I guess you start a post like this with "I remember it like it was yesterday." And I do. We all do. Only the very young among us, the ones that don't know that we ever beat Ohio State and Michigan State with regularity, are spared from being able to relive it and know its impact.
We were coming off of a 2006 that was really weird. An 11-0 start without a single worthwhile home game (Sparty was Sparty back then) left us disconnected as fans from the team. We manhandled a highly ranked ND team in South Bend, and had a seemingly amazing defense that was dominant until November, at which point they yielded 26 points to a Ball State team coached by Brady Hoke. Then Bo died on OSU eve. Michigan gave up 42-points and lost by three in the horseshoe. We lobbied for a Michigan - OSU rematch in the BCS championship game to no avail. We settled for, and got our asses kicked in, the Rose Bowl...and I threw up all over it.
There was reason for optimism in the off-season, and the media and coaches agreed. Michigan was #5 in the country. As fall camp came to a close leading up to the game, Michigan had its first instance of disciplining a player for an internet related matter when Marques Slocum waxed poetic on Facebook about his Fuck Lion.
I remember that Johnny Cleveland wrote our App State preview (pardon the old poorly formatted link) that week and it was picked up and linked by MGoBlog, which was really starting to blow up, sending more traffic our way than the servers could handle.
The idea of scheduling a FCS opponent didn't sit well with the masses. It was beneath us. When I was younger and more emotionally involved with Michigan Football (side note: The waning of my emotional involvement may be more based on the state of the program than my age) I had a recurring nightmare about losing to a no-name opponent. I cultivated that nightmare, and perhaps even rationalized it. Pretty much everybody but Ohio State had already had their bad MAC moment. It was bound to happen someday. Preparing yourself for disappointment…that was Michigan Football, which is better than today's endless indifference I guess. I wondered what it would be like when I couldn't make fun of Sparty for their bed-shitting moments in back to back games against CMU anymore (did you know they lost again in '09?). Back then, those worries would always pass. It's never going to happen to us, right? How could it? There will never be a time where we are so mismanaged as to have a team that isn't able to dominate any team whose payday for coming to Michigan Stadium was more than they had ever earned in a season of their own home games. Despite coming out of the gate sluggish, despite not playing their best, despite having a single digit lead at the half...and all of these things happened at one time or another...Michigan would always find their stride and put the inferior opponent away, often handily.
The game itself is foggy. But I remember the thoughts that were going through my head:
We still can't stop a mobile quarterback.
I wish our band did fun stuff like their band did at halftime.
We underestimated these guys big time.
We're going to pull this out and avoid this huge embarrassment.
I was relieved, even confident, when we lined up for that game winner. And after it was blocked, irrational thoughts flowed in to my head. I thought for sure we’d just take the ball back from the guy returning the block and run it the other way for a touchdown. When it didn’t happen, I was just looking around wondering when they were going to add more time to the clock so we could win this thing. We just need some more time. We can pull this out if we just get one more minute. Surely the NCAA is not going to let this happen. Maybe the BTN will intervene in this their first game, with some soccer-style arbitrary bonus minutes.
But there was no more time.
And despite the run that blossomed in that 2007 culminating with a bowl win over Tim Tebow, Michigan Football died that day. In the years that followed, Michigan Football was Bernie. A toupee held in place by a staple gun, dark sunglasses and a rigamortis forced stupid grin...and quite frankly starting to smell of rotting flesh. The loss, combined with Lloyd doing a poor Bo imitation and fostering the old guard vs. new guard feud assured us of a poor transition to speedball from manball, so we went back again, and in the process we lost nearly everything. Yep, it's been dead this whole time. There have been a few moments, but it’s been very few. Some can be explained (Denard was awesome) but most were the product of a piss poor Big Ten and blind luck (Denard threw passes off his back foot while shouting “500” that were caught for touchdowns after slipping through three defenders hands in a Sugar Bowl we had no business being in against an opponent that didn't deserve to be there either).
I’m not trying to say that the Wolverines were world beaters from team 1 through team 127, but Michigan has not been Michigan since September 1, 2007. Seven years ago. Michigan Football had a reputation of being great and talented and intimidating...and finding stupid games to lose in stupid ways. However, they often performed at a high level when a high level opponent challenged them, and they were consistently somewhere between above average and spectacular, and once or twice even perfect. It's not like that anymore. We are not in the conversation. We are a bad product...sold at a premium price.
So why are we still here supporting this?
Well first, I love it. And that's personal, and that's enough. Nostalgia is a strong force in the universe, and we are not alone. This isn’t the only instance of a perennial power being brought back down to Earth. Nebraska, Notre Dame, Texas, USC, Penn State, really everybody…they’ve all gone through what we are going through, perhaps even worse, and certainly more often.
We can rebuild it, we have the technology. I believe in the talent that has been recruited. I believe in the staff’s ability to get that talent to believe in the mysticism of Michigan Football and to convince them they are destined for greatness just because they didn’t quit. I mean, that is the essence of “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions.” Stick around long enough, and we’ll get you a ring for something. And if by chance you don’t, we’ll change the definition of Champion to mean “productive member of society.” And while I’m not certain that this is the staff that can take us back to where we once were, for me this is certainly the staff that I want to take us there. No more coaching changes. No more attrition laden classes. No more hot seat talk. It's time to win.
And perhaps the scheduling of this game that I despise so very much is what it will take to start over...again. This cruel reenactment, orchestrated by a man who is building things around us as if we have never lost a step, is truly the bottom. If we had 6 losses over the last three years instead of 13, Dave could have put a stingray filled pool in the north end zone and you wouldn't give a shit. So make it good. Make it right. Make it work.
Seriously, I want this to work. Show me something.
I am fully aware of the shortcomings we have on the offensive line as described by everyone with eyes that has seen Michigan practice, and I look forward to WATCHING THEM COME TOGETHER AND IMPROVE AS THE SEASON GOES ON. That’s how everybody else does it. They get better. I don’t expect us to dominate the league, but I expect us to compete, and to win significantly more often than we lose. I expect us to be in the conversation, and I expect us to look better at the end of the season than we did in the beginning of the season.
So let's get out there and grill some meat, drink some beer, tell some stories, and celebrate some victories.
I hope it's a fun ride.