Way Back When-sday: September 4, 2004

With all of the prognostication, pre-season polls, simulations, and general banter going on in the college football world, I thought it might be fun to take you back to a time where nobody had any idea what was going on in the world of Michigan Football. In August of 2004, the Big Ten Championship defense was on deck for the Wolverines. They finished the previous season with a historic victory over Ohio State in the 100th meeting between the two schools, followed by a devastating defeat at the hands of what would become the USC dynasty in the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines also lost the runner-up for the Heismann Trophy, Chris Perry, and 4-year QB John Navarre, both of whom were selected in the NFL draft. New QB, new RB...a scary proposition for any team. But there was some optimism in camp, with the heir apparent Matt Gutierrez ready to take the signal calling reigns, and Lamar Woodley's high school teammate, Jerome Jackson, prepared to fill Chris Perry's shoes as the offensive workhorse.

I remember with great detail, though the Godfather and I had nearly polished off a jug of Captain Morgan's, when the word began to trickle in from the corner of Stadium and Main. Stunned and skeptical at the news of the demise of Matt Gutierrez, I became even more skeptical upon hearing the news of the replacement, true freshman Chad Henne. All I new at the time of Chad was that we stole him away from Joe Pa's backyard, and now he was going to be leading the Maize and Blue? Rumors had been coming out of practice that Henne had been doing well, but better than everybody else? I don't think so, not Coach Carr, who seemed at the time to have a great prejudice against the younger players. What about Clayton Richard, Matt Wilde, or 6th year senior Spencer Brinton? At least they've been here more than 3 weeks!

But game time came and out trotted the 19-year old, fresh faced Henne, wearing the same jersey number as the last true freshman to start a Michigan game, Rick Leach's #7. Shaky at first, he managed to lead the Wolverines to a 43-10 rout of Miami of Ohio, assisted (actually lead) by a stellar defensive performance that netted 7 turnovers.

Of course, that was just one of the surprises we endured during the 2004 campaign...

During the embarrassing upset of the Wolverines in South Bend, a light chuckle came over the crowd as tiny little man entered the game at running back. A second true freshmen, Mike Hart, entered the game and had 5 carries for 17 yards. Mike was an afterthought in a weekend where we truly began to feel like it was a rebuilding year. Little did we know that #20 would be...

Big Ten Freshman of the Year (coaches and media) ... All-Big Ten first team (coaches and media) ... SI.com All-America honorable mention ... Collegefootballnews.com All-America third team ... Scripps/Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America ... Rivals.com Freshman All-America first team ... The Sporting News Freshman All-America second team ... The Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten ... The Sporting News Big Ten Offensive Freshman of the Year ... led the team in rushing with 282 carries for 1,455 yards and nine touchdowns ... caught 26 passes for 237 yards and scored lone touchdown reception on a 25-yard screen pass from Chad Henne at Purdue (Oct. 23) ... led the Big Ten in rushing in all games (121.2 avg.) and conference only games (151.8 avg.) ... finished 10th nationally in rushing yards per contest (121.2 avg.) ... led the Big Ten in attempts (228) and yards (1,214) during conference play ... became the third true freshman in Big Ten history to lead the league in rushing, joining Wisconsin's Ron Dayne (1996) and Minnesota's Darrel Thompson (1986) ... set a U-M freshman rushing record with 1,455 rushing yards and placed seventh on the school's season rushing yardage list ... his rushing total was the second highest all-time in Big Ten history for a freshman ... third in the conference and 26th nationally in all-purpose yards per game (141.0 avg.) ... fumbled the ball just once in 308 touches (282 carries, 26 receptions) ... carried the pigskin 230 times without a miscue following his only career fumble against Iowa (Sept. 25) ... his one lost fumble was the fewest by a Michigan starting tailback during Lloyd Carr's tenure ... had 13 plays of 20 yards or more during the season (nine rushing, four receiving) ... played in all 12 games and started final eight games at tailback ... carried three times for 20 yards and grabbed one reception in career debut vs. Miami (Sept. 4) ... rushed five times for 17 yards and had an eight-yard reception at Notre Dame (Sept. 11) ... became first back to surpass 100-yard barrier on the year, rushing 25 times for 121 yards vs. San Diego State (Sept. 18) ... carried 26 times for 99 yards and scored first career touchdown on a seven-yard run vs. Iowa (Sept. 25) ... had two receptions for 14 yards against the Hawkeyes ... made first career start at Indiana (Oct. 2), gaining 79 yards on 20 carries and scored on a one-yard fourth-down run ... caught two passes for 36 yards against the Hoosiers ... gained 213 offensive yards vs. Minnesota (Oct. 9), rushing 35 times for 160 yards and one rushing touchdown and catching six passes for 53 yards ... carried the ball 40 times for 234 yards and one touchdown and caught three passes for 23 yards at Illinois (Oct. 16) ... won Big Ten co-Offensive Player of the Week honors for performance at Purdue (Oct. 23) ... rushed for 206 yards on 33 carries and caught three passes for 22 yards and a touchdown against the Boilermakers ... scored team's only TD against Purdue on a screen pass that covered 25 yards ... became only the second Wolverine to rush for 200 yards in back to back games (Jon Vaughn 1990) with his performance against the Boilermakers ... named Cingular/ABC Sports All-America Player of the Week and Rivals.com National Freshman of the Week for his play against Purdue ... became first Wolverine in history to record three straight 200-yard rushing games, scampering for 223 yards on 33 carries and scored one rushing TD vs. Michigan State (Oct. 30) ... passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season against the Spartans, becoming the first true freshman in U-M history to accomplish the feat ... ABC Player of the Game vs. Northwestern (Nov. 13), scoring a career-high three rushing touchdowns on 23 carries for 151 yards ... became the first Wolverine running back with at least 150 yards rushing in five straight games following performance against the Wildcats ... carried the ball 18 times for 61 yards and scored one rushing touchdown at Ohio State (Nov. 20) ... added a 39-yard reception against the Buckeyes ... rushed for 82 yards on 21 carries and caught a four-yard pass vs. Texas in the Rose Bowl (Jan. 1) ... had his streak of eight consecutive games with at least one touchdown snapped against the Longhorns.

Michigan would go on to win a second straight Big Ten title with the help of Henne, Hart, and Braylon Edwards, and earned a second consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl, where they would fall to the Texas Longhorns on a last second field goal.

The rollercoaster ride of 2004 is a great example that you just never know. What surprises are in store for the 2006 Wolverines? I can't wait to find out...

24 DAYS 


How Bad Are We?

As the prognosticators stake their claim on the 2005 football season, Michigan again gets the dubious honor of being highly touted and highly doubted. It's tough not to rank us in the upper echelon of this year's teams, because you don't want to be the guy caught leaving Michigan out of your top 10 when they make a play for a Big Ten three peat. But it seems you need also to take shots at them to cover yourself if they fold. This is definitely a deja vu moment for Michigan followers, who see similar reports every year. A bridesmaid since 1997, the Michigan Wolverines have done nothing to impress the national media, who live in a what-have-you-done-for-me-today world.

Forgotten is our nation leading run of 30 straight bowl games, the longest in the nation. By the way, in the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd years we had a combined record of 30-2, screwed by the Big Ten on several levels including keeping us from the Rose Bowl by way of a shady vote, and not letting any team go to any other bowl game other than the Rose.

Forgotten is our run in the national polls, not falling out of the top 25 since October of 1998, by far the longest run in the nation.

Forgotten is our history, our tradition, and the way we have usurped Notre Dame as the greatest college football team of all-time.

Forgotten is coach Lloyd Carr, who is 5th among active coaches in winning percentage, just barely behind Bobby Bowden, and ahead of Joe Paterno, Lou Holtz, and Mack Brown.

More recently, forgotten is that last year we replaced a senior quarterback and Heisman trophy runner-up running back with two true freshman in what could only be classified as a rebuilding year...on our way to a second consecutive Big Ten Championship. Going back-to-back is feat rarely accomplished by any team in the Big Ten, other than Michigan. And while the second championship was a tie, the team we tied with (Iowa) suffered a 30-17 loss in the Big House.

Forgotten is Michael Hart, the Big Ten's leading rusher that didn't play until week 3, and ran for 200+ yards in three consecutive games.

It seems that the banter that is tossed about is about how we are "worse off", and everyone else is "better off". While Chad Henne and Michael Hart are poised for Sophomore slumps, and we can't recover from the loss of Braylon Edwards, there's no doubt about the definite improvement in Drew Stanton and Drew Tate. And Iowa, who didn't have a single player rush for over 227 yards, was last in the Big Ten (11th) and 116th out of the 117 Division I teams in rushing will be a force to be reckoned with. No sophomore slump for Ted Ginn, who is perfection personified, and will score a touchdown every time he touches the ball.

Texas is a national powerhouse. Clearly worlds better than our Wolverines. But if a field goal had twisted just a bit more at the end of the 2005 Rose Bowl, would the world even know who Vince Young is?

So the pundits post predictions (that's called alliteration) and we summarily post them on the message board. They talk of heart, drive, paper champions that can't get "off the paper." We're not hungry. We're not driven. We're spoiled, over-recruited athletes. But these same idiots also claim that we will win the Big Ten, the consensus best conference, for the third consecutive year.

I only know what I know, and it's not based on statistical analysis, positional matchups, or coaching styles. Michigan will have somewhere between zero and three losses, that's 0,1,2, or 3, which in my gorilla math equates to a 25 percent chance that I'll be celebrating victory in Pasadena on January 4th. But with 23 days to go until life begins again, I think I just might be getting ahead of myself. I'll leave the business of making predictions to the idiots.


The Waiting Game

It's summer. The weather is tolerable (albeit humid) here in the great state of Michigan. Barbeques, sunshine, swimming, drinking, and pastimes. More importantly, America's National Pastime, alive and kicking in Detroit. The Tigers, floating around .500, are slowly but surely making their way back into the hearts and minds of the locals, who remember clearly that Detroit was Baseball Town long before it was Hockeytown. Championships won at Michigan and Trumbull will be forever cherished for their impact to the Tiger follower in 1984 and their social impact on a city in ruin in 1968. I sit here now just pining for the rivalry with the Blue Jays and playoff run of 1987. But that was nearly twenty years ago, when there was just an American League East and American League West, when Wild Cards were reserved for reruns of Card Sharks, and the upper deck at a Tiger game was closer to the field than current seats behind home plate. Yes, but, the past is the past. And our Detroit Tigers have a beautiful new facility...and if you build it, they will come.

Enter the Midsummer Classic, the 2005 All Star Game. In Detroit for the first time since 1971, and full of more fluff than ever before, the All Star Game brought hope. Hope that downtown can be alright, hope that traveling to a big city for a weekend night doesn't necessarily mean you are heading to Chicago, and most importantly, hope that baseball is not dead in the "D", and championships will soon be arriving at Witherell and Montcalm.

We rounded up some familiar faces and spent two straight summer evenings at Comerica Park. First for the Home Run Derby, which in many ways surpassed, at least in entertainment value, the game itself, meanwhile proving that our Yosemite can be overcome with some left-handed power. The eight of us drew numbers in good old fashioned UMTailgate.com pool form, each number representing a participant in the derby. Godfather pulled number 1 like a Dogan, garnering him Bobby Abreu, who put up record numbers before knocking off hometown hero Pudge, owned by infrequent tailgater and Sparty apologist Wayne, in the finals. Wayne's loss continues right through this weekend, when he will give up single life for the first daughter of Riverview.

The All Star Game itself had all the pageantry of a bowl game, with famous anthem singers and stealth bomber flyovers, moments of silence and long lineup introductions. Though it felt over for most of the game, with the American League posting seven unanswered runs in the first six innings, the National League made a game of it with five runs of their own in the last three innings. A storm hit quickly in the ninth on our way out of the game that gave the A.L. home field advantage for the World Series, and continued dominance in this midsummer match up by way of a 7-5 victory.

Though the $8 beers flowed freely while in the park, we still found time for "extra innings" in the Delux Lounge, which was packed on both nights and proudly served Captain Morgan. Performing to the best of our ability for the off-season, and tailgating with out actually involving a vehicle of any sort, we persevered in the face of adversity, and got comfortable with the city in the process. Of course, we stuck to the road most traveled, the extent of which was Brush St. from the CoPa to Greektown. But you could see that area as acceptable for hosting an event of this kind. There is work to be done before the Super Bowl, but the outlook is not nearly as bleak as many once believed.

So what was all this for? Well, it was the All-Star Game, which may not return to the area for another 35 years, when UMTailgate.com Stadium adorns the downtown area. Though I do love baseball, it's an event you have to go to whether or not you love it, just for the sake of the event itself. It was also a great excuse for a mini reunion, or in the Godfather's case, another excuse to not drink Captain and Coke alone. But most importantly, with just days separating us from our corner of the golf course and an opening weekend with a 3:30 kickoff, it was a practice. Practice makes perfect. And for the best damn tailgate in all the land, perfection is something we strive for on a week-to-week basis. There's 43 days to go. I hope your practicing too.

A Little Spring In Our Step

It was "quality, not quantity" at the Spring Game tailgate. That is to say, this tailgate was about as much a tailgate as the Spring Game is actually a game.

Everybody seems to be too busy to make their way out to Michigan Stadium between the wedding showers, birthday parties, and being in labor. The upcoming Winter (now Spring) Reunion also put a damper on the turnout, with several tailgaters holding out for next week and the arrival in Ann Arbor of the Godfather. Stay tuned to the message board for a detailed schedule of this event which will occur on Saturday, April 23.

In the parking lot, it was Captain Michigan, Janet, Bloomfield, and the Webmaster. Just drinking a few beers, watching the limited edition DVD of last season's tailgates, and telling stories of tailgates past. As far as the Spring Game itself, you couldn't have asked for much more. The best weather of the year thus far, a large crowd in the stands, and the back-to-back Big Ten Champion Maize and Blue on the field. Enjoy the photo album by clicking the picture above, and we'll see you all soon (some of you next week!).


The Webmaster