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I’m about to break one of my few rules of writing about sports: giving an opinion after watching an event you care about without sleeping on it first. But hell, here we go.
Everyone who roots for anything has a story. It’s never really that hard to pinpoint why we choose the teams we do, and it usually happens at a young age. Maybe you like the colors or the uniforms. More often, your old man roots for them so it just sort of gets passed down. You don’t know why he does when it starts out, but it doesn’t matter, it’s cool.
As you age and start making your own choices on everything, sometimes they change, sometimes they stay with, “My old man rooted for them, so it just sort of stuck.” I once asked a guy who was a Yankees and Cowboys fan how the hell he justified it other than, “I like front-running.”
He explained to me that his old man was in the military stationed overseas during a war, and at that time, the only teams they could get on the radio were the Yankees and the Cowboys. He said he never knew why that was the case, just that it was, so that’s who his pops rooted for. So that’s who he rooted for.
It wouldn’t be the first time I’d run into that comment. You never really know the story behind it until you bother asking. Yeah, sometimes it’s as simple as “I front-run,” but often it’s not.
As you get a little older and make those decisions, though, you often change. Your buddies like a different team, you move to a different state where everyone likes the home team, and things run their course. Again, sometimes, you just stick with what your old man watched.
When you get older and start to play stuff, you start realizing it isn’t always about going out there with your lunch pail and it gets done. Sometimes, the other guys are better, faster, stronger, and sadly, more motivated. Sometimes, it’s just not your damn day.
I turned Michigan-Michigan State off in the third quarter on Saturday, the first time that has ever happened. Michigan football has been religion as far back as I can remember. My family always got together for it, and that was the only time family would really get together, so I just assumed it was special at a young age. As I got older though, like so many of us with the teams we root for, I started to identify with certain teams. Michigan was one of them.
I grew up around the Michigan that didn’t always make more with more … often making less with it … but when the iron got jammed in the fire for some reason, the Wolverines were to be counted on. I grew up when they were the guy that comes in hungover, unshowered, and high to class sometimes, but whenever there was a test he was on time and guaranteed to get an A.
I grew up around the Michigan that made significantly more talented Ohio State teams suffer in legacy, kept a thumb on Michigan State and the Spartans’ (at that time) sort-of-cute hatred. Notre Dame was a pain in the ass. One to two other teams inexplicably would be. But other than that, you knew what you were going to get.
In 1997, when Michigan won the national title, that was pretty much it. For a young teen who grows up on the Maize and Blue, that should have sufficed, probably, as a fan. A lot of us grow up rooting for teams and never really get to see them reach the pinnacle.
I flash back to the 2004 Boston Red Sox’ World Series win, when guys who had been rooting for them for 40-50 years … that’s all they wanted to see as a sports fan until they hung it up. So, 1997 was the zenith for a youth not really able to understand that this stuff doesn’t really happen that often, or that you’re a young kid putting your heart and soul into guys who would be going right after the game win or loss, forgetting about it, and drinking until 2 a.m. with pretty girls either way.
Screw the lobbying Nebraska did to “share” the ’97 national title. That was just an indoctrination into sport politicking. In the world of instant replay, the Huskers probably get bonked on that kicked-ball touchdown against mediocre Missouri; in terms of common opponents, they weren’t up to snuff.
If that was the zenith, 17 years ago, what happened on Saturday in East Lansing was pretty much the nadir.
Be it the hemorrhaging support for a once bulletproof program, the disgusting losses, or the total lack of acknowledgment that something needs to change, one thing is clear: Michigan football has turned from “Where are we getting together for The Game and who’s bringing what?”, to “Are you watching the game today or doing something else?”
Though it rarely is chosen, “doing something else” is the more sane choice anymore. Michigan football is an embarrassment to the people who support the school these days. You spend more time staring around the house looking for menial tasks to do to take you away from having to watch the game than actually watching it past the second quarter any more.
There’s no point in bagging on the guys playing. We’ve all played sports either individually or on a team and … sometimes, it just happens. You’re not working any less hard, putting in any fewer hours, or sweating any less … sometimes you just are part of a group or you individually just don’t have it.
How much you expect out of college kids depends on your exposure to sports. You play, you understand the mindset of being in your late teens-early 20s and not really giving a hoot whether or not alums or people on their couches are disappointed in your play. You’re trying hard. They’re not at practice to see the work being put in. Where’s the next party at and who will be there?
College kids have a million things going on, and sometimes, it’s hard to compartmentalize.
But for coaches, that’s what they do for a living — a very comfortable living. From the moment we take a part-time job as some hired grunt to stock shelves at an auto parts place or seat people at a restaurant, we enter a world where we have expectations and if we do not meet those, we lose something for it.
Even the guy shoving shopping carts into corrals and bringing them to the store … even the most menial tasks we see others do or do ourselves … Michigan’s football coaches don’t do that, and at this point, I’m not entirely sure they care anymore.
Michigan is no longer even close to the team that found sack when it had to find it, sometimes stubbing its toes inexplicably on stationary furniture along the way. The Wolverines barely get out of bed anymore, and their games are nothing more than a national punch line.
Down 7-3 late in the first half in spite of doing nothing on offense that would warrant being down any less than 20, Michigan State found itself in goal-to-go territory. Michigan had three timeouts. At worst, it’d be 14-3 and you’d get the ball back with over a minute left with some damage to potentially do.
Instead, Michigan let those timeouts die on the vine as MSU poked it in the end zone with 21 seconds left, metaphorically sealing the fate of the game. It was clear: the coaching staff didn’t believe in this team enough. The coaches thought that going down by 11 at half was a win of sorts, and the team was halfway there to not being demoralized, which in the world of constant losing equates, I suppose, to something.
At no point did Michigan attempt to show a diversified game plan the way you do when everyone thinks you’re going to lose by 40. The Wolverines tried a flea flicker once and it didn’t work, and that had a feel afterwards of, “Well, we tried one trick play that we’ve been practicing for a month and it didn’t work. Oh well. On to next week.”
It was a stark contrast from UM’s rivals, who have prided themselves for years on bringing allegedly less talent into the game against Michigan but pulling out all of the stops to win, because that’s what you do in competition.
Michigan has none of that. The Wolverines lack sack. They lack belief. In the end, they lack wins. They’re a shell of a once proud program that stubbornly refuses to change even in weekly failure. At this point, let fans in the student section call plays if they renew tickets for next season. That should give you at least 10 new play calls from this end out.
Late in the game, says Twitter, Michigan scored a touchdown against Michigan State. Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier apparently celebrated on the sideline, because nothing screams “victory” for Michigan these days like scoring to go down by 17 points.
Michigan State did what cutthroat teams do, again, and poke one last score in on Michigan with under a minute to go, not content to let Michigan sit there and bleed without tossing some salt in the already fatal wound.
That’s sort of what you do with sports. It’s not your job to stop your team. It’s theirs. And the message was sent: even in embarrassment, we still want it more than you, every drive.
There will be more press conferences. More “well … ” and some explanations. More of the same. The kids played hard. They practiced well. We get it. We always have.
It’s hard to tell where the intersection of “being a good fan but not bothering to watch anymore because it sucks that much” and “accepting crap and just going rah, rah anyway because then you can call yourself a REAL FAN” ends.
For some, there is no line. It’s “rah, rah” until the end. “The team needs our support more than ever,” as if when the program eventually has a good year or two, it’s going to give you free tickets for being a “real fan” and cheering the team on when it sucked and nothing changed while everyone who demanded actual excellence has to sit outside and watch from afar.
“Rah, rah guy” usually never played or coached anything and probably is the guy cussing out the Starbucks barista for making his nonfat soy white mocha latte wrong, or complaining about how long the oil change is taking, or how they didn’t give extra cheese on their fries, never understanding the hypocrisy in being okay with accepting mediocrity in one venue while not tolerating it in several others. “Rah, rah guy” is okay with mediocrity in a sports team because you can put cool hashtags by it on Twitter and feel good about yourself as a fan. Yet, that acceptance of mediocrity doesn’t register when, removed from the playing field, “rah, rah guy” so easily gets frustrated when someone who makes far less money doesn’t do a job to his expectation level.
Michigan is terrible these days at football. The Wolverines are completely unwatchable and impossible to get excited about. For the Michigan fan, this is a far cry from Tim Biakabutuka or Tai Streets upsetting elite Buckeye teams. This is more the teams you grew up either feeling sorry for or just not liking, the ones that walked into a gun fight with the option of brandishing a firearm, but too lazy to unlock the case and too arrogant to not know you can’t win it with a knife.
That’s the best-case scenario. What we saw Saturday was the worst. Michigan at one point, right when I personally turned it off, was in 3rd and 17. Nussmeier ran a draw and Brady Hoke punted, down 21-3.
The message was clear: we don’t think we can win, and we’re not willing to pull out the stops to find out if we have a miracle in us. It’s easier to just lose by “not too many.”
If the coaches don’t believe, neither do the players. If the players don’t believe, neither do the fans. No one believes in Michigan anymore. Not your old man. Not the “rah, rah” guy. Not the kid growing up wondering which team to pick.
Because when he eventually does, it surely won’t be this.