Friday, October 15, 2010

Putting the Past Behind Them

(Back so soon?  Yes, yes I am.  Sometimes you need to get all emotional without crowding the front page of a widely read blog.  This seems like as good a place as any to do that.)

The beginning of the end.
I couldn't think of any other picture to sum up the collapse of 2009 better than this.  There isn't a picture out there that would evoke as strong a memory as this one.  I almost want to look away.  Nothing could possibly hurt more than watching Roundtree tracked down from behind just like the Wolverine's bowl hopes.  The moment the 2009 season died.

God knows there were struggles before this moment.

Almost just isn't good enough.
Losing in overtime to MSU after finding out that only about five minutes of actual football would be necessary to stay in that game was painful.  Yet by the time that final Forcier pass bounced around and settled into the out streched hands of a MSU defender, I was just glad we had made it a game.  You don't ever want to lose, but it is easy to talk yourself into a loss after a late charge.  "They battled back."  "They wouldn't die, even when everyone else had given up on them."  "Did you see the way Tate handled himself in that 4th quarter?"  I hate to sound like Herm Edwards, but goddammit it felt like we could at least build on that loss.

Dropping a game to Iowa the next week wasn't surprising.  Here was a freshman QB going up against a great defense on the road while his own defense consisted of what might be described as a smear of dog shit on Brandon Graham's cleat.  Despite a terrible turnover margin and multiple missed opportunities, we were one sailed Denard Robinson INT away from winning.  Imagine that.  As good as Iowa was last year, beating them, at home, in a night game.  But another close one slipped through the fingers.

Secondary doom.
Penn State was more of a wakeup call than anything.  Where the last two losses felt like blown opportunities, Penn State was simply a series of horrific blown assignments that added up to a crushing defeat.  This wasn't a loss but a domination.  Maybe we should have seen David Molk's injury on the first play back as a harbinger of things to come.  In hindsight it seems clear.

I spent the morning of the Penn State game tailgating with friend's in East Lansing.  I began to walk back to the house just as the Michigan game kicked off.  By the time I made it home the game was already well in hand.  Everything else was academic.  At least we still had Illinois and Purdue left.  Or so I thought.


Last week I convinced myself that the game was more important for MSU than it was for Michigan.  I still think that is mostly correct (imagine the cries of "same ol Sparty" that would have accompanied a MSU loss to half a Michigan team), but I overlooked the significance of win number six for the Maize and Blue.  I did the same thing last year and made the same arguments.  "Well, we still have Illinois and Purdue on the schedule, and Wisconsin looks vulnerable, not to mention the death spiral that Penn State is in."

Beyond talk of final records, wins over rivals, and improvement, it is easy to overlook what is the first and most important goal for this season.  Win number six.  Bowl Eligibility.  Until this team gets to that point there is no relief in sight.  The haters, the skeptics, and the crotchety old alumni who can't accept any explanation for the last two years no matter how reasonable and unavoidable, will continue to get louder and louder.

"Nothing has changed!"

"Richrod can't win in the Big Ten."

"This would have never happened under Lloyd."

The voices grow daily.  It doesn't matter that Michigan lost to a more complete and balanced team last week. And it won't matter if Michigan loses to a team with a dominant defense and efficient offense this week.  A loss is a loss until the team puts a 6 in the win column, and every loss is one step closer to 2009 all over again.   At least on the surface.


No one who rooted for this team learned their lesson last season until it was too late.  There was always another game.  When Roy Roundtree was pulled down two yards short of what was almost unquestionably the coup de gras on Illinois chances that afternoon, it was easy to still see the light at the end of the tunnel.  "We are still winning the game, whats the worst that could happen?"

After Illinois marched off with a commanding victory I didn't know what to think.  Sure, we could still beat Purdue, but could that be guaranteed? (No).  Maybe we could outscore Wisconsin? (No).  Surely anything can happen in a rivalry game, can't it? (No).


All eyes on Robinson.
The fact is this team is playing with the equivalent of a grand piano hanging over their heads by a rapidly fraying string.  What was simply an acceptable goal last year (go to a bowl game) has become an ultimatum (go to a bowl game, or else).  So you listen to your sports talk radio and read the comments below articles at the Detroit news, and you begin to feel the panic creep up again.  The question of how many wins Rodriguez needs to keep his job have started to creep back in.  Does he need to beat OSU?  Can he lose to Illinois again?  What if this year is just like last year?

It isn't.  Final record be damned.  That is the beauty of football season, anything can happen.  Jacksonville St. can upset Ole Miss.  LSU can go undefeated with the offensive equivalent of a box of puppies.  Texas can lose to a UCLA team that should be institutionalized for schizophrenia.  Michigan's offense might be slowed in the Big Ten.  The defense might be just as bad   or, gasp, worse.  Every day is a new day, and every Saturday is another chance to prove yourself.  To many, none of this matters.  Until this team hits magical number 6 there won't be any respite.

The only way to bury the past is to win.  And until the Wolverines put one more mark in the win column, every game is the biggest game of the season, fair or not.

The only way the Wolverines are going to mend the broken hearts of a fanbase is with win number six.  They we can all relax.

At least until the next game.

(Al Green mostly because it was what I listened to as I wrote this post.  Also because Rodriguez and the team need to win number six and mend my broken heart.)

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