Monday, September 13, 2010

Hangovers, Notre Dame, and Denard Robinson Making Me Love Football Like A Child Again

"I need a drink."

As Dayne Crist's last second pass to the end zone sailed high above the outstretched hands of everyone and into the third row, I slumped over against the wall and started repeating that phrase.  My nerves were wrecked.  I needed something to calm myself.  Whiskey would have to do.


I had spent the last three and a half hours nervously watching the game, pacing around the apartment, and yelling so loud at the TV that my roommate gave up sleeping in the next room and decided to join me in the livingroom.  All the better to watch the spectacle of a college football fan driven mad by the frustration of playing Notre Dame at Notre Dame, where anything could go wrong at any time.  I worried aloud during the first half as the offense failed to capitalize on the mistakes of Crist's replacements.  I sent frantic text messages to friends who were also watching the game, and followed the box score online looking for any signs of hope in the numbers.  I found very little encouragement not preceded by the name:  Robinson.  When Crist came back in the second half I lost all hope and optimism.  A blown coverage on his second play back was all I needed to sink deep into my chair and wish for a quick end.  I am hopelessly fatalistic when it comes to Michigan football, and I hate myself for it.

Yet the team hung around.  The defense made enough plays to hold Notre Dame off.  It looked like we might escape South Bend after all.  Then all hell broke loose.  Crist connected with Rudolph on a deep seam route that was horribly misread by Cam Gordon.  And I collapsed again.  Isn't this how it always happens against Notre Dame?

The rest, they say, is history.  Denard Robinson picked the team up off the mat and put together the first scoring drive in almost thirty minutes of game time.  He was quick, efficient, and focused as the team slowly marched forward for the kill shot.  Once he hit Roundtree between the numbers on 3rd and 5 I knew it was all over.  Denard wasn't going to let this team lose.


I have had quite a few alcohol related hangovers in my life, but only a few emotional hangovers, times when I have invested myself so thoroughly in something that the conclusion of it leaves me feeling physically and emotionally drained.  The two worst emotional hangovers of my life have followed breakups, but rounding out the top five is all Michigan football.

Nobody stood in the Wolverines way until The Game.
The most painful of these is without a doubt the devastation I felt after the Wolverines lost to Ohio State in 2006 with a BCS national championship game birth on the line.  That season had come so close to perfection, from the yakety saxing of Brady Quinn's Heisman hopes early in the season, to the de-pantsing of MSU at home, then the utter domination by the defense at Penn State, and the slug-fest against Iowa.  It all lined up so perfectly.  One and two would square off in the biggest game of the season   nay, decade   to see who would advance to the BCS championship game.  Then, Bo Schembechler died, Ohio State took an early lead, and the comeback fell just short.  In the next few days the chance at a rematch remained a faint hope, but ultimately withered away as Florida slid into second place.  I might as well have gotten dumped, because it sure as hell felt the same.

Michigan games have always had a great affect on me.  I have had many Saturdays ruined with a loss, and many salvaged with an improbable comeback.  Saturday's game, however, just left me tired.


And tired is exactly where I am today.  I spent all Sunday watching NFL games with my laptop open in front of me, trying in vain to find the words to start my reaction to what happened Saturday, but ultimately crushed under the weight of the game as an experience.  Only looking back on it today do I realize that I have wrapped myself too tightly into this season, perched myself on the ledge to live or die with this team.  It is a foolish luxury that only a fan can afford.  I don't stand on that field each Saturday.  I don't put my body and health on the line.  I have never even met these players, probably never will.  Still I feel some deep attachment to the games, so deep that the ups and downs of an exciting football game can render me utterly worthless for a day and a half.  What a country, eh?  Everything else is so easy that I can choose to wholly invest myself in a football team.

In the end, the words I searched for on Sunday don't exist.  The experience of the game   no matter how overpowering it felt on Saturday   was just a construction in my mind.  It was my refusal to let the games I watch simply be games.  There isn't anything wrong with this, as long as we keep it in perspective.  Only when you try to step outside yourself do you end up searching in vain for grand explanations that aren't there.  A football team won on Saturday.  Everything else is what we make of it in our own minds.  Be it exuberance or exhaustion.

But that doesn't mean I won't be just as anxious and excitable next Saturday.


Any discussion of the game must begin and end with Denard Robinson.  I have spent every waking minute since his emergence during Spring practice trying to temper my expectations.  "He's no Pat White," I would say, "he is still young, and remember how raw he was last year," "don't anointing him the savior of Michigan Football until he proves himself on the field."  I am now past this.  Logic and reason have no place in Denard Robinson's world.  He operates on his own outside of what the college football universe wants, needs, or expects from him.  You say he can't possibly run 29 times a game?  He runs for sixty more yards on one less attempt.  You say he can't pass against a competent secondary?  He completes more passes for more yards against a secondary composed of upperclassmen.  You say he can't win under pressure?  He marches the team 72 yards in three minutes for the go ahead score while the defense raises their arms in frustration, unable to come up with any idea how to stop him.  Then when it is all over, you ask him how it feels to beat Notre Dame in the final minutes, to set ungodly records for the second week in a row, to be the most electric force on the football field, and all he does is look at you and smile with that big million dollar grin of his and thank his teammates for helping him accomplish everything he has.

The only other player who has ever made me believe
anything was possible on every snap.
I am tired of looking at Denard Robinson through the eyes of an adult.  Judging him with the logic of a serious football fan.  Denard doesn't make me feel like that.  In fact, I haven't felt like this way watching a football player since I watched Barry Sanders as a child.  To a middle school kid just coming to love the game of football, there was nothing Barry Sanders couldn't do.  I watched him struggle in the backfield play after play as the offensive line let past a barrage of defenders, then before I knew it a crease would open and he would be gone for six points.  I remember laughing out loud when John Lynch met him square up on the second level, only to be left alone, confused, and on his ass as Barry ran untouched to the end zone.  There wasn't a single handoff to Sanders that I didn't expect to break out for a touchdown.  People love Emmitt Smith for his unending consistency.  Years and years of 100 yard games, five and ten yard runs, slowly pounding away and moving the chains up the field.  That kind of consistency is amazing, but not one of a kind.  If we translate this analogy to Michigan quarterbacks, Chad Henne is Emmitt Smith.  We always knew what we would get with Henne.  He could make all the throws and take advantage of the other teams weaknesses, but in the end he was only the driving force behind an exciting complement of skill position players.  Chad Henne never won games by himself.  He always had Edwards, Hart, Manningham, Arrington, and that 2006 defense to rely on.  It doesn't mean he wasn't great.  It means he was great because he made the best of what he had with unending consistency.

Denard Robinson might not match the robot like consistency of Chad Henne.  He may struggle later in the year as defenses begin to devise new ways to attack him.  He may even wear down under the burden of 20-30 carries a game.  But as long as we have Denard Robinson lining up in the backfield, I will have a hard time keeping my expectations in check.  I don't want to be realistic anymore.  I want to be a kid again, and watch football with the sense of awe and wonderment that I had as a ten year old.  Every bit of reason tells me that we can't possibly expect so much from an undersized sophomore quarterback on his third start.

Denard Robinson doesn't care what logic and reason dictate.  He is just going to keep doing what he does, scoring jaw-dropping touchdowns, breaking records, being a leader for this team, and grinning the whole time.


  1. Unless you turn, and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
    MT 18:3

    Heaven on Earth is a Michigan Victory. Go Blue.

  2. This piece was awesome in the raddest way possible. Keep it up!

  3. Thanks for this. Keep it up!

  4. The same EXACT feeling I have. It is amazing how a bad or good game can change the day or week. Just as my wife. She wonders id there is anything in her life to compare to Michigan football for me. How someone can love something so much.