in person.
But there wasn't one time, not one, that they didn't leave me wanting more. The team that lost to Appalachian State later gave Tim Tebow his only bowl loss to date, which while redeeming in so many ways, begged the question...how the hell did we lose to App State? Any game that was more than a time zone to the west has been a loss...the crown on the field in Oregon, choking at Washington, Navarre being Navarre at UCLA, the Rose Bowl, the other Rose Bowl, and that third Rose Bowl. The team that started 11-0 in 2006, predicated on an amazing defense, and wallowing in the ultimate in motivation in the passing of a legend, decided not to play any defense in their final two contests, falling to OSU and USC. Chad Henne and Mike Hart, legends of Michigan Football, started for four years and lost four times to OSU. Iowa beat us by four touchdowns in Michigan Stadium on our homecoming. And on and on....
Michigan had 16 total losses in the 1970's. They had 29 in the 80's. They had 26 in the 90's.
They have 41 losses in the 2000's, and there's still two games to go.
Take away the 14 losses under the new regime, however you want to lay the blame for them, and that leaves 27 losses. So, unless you believe that Michigan was going to have a total of 2 losses or less in 2008 and 2009 combined under some other regime, then it's safe to say that this decade was already going to be the worst decade in modern Michigan Football history. And because we got that taste of the good life in 1997, that wasn't going to cut it. When Coach Carr retired, we had two options...blow it up and gun for a whole slew of 1997's, or stick with the 8-4's and the National Championships every 50 years.
We opted to blow shit up.
And while none of us could have predicted the fallout from that blast, we also didn't know that we had such deficiencies in so many areas. Coach Rodriguez has something on the tip of his tongue at every press conference, something that he wants to say, but can't. He wants to tell us that we don't have the horses for this race. But out of respect for the program, and respect for the guys that are going out and working hard every day, he can't. Because despite what everybody in the media and everybody from every other institution (and even some from within THIS institution) says, this guy is not an asshole.
After the back to back heart wrenching defeats at the hands of two bottom-dwelling Big Ten squads, you are welcome to question this staff and their inability to get these guys to improve throughout a season. We looked better in September than we do in November...no doubt about it. But the thing is, I really don't care how good the staff is at coaching a team made up of guys that wouldn't be able to get the job done if Bill Belchick was at the helm. I care about how this staff coaches when we're facing Ohio State on a some future cold November afternoon, and the Buckeye defense is pissing their pants wondering how the hell they are going to get any pressure on the quarterback with all the talent we have on the O-Line...and how they're going to catch him if they happen to break through the line. Or how Greg Robinson stunts the linebackers after seeing the Buckeye quarterback go into a fetal position in reaction to a D-Line that is bearing down on him while all of his receivers are covered by our blanketing defensive backs.
In short, I'm not really concerned with how this staff coaches sub par talent. I'm only concerned whether or not this staff can coach next level talent. That's an unanswered question. That's why we have to wait. That's why we have to be patient. I mean, I'm sorry that you can't talk trash to the Purdue grad in the cubicle next to you anymore about how he hasn't won in the Big House since the 60's, or that the Illini grad next to him is boasting about Juice Williams's rising draft status. But you are just going to have to suck it up. And you're going to have to shut up. You're going to have to find something else to follow for a little while that makes you feel better about you.
Michigan Football has been there for you your whole life. They've been there for you to lean on. Every Saturday, winning, making you smile, sending you to work on Monday with your chest puffed out, ready to point and laugh at lesser men. But now, for the first time, Michigan Football needs you to be there FOR THEM, to be patient FOR THEM.
We need to find that place again. I've got to find that place again. That place where I know we are going to win no matter what the odds, no matter what the situation. Miracles happen. Freshman can do amazing things. There are two games left...and I love being an underdog.
See you in Tempe for New Year's.