November 14, 2009: Standing below the ceiling full of mugs at Essen House with Coach Jerry Hanlon the night before Michigan fell to Wisconsin in Madison 45-24. More pics, recaps and box scores from that game are right here on the Wisconsin 2009 game page.
Here's what happened around the internets over the weekend while you bought porn instead of ice cream...
- I have always had an affinity for what Kramer would call "a big, juicy van." I never understood why Jerry didn't want to keep it. Someday I will have a new conversion van....someday. And I will live in it, down by the river. And it will likely look something like these. [Tailgating Ideas - Conversion Vans, the Ultimate Tailgating Vehicle? ]
- Fear not football fans, we are also overrated in basketball! [ UMHoops - Michigan preseason #3 in Lindy's, #6 in Athlon ]
- We got our asses kicked, and everybody was watching. [ AnnArbor.com - 7.9 million viewers tuned in to watch Alabama beat Michigan 41-14 in Texas ]
- For anyone that hasn't attended a basketball game in a domed football stadium...like they force you to do at a final four...let me tell you, it sucks. It sucks to watch, and apparently it sucks to play, in such a cavernous venue. Well, ticket availability be damned....they're thinking about moving it to an arena in the future. [ ESPN - Talks of move in early stages ]
- What did we learn in week 2? Nothing new. The Big Ten sucks, and has for the better part of 10 years. You say Spartans or bust? I say bust. [ ESPN - What We Learned in Week 2 ]
- A brief history of Rich Rod and Michigan Football over the last five or six seasons... [ Grantland - The Michigan Man ]
Editors note: This has been sitting in my draft box for a couple days now. It's not in my nature to give up on a season, or this team, but at some point reality sets in, however difficult. This weekend was a deep dose of reality. I hope and pray that we find a way to recover, that what I saw Saturday was the exception for the 2010 Wolverines and not the rule. I hope that I can look back on this post and laugh at how wrong I was.
There were times when I thought I'd be writing this post earlier in the season, other times I thought maybe it wouldn't need to be written, and even other times I thought I wouldn't get around to it before he was gone. But this is going to have to be the time. Because we are a people without much patience. And that makes me sad. Sad because I would have liked to have known what could have happened had this been allowed to reach its potential. Throughout my Michigan Football fan career, this team was predicated on slow, powerful, methodical, boring play that resulted in wins 80% of the time, and that's not bad. But so wasted was the talent, and so predictable was the playcalling and the system, that an end around or double reverse resulted in a fan reaction tantamount to that at a donkey show (don't look that up). The losing 20%? Losses on the west coast to faster teams, losses in bowl games to faster teams, losses to any team with a somewhat mobile quarterback.
And maybe that should have been enough for me. It was for many other Michigan Fans. Expectations of greatness, and results somewhere below those expectations, year in and year out, forvever. Of course, I wanted more. I wanted more 1997's. A string of them perhaps. Florida-like domination... USC-like (sanctions aside) dynasties. The greatest college football team of all time morphing into the greatest college football team of the modern era. That's all...just the world on a platter, served to me by a envious, teary-eyed, groveling group of OSU and MSU fans.
There was only one way to get there: SPEED.
So enter Rich Rodriguez, whose life work is speed. Offensive firepower based on lighting quick decisions and a team full of track stars. It's a hell of a plan. The problem is, when the system in place is so slow, you really need to start over. Michigan Football became a spread offense equivalent of an expansion team. You want speed? This is the sacrafice. You want to compete out of this conference? Then the players you have that hail from the state of Michigan simply aren't good enough. So he knew what he had to do, and he did an amazing job being nice about it. You just can't come out and say that a player just isn't athletic enough to play in your system. You can't hold a press conference and talk about a kid being slow. You don't belittle Nick Sheridan, you instead tell the world that he's competing for the staring job with Forcier and Robinson. And that's what Rodriguez did. He showed an amazing amount of patience and compassion with the hand he had been dealt. This was a team that lost the previous year to Appalachain State, and then graduated every player of any consequence, and performed a coaching search and coaching hire 60 days before signing day. What is he supposed to say? No, no, no....we don't want any of those guys that committed. That wouldn't have gone over so well.
So there's a lost class. So now your spread offense expansion team also has to take on another class of unqualified players. It could already be considered a perfect storm...new coach attrition, new system attrition, poor coach hiring process, poor coach hiring timing, and drastic contrast between new offensive system and old offensive system.
But there was more.
There was also a defense. A defense so lacking in properly recruited talent that it could not have competed in any league, let alone the Big Ten. Lacking enough to result in the demise of one defensive coordinator...and two years later it's on the precipice of forcing the unceremonious exit of another. If you haven't taken the time to read Misogopan's opus "The Decimated Defense," you should probably do that right now. Eye opening to say the least.
The results of that perfect storm? 3-9. A shock to the system of Michigan fans everywhere. And while there has been a drastic improvement from the offensive side of the ball since that campaign, it hasn't been fast enough. Certainly not fast enough to compensate for a defense that could not and did not improve, and also not fast enough to overcome decent Big Ten defenses in only its second real year of recruiting and implementation.
In a perfect world, the defense could have carried us through the transition, maybe just snagging a couple of extra wins here and there to keep the wolves at bay. Unfortunately, it did the opposite, sabotaging games and leaving us with a sour taste even after victories. Every amazing play by Denard Robinson has been met by an equally alarming and disappointing play on the other side of the ball. What we've been watching, when we are seemingly being successful, has not been football. It's been like a hockey shootout. Everybody scores most of the time, and the rare win at the end is somewhat unsatisfying.
And that brings us to the final leg of this journey, last weekend's contest against MSU. Again, the offense isn't quite ready for primetime, and the defense isn't even ready for storytime. The result is a 2nd consecutive loss to Sparty AT HOME, and a 3rd consecutive overall. They dominated us, turnovers or not. And Michigan State is no world beater. They've got an unexpected loss coming up in the next couple weeks. We will face better offenses later this season. We will face better defenses later this season. The problem is, we will also face worse offenses this year, and we will lose to them too.
It all builds up...and now it's over. To recover and avoid a near repeat of last year would be a colossal surprise to me. With each loss, the pressure will build around the program. The aura of instability will ultimately be our demise if we don't react swiftly. "Lame duck" are the two most dangerous words in recruiting. That's right, Harbaugh will be here soon enough, wasting talent and flirting with chicks 30 years his junior at Rick's, marching the Wolverines back to high expectations and results that fall below those expectations.
Thanks for...well...just thanks Coach. You had a no-win situation, and you gave me a glimpse of the offense I always wanted. And despite your portrayal in the media, I always thought of you as a man of class and character. I'm sure you will have success somewhere where there isn't a perfect storm. I will think of you in a couple years when the alumni are yelling out the type and direction of the offensive plays before the snap...and they'll be right 80% of the time.
My priorities and responsibilities are different than yours. Perhaps what you do is considered "real life" by definition, and what I do is frivolous and irresponsible. You're the ant. I'm the grasshopper. You probably think about the future in terms of retirement planning and putting your kids through college, while I can't see past the 2012 recruiting boards and the Luau tailgate menu.
And perhaps Rich Rodriguez to you is just some slick weasel car salesman that understands nothing about the tradition and pageantry of Michigan Football...a cheater...DickRod...etc. To me, he's a misunderstood offensive genius, a master recruiter, and an all around great guy. Seriously, how is he still pulling in high-starred recruits when 75% of America thinks he won't be here in December?
They're saying this is the most important year in the history of Michigan Football. I couldn't disagree more. First of all, 1997 was the most important year in the history of Michigan Football. And I think to pass judgement on a year of college football before it occurs is a little ignorant. I mean, if Michigan goes 8-5, 9-4, or even 7-6, Rodriguez will be retained, and this year will just be another year. We're moving forward. If we go somewhere in the vicinity of 3-9, and Rodriguez is canned, then the most important season is the coming offseason, when we decide whether to bring in Harbaugh to lead the team 25 years after he, well, lead this team. In reality, the only way this becomes the most important season in Michigan history is if we go 13-0, 12-1, or 11-2. In this scenario, Rodriguez is retained, becomes instantly beloved as the haters begin to swoon pretending they were supportive of the regime all along, and recruiting becomes so easy, John L. Smith could do it. National Championships follow, and we all live happily ever after. But let me be Frank with you, 13-0, 12-1 and 11-2...they're not happening.
I believe this will be a normal Michigan Football season. For the uninformed, a normal Michigan Football season is 8-4. We love 8-4. However, with these 13-game seasons (14 next year!) 8-4 doesn't really apply, so I'll say 8-5. And while 8-5 is classified as normal with regards to the 90's, understand that this will be an AMAZING improvement over the last two years, in fact, it would flirt with miraculous. You might say that going out on a limb predicting 8 wins is just like predicting National Championships every year from 1998 through 2007.
I did that too.
I've dedicated the better part of my life to having the best possible time...at all times...and view the pinnacle of each and every year as those 12 faithful Saturdays in the fall. In my time as a devotee, I have felt so many different types of pain that my psyche should probably be studied by a professional. Clearly too many instances to mention here. Besides, most of you have felt the same pain, at the same time. Michigan Football hurts.
But everything is different now.
The past has been filled with over-promising and under-delivering...high rankings proven undeserved. We used to be so disappointed in them when they would lose that first game, undoubtedly a game they weren't supposed to lose. We'd curse their effort, mock the gameplan, blame the officiating. It's funny, I always imagined, though never thought possible, the arrival of this day of reckoning. In my dreams it hurt worse. Maybe it's because I'm older, but this pain doesn't have the intensity of the past pain. Toledo was a breeze to overcome when compared to App State. Losing to Northwestern in 2008 was childsplay (weather aside) by comparison to when they nipped us with a last second field goal in 1996, or when Train fumbled in 2000.
We used to spend all of our time looking for answers: Why does John Navarre throw balls off of lineman's heads?!? Why does Jeremy LeSeur bite on that fake every time?!? Why do we run 5 yard outs on 3rd and 8?!?
We never did figure anything out.
Today the answers are simple: We start walk-ons on defense, our defense sucks, and we turn the goddamn ball over too much.
With all of our great history it's difficult to admit that we are starting over. A bonafied underdog. Off the radar. Not a single preseason magazine even teases us as a sleeper. Not one even has us above fifth place in the Big Ten. We are humbled in a way that we never thought could happen. Let me ask you this...do you think they'd be discussing moving The Game if we had been a little more competitive the last two seasons? And don't pretend we were in it last year just because they decided to play Tresselball at halftime.
Perhaps now we won't take anything for granted. Perhaps we will pay attention. Cheer first downs. Stand up and fight for a team that needs us. Don't you think it might be time to support a coach that should be creating masterful gameplans instead of trying to appease a bunch of spoiled assholes worrying about who is wearing the stupid #1 jersey.
It's time to play. Welcome to my life.