Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Nussmeter is Little in the Middle

A fairly nondescript performance by the offense and the Nussmeter moves back up to a bitter almond 4. But hey, Jake Butt's back! We can work with that!

All you other brothers can't deny
That when Miami runs by with a bad coverage plan
And leave him open in the flat
He gets SPRUNG

<record skip, bad blog post shorthand indicating something zany just happened>

Wait. The offense may have been better than the previous week, what with them scoring points and all, but the 2014 Michigan offense is still a pale shadow of 1990s glory. So the only appropriate song about Jake Butt is 2014's pale shadow of "Baby Got Back":

Monday, September 15, 2014

Run of the Mill

Well, that's a hole. (Photo by Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog)
On some level, it feels gauche to complain about a 24 point win over a MAC school.  Even one that has now lost nineteen games in a row.  But I think that there is a lesson in Saturday.  It didn't come on the punt debacle at the end of the second quarter.  It didn't come on the special teams meltdown in the middle of the second quarter.  It came at half time.

Watching the Michigan band, and the Michigan choirs, and the flyover, and the Miami band, and well, everything else that was happening simultaneously, my wife turned to me and said "It's like they're trying too hard."  Welcome to the last three years of Michigan football.

A game against Miami University, which is located in Ohio but don't you dare disrespect them by referring to them as Miami of Ohio because they're older than you are and you should respect your elders, even if Miami is in Ohio, should not, by definition be easy, because as Scott Van Pelt likes to say "They've got guys on scholarship too" but certainly there are understandings about what you get in to when you're playing a MAC team, let alone a MAC team that has lost quite a few games over the past two seasons.  But Miami put up a good fight, in part because Michigan was trying too hard.  Gardner interceptions coming from just trying too hard.  Special teams miscues because too many guys want to make a play, trying too hard.  As Lisa's new friend from Little Pwagmattasquarmesettport Ben says in "The Summer of 4 Ft 2", "The whole thing smacks of effort."

This isn't to say that Michigan shouldn't try, but this is the impact of feeling like you don't just want to be better after last week, but that you need to be better, because everyone's counting on you and you can't let them down.

The good news is that the whole of the Big Ten seems to be wallowing in a miasma of bad results and befuddlement.  There's still time to get things right and go forward well.  But for right now, can we just as that the boys dial back the effort like five percent and play within themselves and the game plan and see what happens?  Thanks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

State Fair Omaha

I can't come back, I don't know how it works! Good-bye, folks!
"I can't come back, I don't know how it works! Good-bye, folks!"
One of the absolute great lines in The Wizard of Oz, both the book and the movie, is when the Wizard, having been found out, is accused of being a very bad man by the Scarecrow.  The Wizard replies:

"Oh, no my dear. I'm a very good man. I'm just a very bad Wizard."

I have a great empathy for Brady Hoke's comments on Monday, specifically:
"If they're truly fans, they'll believe in these kids and the hard work they've put in.  If they're not, they won't."

Now, I personally believe that you really can never do well as a coach to talk about your fans in any manner other than the most glowing terms, for the simple reason that it's the reddest of red meat.  Journalists ask the question, knowing that the answer is a clear hook and headline for their article about the presser, but again, the ministorm that erupted in the wake of Hoke's answer proves why that answer should have been something like "Michigan fans are great, and while they're disappointed, so are we, but I have faith in them that they know the hard work we're putting in and that the results will be more like what they hope for in the coming weeks."

But, I get it, at some point, when you're a coach, when people have been speculating about your future for the entire summer, when you know that 11-2 to 8-5 to 7-6 is not "acceptable" to anyone, when you set the bar at Big Ten Championships and haven't even sniffed the title game in your three years, it has to wear on you.  We want coaches to be a hundred different things and to be excellent at them all.  You can make the case that a place like Michigan wants/deserves to have a coach that is excellent at all of these things, but that is another discussion for another day.

I empathize with Brady Hoke though on the effort/results issue though.  It's a teacher thing.  You look at your classes and you know you're responsible for their results and you do the best job you can in getting them ready and they look good in practice and you feel like they're ready to go, and then when the moment comes, it falls apart.  Consequences come from the failures in the moment, even though people will tell you that it's everything that leads up to the moment that is more important.  So when you look at what Brady Hoke sees, kids he recruited to Michigan, kids working hard in practice, looking like they're ready to go, and then falling flat on their face, it has to hurt.  And it probably leads you to say something slightly untowards because you possess knowledge that the average person does not, in part because you have kept that knowledge from people.  It cuts both ways in that regard.

For all of my love of metacognition, I don't know if Brady Hoke is a good coach.  The fact that he has won a coach of the year award at Ball State, San Diego State, and Michigan is certainly an argument in his favor.  But I do believe he is a very good man.  And at the core of who I am as a person, I truly believe that this is what will carry Michigan to better days.  Perhaps it will, perhaps it won't.  But I must believe that a good man can find his way out of a hole, and lead everyone else with him.  I have no proof that it will, but I choose to believe it will, because as much as loving to hate the team we love is Ann Arbor's second most popular pastime, it also places a great strain on one's soul.  After all, if I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times: Hope dies last.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

End Game

Khalid Hill has a great barber.
Khalid Hill has a great barber.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
I loved the shutout streak.  Drew Hallett and I bonded on Twitter over tracking it.  It was the last thread that connected most of my life of Michigan football, from Bo to Mo to Lloyd to Rich Rod to Hoke.  Michigan may not always win, but dammit, they at least scored points.

When Wile missed the second field goal, I started to worry about the streak.  Slowly, but surely, other people on Twitter began to realize that the streak was in jeopardy!  So when Michigan went four it on fourth down and was stopped, that was it.  The streak, 365 games, nearly 30 years old, was over.  Notre Dame had just stomped Michigan 31-0 and all I could think about was the streak ending.  I was ready to be wistful about the end of the Michigan / Notre Dame series, about how I had hazy memories of Rocket Ismail ruining my day in 1989, about Desmond, about Remy, about the 97 defense, about 09-10-11 and the era of miracles, and Under the Lights.  But with the Streak ending, it's like the fall of a symbolic era, looking shambolic and lost when faced with a talented team.

Part of that was because today felt all too familiar.  As the storms began to pop up on radar Friday night, I thought about Devin Gardner.  I read John U. Bacon's Wall Street Journal piece about Gardner last night while waiting for pizza and my thought was "Man, I hope Devin Gardner doesn't become John Navarre 2.0"  But after last night's performance, it's going to be clear that Gardner will be a lightning rod for criticism of this team.  He probably deserves some of the criticism, but not all of it.  But he's the quarterback, he's wearing Tom Harmon's 98, he's going to get the scorching hot takes launched upon him.

I really don't have anything else here.  I'm tired, I'm sad, I'm frustrated, and I'm hoping against hope.  Maybe when you don't have anything else to say, you just stop talking.  So until next week, we'll just try to move forward together.  We fight for better days.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Friday, September 05, 2014

Half a Lifetime Ago

Last week, I was thinking about my favorite Michigan football memory. It made me a little sad that the 20th anniversary of the 1998 Rose Bowl is 3+ years away, and I made a mental note to write a post on it when it comes around.  That was going to be it, but I noted that I was not quite 17 when it happened and it's been not quite 17 years since then.  A quick calculation and a new realization: A few days ago, the 1998 Rose Bowl was the exact halfway point in my lifetime.

In the fall of 1997, I was in my junior year of high school. I'd gotten my license at the beginning of the summer, and my first car:  a green '91 Explorer with a car phone and some visible rust. I spent the fall playing in the pep band and on a pretty good quiz bowl team when I wasn't doing my homework or ferrying my brother and sister all over the Detroit suburbs.

Michigan was coming off an up and down 8-4 '96 season featuring a loss to Northwestern and a win over then-#2 Ohio State. They opened the 1997 season ripping through Colorado and Baylor, outlasting Notre Dame, and then ripping through the meat of their schedule. Iowa gave them a scare, but with one game left on the schedule they were 11-0 and staring a championship season in the face.

Which meant that, once again, it all came down to The Game.  Ohio State was 10-1, their only loss to Penn State. Arizona was the only other team to keep within two touchdowns of the Buckeyes. They'd outscored their Big Ten opponents by 173 points. And this was going to be my first time watching a Michigan-Ohio State game in person.

I've been going to Michigan games since I was 3, and my dad has had a pair of season tickets since before I was born.  The first game I remember clearly is the 1989 one against Maryland, with Elvis Grbac at QB.  My first MSU game was the '92 edition, which was great because I was still angry about the 1990 one I watched on TV.  But I'd never been to an OSU game.  I’m still not sure why I got to go to the 1997 one.  Maybe my dad saw what a diehard fan I was and figured I was old enough to tough it out if it was a blizzard. Maybe my mom didn’t feel like freezing in Michigan Stadium again. Or maybe they knew I'd be applying to colleges next year and wanted to put their thumb on the scale, which would have been completely unnecessary.  Whatever the reason, I was going.

We parked east of State Street and walked through the student ghetto, where there was an electric, profane buzz in the air.  We walked past the field hockey pitch and around Crisler to our usual seats, high in the southeast corner of Michigan Stadium. It was cold, but I didn't feel it.  We were early, much earlier than usual, and were in plenty of time to watch the bands.

I'm sure you remember it, or know the story.  It was three and a half hours of brutality and fear. On the tenth drive of the day, Stanley Jackson fumbled and Michigan drove the shortened 62-yard field for their only offensive touchdown of the day.  After Woodson's epic 78-yard punt return, Michigan went into halftime up 13-0.  In the third, Stanley Jackson drove down to the Michigan 7 before Woodson intercepted him in the endzone. He threw another interception on the next drive, and Andre Weathers returned it 43 yards to push the lead to 20-0.

The rest of the game was white-knuckled hanging on for dear life. It was there for the taking. David Boston finally got loose for a 56-yard score. Don't let it go. OSU's defense gift-wrapped a touchdown after Griese was sacked and fumbled early in the 4th deep in Michigan territory. It took one play for Pepe Pearson to run in a two-yard touchdown. NO, NO, NO. The offense went into a shell, clinging to the 6-point lead. The defense rose up and crushed the Buckeyes, sacking Joe Germaine on the final drive and breaking up his desperation 4th down pass from the Buckeyes' 16.

Madness broke loose, as students emptied onto the field to be met by cops and tear gas.  High up in the bowl, we were insulated from it as Howard King requested that everyone clear the field for the title presentation. Bedlam everywhere. We huddled around with stupid grins plastered on our faces.

The Rose Bowl was brought up immediately, my dad and his college buddies asking each other who was going.  I had no expectations, but I immediately jettisoned any dignity and started begging for us to go, and I was supported by both my brother and sister.  My mom was benevolently neutral, but my dad was steadfast that we weren't going to spend that kind of money to watch Michigan go to a Rose Bowl with a national title on the line. He'd been there before, and it didn't go well.

In 1971, my dad was a sophomore at Michigan.  After Michigan beat Ohio State 10-7 to get to 11-0, he and his fraternity buddies decided to head across the country. They got student tickets and checked into to the cheapest hotel they could find, the now legendary Howard's Weekly, home to a thick cloud of weed smoke from the Jamaican guy across the hall and a thick cloud of dust from everything else.  Michigan lost a heartbreaker to Stanford, 13-12, and they headed home.

He surprised us all when he relented at the eleventh hour, just before tickets went on sale. Shockingly, he even bought into the alumni association's all-inclusive tour package and we were heading to California for almost a week.

For the only time in my life, we went to the international terminal at Metro Airport, which was shared with the chartered Northwest flight we were taking.  I was hoping for a 747, but we took a DC-10 instead, and our in-flight movie was the Travolta and Cage classic Face/Off.  We landed in the twilight and were bused to the Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach where we'd be staying. 

At check-in, we learned they'd messed up our reservation and hadn't put us in adjoining rooms.  I was 16, my brother 13. We didn't care and didn't think it was important, but my parents disagreed.  The only rooms left were on the concierge floor (which they called the Executive Panache level), and it was like a paradise. Glass bottles of Coke and ginger ale, evening hors d'oeuvres. Perfect.

Over the next four days, we went all over Orange County. We took the back lot tour at Universal Studios, and took a cab ride in a yellow limousine driven by a surfer dude burnout to the Laguna Beach boardwalk.  We went to Disneyland and rode everything except the Matterhorn, which was broken, and went to the pep rally with the MMB. At the end of the day, Space Mountain was almost empty and we rode it again and again and again and again, sprinting out the exit and back to the front of the line. It was amazing.  The whole time there were other Wolverines around us.  We'd sing "The Victors" or chant "It's great to be a Michigan Wolverine" at the drop of a hat. It was completely obnoxious.

We woke up at about 4:00 AM on January 1, 1998.  We had to be that early to get on the charter bus up to Pasadena for the Tournament of Roses Parade. We parked near the Colorado Street Bridge and walked to our seats on the parade route. It was cold and clear early, as the parade got going. It was a parade, and I don't think I need to see another one. The only part I really cared about was when the MMB came through.  Then we were off, heading back to the buses to get into the stadium parking lot and the Alumni Association tent for lunch.

I think I had a hot dog and a bag of chips and we sat down to eat, listen to the speakers, and let the nervous tension build.  From the moment that the Ohio State game ended, I had been certain that I needed to go to the Rose Bowl so I could watch Michigan win their first national championship in mine or my dad's lifetime. It was completely irrational, and nothing had changed it.  But sitting at that table, just waiting, I finally had time to let the Eeyorish nature of Michigan football creep up on me, and all I wanted was for the game to begin.  The minutes dragged on and on, and finally it was time to head inside.

We watched the team and the band get off the bus, only to be trapped in a huge line trying to get into the stadium.  The more stadia I visit, the more impressed I am with the Michigan Stadium staff and design.  We were stuck waiting in the tunnels for at least half an hour, making it to our seats right around kickoff, and there was nothing left to do but watch.

Our seats were in the corner of the Washington state endzone, near the MMB on the press box side of the stadium.  We were low in the bowl, closer to a Michigan football game than I'd ever been.  The teams started the game feeling each other out. Following a Brian Griese armpunt, Washington State's drive stalled, but the Cougars downed their own punt on the one.  Michigan failed to get any breathing room, leaving WSU with great field position on the Michigan 47. The typically swarming Wolverine defensive line sacked Ryan Leaf, but then busted two rushes and a Leaf scramble, setting up 2nd and 2 from the 15. Leaf found a hole in the zone before the pass rush could get to him and took the 7-0 lead with about 3 minutes left in the quarter.

Michigan finally made it across the 50 on their next possession, but failed to flip field position on the Cougars when their punt only netted 17 yards. Leaf went to the air and the Cougars were knockin on the door again from the 14, and things were looking grim. On first down, Dhani Jones forced a blind throw that still almost hit a wide open receiver. A second down rush went nowhere.  On third, Leaf rolled to his left and fired at the back corner of the endzone.  And then, right in front of my eyes, Charles Woodson levitated, snatched the ball from mid-air, and floated back to earth. I lost my mind.

Only a few plays later, Brian Griese hit Tai Streets on a 53-yard touchdown pass to even things up at 7-7, where it remained through halftime. But shortly after, Leaf drove the Cougars a full 99 yards down the field to once again take the lead with a frustrating drive, which ended with a reverse.  James Hall immediately slashed through the line to block the PAT, which was a small favor.

Michigan's responding drive was pure vanilla; short passes and between-the-tackles rushes. Chris Howard was playing some of the manballiest manball that ever manballed. And then Tai Streets went vertical and Griese dropped a bomb right in his hands for a 58-yard touchdown. Michigan's PAT was good, and Michigan had their first lead of the day, 14-13.

Leaf tried to force his next pass as Dhani Jones was once again in his grill and William Peterson almost had a pick.  Woodson eventually stuffed a run to force a punt.  Michigan put their best drive of the day together, or at least the most Michigan.  Lots of A-Train and Chris Floyd up the gut, with quick outs to Marquise Walker and Tai Streets.  And the big play to finish it off was pure '97 Michigan:  Fake the handoff, waggle right, and hit Tuman in stride. 21-13, Michigan, with about 11:00 left in the game.  With this defense, no question the rest of the game was going to be in clock-killing mode.

But the Cougars weren't going quietly.  Leaf was under siege on almost every snap, either getting sacked or putting a ball on the numbers. He drove down to the 25, but was immediately sacked by Dhani Jones. He was forced to scramble on 3rd and a million, bringing up 4th and 15 from about the 30. Ryan Lindell stepped in and drilled it through the uprights.  21-16.

Michigan got the ball back with 7:25 left and proceeded to slowly murder it.  It was awe-inspiring and gut-churning. Washington State exhausted their timeouts as Michigan ripped over six minutes off the clock.  On 4th and 7 from the 33, the Wolverines played the Brian Griese Incredibly Surprising Pooch Punt and left the Cougars on their own 6 with 29 seconds left. Again, far too much time for anyone who'd watched the '94 Colorado game.

It was agonizing to watch Ryan Leaf go under center again.  Incomplete on his first throw.  He hung tantalizingly long in his own endzone on the next play, only to throw it away.  I screamed something about holding, because why not?  3rd and 10, and Leaf throws up a prayer headed straight for Charles Woodson.  But then Woodson crumples to the ground and Marcus Ray is leaping over him to force Nian Taylor out of bounds near midfield.  The ref swallows his flag and gives Taylor the first down. 

We're stunned, and terrified.  The national championship, a holy land that didn't seem worth dreaming about, is within our grasp at this moment and Ryan Leaf has one more opportunity to put a dagger through it.  We've got Woodson, and a defense that's answered the bell every time.  A Cougar is rolling around with an injury, letting everything build.

The ball is snapped and Ryan Leaf is flattened on a bull rush by Glen Steele, but flags are everywhere.  False start on Washington State, the game clock goes back to 9 seconds, and yet ANOTHER bite at the apple for the unkillable Ryan Leaf.  The pass is complete, but in the middle of the field, it's not a first down, and if you can just tackle him here OH GOD NO HOOK AND LATERAL. First down, but tackled in bounds. Leaf under center, and I thought he moved before the ball was whistled ready for play, and the clock rolls to zero as he spikes it.  Did they make it?  NO! THE MICHIGAN WOLVERINES HAVE WON THE ROSE BOWL AND THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP THIS IS AMAZING DON'T EVER LET THIS FEELING STOP!!!!!!!!!

I can't feel my hands, I can't hear my voice. I think I'm singing "The Victors", but I don't have any evidence to corroborate this.  There's lots of hugging and high-fiving. Everything is beautiful and I can't believe I'm actually here, in this place, at this moment, watching it all play out in front of me.  It is complete and total euphoria, and I'm lost in it.  Relief, astonishment, joy.  The band plays everything they know and then keeps playing.  I don't think they did a post-game concert; I think they just kept playing in the stands and we kept singing, wandering around our section.  It's like we've all fallen into a harmonious, slightly trippy daze.  Eventually the band calls it a night and we're herded to the buses. 

I fell asleep on the ride back to the hotel, then woke up for the post-game dinner that had been prepared for everyone.  Everyone still looked like they'd been hit on the head with a happy stick.  I talked to more total strangers than I ever had before, and I remember almost none of it.  I remember thinking "I'm so glad we won, because this would have been the most depressing meal of all time if we hadn't."  It was my only negative thought, because the world was full of good and happy people.

The next day, we were trying to sneak a look at Tennessee and Nebraska in the Orange Bowl while waiting to board our flight.  This time the movie was supposed to be Contact, one of my all-time favorites.  But someone complained; we were supposed to watch My Best Friend's Wedding on the way out instead of Face/Off, so it was substituted.  Look, if there's any time "They should've sent a poet" is appropriate, it's after the '98 Rose Bowl. Am I arguing that a 16-year-old should have been allowed to curate the in-flight movies for a bowl trip?  Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying.  When we got home, I went straight to bed and crashed for hours, living a jet-lagged existence for the next week.  But it was the best trip I've ever been on, and I still can't believe I was lucky enough to be there.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Nussmeter: We check the charts and start to figure it out

Some things will never make sense: drinking a pot of coffee before going to bed, invading Russia in the winter, and willingly rescheduling Appalachian State. But some things do make sense! The very idea of combining nuts and gum and now, the Michigan offense!

If the offense can surpass ten yards per play, we can kick the Nussmeter up to 11 too. Next week in the 2007 nostalgia tour: Oregon wins 39-7, Notre Dame loses 38-0.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

What's past is prologue

"What's past is prologue"
William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 2, Scene I
K. Kuehne
Our thanks to MVictors and K. Kuehne for an excellent shot.

Michigan won a season opener yesterday against an FBS transitional team in a relatively straight forward manner.  There was some kinks worked out by the middle of the second quarter, but mostly yesterday is what it was supposed to be.  If it were Old Dominion, or James Madison, or Maine, or Georgia State, this would have been a blip, just like it was for Michigan State over Jacksonville State on Friday night.  This was what you would want out of a Power 5 team, possibly a Top 25 team in this situation.

But, because of the past, because of names, and logos, and one moment seven years ago, this game was built in to something it never was actually going to be.  It's the flip side of a long and glorious past, having to deal with those darker moments you'd rather forget.  The players in yesterday's game, none of them were a part of that moment, but they had to answer the questions and carry the legacies of that moment because the fans wanted them to feel it the same as we do about those moments.  It's unfair to the players, but it's also part of the passion of college football.

Yesterday did nothing to erase the past.  Michigan evened the all-time series, but beyond that, 9/1/07 is never going to go away.  What yesterday can do for Michigan is start them down a path where the discussion is about what Michigan is doing, and not what Michigan has done.

When I picked my MGoMix this year, I knew I wanted "Rudderless" as far back as January, because of the key lyric "Hope in my past."  We had an off-season of chaos in the sense that we wanted something to hang the hat of hope upon and there did not seem to be a nail anywhere handy.  Wallowing in frustration is easier, but utterly fruitless because hope, while it opens you up to disappointment, is just easier to live with as a person.  

So Michigan heads to South Bend next weekend for the last time potentially in my lifetime.  A series that has, in many ways, defined my life as a Michigan football fan is ending.  The sadness there is much more palpable than worrying about reliving one bad day.  Notre Dame has given me way more bad days in my football life than Appalachian State.  So, as that chapter closes, we'll look back perhaps more wistfully because the end of this thing is really stupid, and stupid makes me sad.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

MGoMix 2014

We're back!  After a summer where we just don't know any more, but we're about to find out, we're back with our breakdown of our new playlist for the 2014 season.  We tried to mix it up a bit while following our rules: no more than 80 minutes of music, make every effort not to repeat non-Michigan songs from previous years, and try to capture the mood of the season while driving to Ann Arbor and walking to Michigan Stadium.  With that in mind, here we go:

1). "Brand New Colony" by the Postal Service
"I want to take you far from the cynics in this town"
Here's to hope.

2). "Razorblade" by the Strokes
"My feelings are more important than yours."
The unofficial slogan of every amateur sports blogger, whether they acknowledge it or not.

3). "Tell Me What You Already Did" by Fountains of Wayne
"Don't tell me what you're gonna do or what you wanna do
Tell me what you already did."Michigan's mandate to Old Hat Creative in making the hype videos.

4). "Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum
You really can't go wrong with this choice.  I am Groot?

5). "Gimme Some Lovin'" by the Spencer Davis Group
For a period from roughly 1987-1992, at least five movies a year were legally required to include this song in some form of montage.

6). "Space and Time" by The Verve
I will forever associate this song with the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl of 2013.  It also would be a great backing track for a Doctor Who fanvid.

7).  "Stubborn Love" by the Lumineers.
"It's better to feel pain, than nothing at all / the opposite of love's indifference."
Michigan football, ladies and gentlemen.

8). "Breathe" by Alexi Murdoch
"Then the answer that you're seeking / For the question that you found 
Drives you further to confusion  / As you lose your sense of ground."
Michigan football, ladies and gentlemen.

9). "Shot at the Night" by the Killers
"Look at my reflection in the mirror / Underneath the power of the light
Give me a shot at the night / Give me a shot at the night / Give me a shot at the night
I feel like I'm losing the fight"
Still wish Harrison missed that three.

10). "Line of Fire" by Junip
"Convince yourself to be someone else / And hold back from the world
Your lack of confidence / What you choose to believe in
Dictates your rise or your fall / Dictates your rise or your fall"

11). "Run Right Back" by the Black Keys

Or Run Off Tackle, either way, let's hope the Offensive Live holds up.

12). "Word Up!" by Cameo
I can't believe I've never used this for an MGoMix before.

13). "Rudderless" by The Lemonheads
"Hope in my past / Hope in my past"

14). "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)" by The Eurythmics
Here's to hoping Michigan's new offense doesn't Halt and Catch Fire.

15). "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" by Bruce Cockburn
"But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight --
Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight"

16). "Rain in the Summertime" by The Alarm
aka "The best U2 song U2 never wrote."

17). "I Can't Turn You Loose" by The Blues Brothers
18). "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" by The Blues Brothers
"We're so glad to see so many of you lovely people here tonight and we would especially like to welcome all the representatives of the Big Ten officiating community who have chosen to join us here in the Michigan Amphitheater at this time. We do sincerely hope you'll all enjoy the show and please remember people, that no matter who you are and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there're still some things that make us all the same. You, me, _them_, everybody, everybody."

19). "I Can't Turn You Loose" by Michigan Marching Band
And suddenly, I am craving cake and electronic dis-co.

20). "M Fanfare" by Michigan Marching Band
21). "The Victors" by Michigan Marching Band
22). "Temptation" by Michigan Marching Band
23). "Hawaiian War Chant" by Michigan Marching Band
24). "Varsity" by Michigan Marching Band
25). "Star Spangled Banner" by Michigan Marching Band

Monday, August 11, 2014

Looking good, Billy Ray

It started simply, from Jane's Michigan preview for EDSBS, which most of you have probably already read.  But, the important quote is:
"If Notre Dame fans are noted for their eternal (and quixotic) optimism, Michigan fans are noted for boundless, unceasing pessimism."
I agreed with this, but one of my friends argued that it is classic Michigan arrogance to feel like we lead the world in pessimism.  I agreed that this is fair, but went on to make this argument:

Michigan fans, at least in the last decade, have lived waiting for the other shoe to drop and knowing it's not if but when. The history, as it recedes further and further into the past, becomes harder to hold on to. Impossible to please, absolutely. But it's a brand of pessimism born of having tasted success and wanting it again, Pat Riley's "Disease of More" if you will. 
Michigan went from 1969-2007 without a losing season and just one .500 season caused by a freak injury to Jim Harbaugh in 1984. So the last six years have been about a massive re-calibration of expectations in a new world and not knowing what this world is like. It's like Michigan has become the college football version of Louis Winthorpe III and we have not yet figured out how to exact our revenge on the Dukes. (Hell, even Duke is good now.) 

Billy Ray Valentine: [watches Louis clean his shotgun] "You know, you can't just go around and shoot people in the kneecaps with a double-barreled shotgun 'cause you pissed at 'em."

Louis Winthorpe III:
 "Why not?"

Billy Ray Valentine:
 "'Cause it's called assault with a deadly weapon, you get 20 years for that..."

There was a time, and I can tell you, it was 2007, I was standing in Pancheros in Livonia, waiting in line, and I was plotting out the schedule and figuring out how a team that featured seniors Chad Henne and Mike Hart and Jake Long and junior Mario Manningham and was looking and figuring out where the ten wins were in the schedule.  I remember particularly fretting over the Illinois game, since ABC had announced it was going to be a night game and going to Illinois always screws Michigan up somehow.  Bad things.  But the key is, I never, for a moment, considered that Michigan could lose to a MAC team, like Eastern Michigan, let alone Appalachian State, I mean, sure, they were the defending I-AA champs, but well, this is Michigan and such.

If you want to say that the aura of invincibility was shattered forever that day, I wouldn't blame you.  Michigan had lost games before.  Michigan was actually on a two game losing streak and if you're here, I probably don't need to recap this because you're reading a Michigan football and you remember all too well what happened that day.

And yet, we could, and would, sink lower.  We did sink lower.  Toledo.  Northwestern and the Class III Fandom Endurance Badge, four tries from the one at Illinois, at Purdue 2009, Wisconsin 2010, that Gator Bowl.  We came to expect that losses were as likely as wins.  For a Michigan fan from the late 1960s on, this was a brave new world, and we had no idea how to function in it.

As fans, we found new ways though.  We savored the wins a little more, but I also think we came to appreciate the players a little more.  One could argue that Denard Robinson is the most beloved Michigan athlete in half a generation because he visibly loved Michigan as much as we did.  He was a fan like we were, except he just happened to be able to do amazing things on the football field.  An 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl win didn't hurt that either.  But you can only sate yourself for so long on individual performances.  If you love Michigan, you love the team, and if you love the team, you want the team to win.  So when he doesn't win, and it looks not so great in some of the ones it does win, doubt creeps in.  And doubt is one of the hardest things to fight, because the only thing that conquers doubt is results to the contrary.

One of the hardest things about being a college football fans is that the season only lasts for a few short months.  For those glorious months of September (well, late August, but you know) through early January, there are results, measurements, data, to process and calculate and understand.  But from the end of the season until the beginning of fall camp, all you have is the inverse sentiments of doubt and hope.  Doubt and hope exist as the opposite sides of the same coin.  Hope is "Well, sure." Doubt is "Well, no."  Prior to 2007, Michigan fans lived in a world of hope with a small vein of doubt.  You wouldn't look at the schedule and say oh, sure, undefeated.  You knew there was a loss in there somewhere, you just didn't know where.  Post 2007, every view of the schedule is looking where the losses are and worrying that the wins won't materialize.  This is our eighth year of this and we still don't know how to function in this new world.

Here's to hope.  Here's to looking good.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Throwback to throwbacks

As many of you know, my passion for the history of Michigan football is exceptionally high.  I'm not alone in this regard; it is why I have a kinship with Greg Dooley of in large part because of this.  Greg's work on the Michigan uniform timeline is a passion project and one I have been happy to be a part of as well.

So when Tiedman and Formby offered me a chance to give a sneak preview at their 2014 Michigan throwbacks, I jumped at the chance.  This is totally a recognition of my affection for their work (I currently own a 1934 Gerald Ford #48 throwback from them.)

Before I go any further, let me first note that Craig Tiedman* asked if I would mention the Kickstarter they are currently running which ends on June 11, 2014:

He told me that they are offering jerseys at discounted pre-order prices as a reward for pre-orders
(The Kickstarter is to help with working capital.)

*-Yet another example of my firm belief in the Craig recognize Craig rule.

Well, what's available this year for you, Michigan fans?

Let's start with a 1927 Benny Oosterbaan felt sweater.  Block M on the front, #47 on the back, complete with the Drop Tail.  Perhaps a little warm for September games, but still, Bennie!

The Mad Magicians won the 1947 National Championship on the backs of a several of significant players, two of whom, the ringleader, Bob Chappuis and future Michigan coach Bump Elliott, get the Cotton Durene treatment here.  (Similar to the Ford and Harmon jerseys.)

The 1964 Rose Bowl team, coached by Bump, led by Captain Conley, celebrate their 50th anniversary this year, and T&F celebrate them with a Rose Bowl jersey from that year, Mel Anthony's #37.  They nailed the shoulder Ms, well done all around.

Next up, one that I think will be very popular, partially as it has not been offered before, but the 1976 away jersey for the Guts and Glue of the Maize and Blue, #7, Mr. Rick Leach.  The detail note here I love is the exceptionally narrow sleeve stripes which were a mainstay of the mid-70s tear-away away jerseys.

 T&F also brings back three 1990s classics, Howard, Woodson, and Brady, in the porthole mesh and dazzle fabric, which I presume will replicate the 1990s look to a T.

On the basketball side, another 50th anniversary item, a road jersey for the Final Four team, represented here by #22 Bill Buntin.  Such a classic look to this jersey.  Were adidas not so concerned with their own branding, this should be Michigan's basketball look.  Clean, crisp, classic.

And last, and certainly not least, on the hockey side, the greatest Michigan jersey ever, the 1962 Red Berenson navy sweater.  I am so happy Michigan embraced its classic past in recent years (even if the Block Ms are a bit gratuitous.)  But now, if you've regretted the branding choices, you can get the original, in the original sweater material.


All in all, T&F have done a great job "getting it right".  Classic materials, classic sizing (which yeah, keep that in mind when ordering), the small details.  If you have a passion for Michigan's classic looks, this is the place.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

(Off Topic) Urban HIMYMs: "Last Forever"

Once upon a time, when the world was young and new, I was part of a plucky start-up pop culture blog called DeadOn.  We wrote about pop culture, as one is apt to do when you're in your mid-20s and have plenty of free time.  I wrote Urban HIMYMs, reviews of How I Met Your Mother, back when it was a struggling, always on the cancellation bubble show.  I stopped doing this roughly about the time that I met Franklin's mother, but last night's series finale rousted me out of my recapping slumber one last time.

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."  If you could encapsulate the mission statement of How I Met Your Mother, it would be this line from John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy".  Ostensibly Ted is telling his kids the story about how he met their mother, but there's a long and twisting road to get there.  Why I think this story connected with me was that I am roughly Ted's age (mathematically, Ted, Marshall, and Lily are all Class of 1996 from high school, so the tie in was strong.)  While there was always a heightened sense of reality, there were always the core small moments of reality that kept it grounded.  I always felt like that for all of the broad strokes that could not possibly have happened, the details and emotional notes were right.

Which is why the last five minutes of last night's episode are so maddening.  We know now that the creators had this idea of how they were going to end the show in their mind forever, which OK, awesome, probably better to have a plan than to make it up as they go along.  (The example of this for me would be 24, where it always felt like the writers would have eight basic hours plotted out, and then realize that they had painted themselves into a lot of corners with no obvious end games.)  But, while they were making other plans, life happened.  Things happened in the show.  For a long time.  For a longer time than they expected.  So when we finally did meet the mother, when we finally caught the glimpses, and got to know her piece by piece, and we got to see her with Ted in the flash forwards, I think we started to like her.  Part of this is that Cristin Milioti just sold being the person Ted would logically end up with, part of this was that the layers had been put there, that all of the grief and heartache Ted had gone through up to that night on the train platform in Farhampton, all of that was going to pay off because as my friend Victoria liked to remind me "It doesn't have to be the perfect person, just the person perfect for you."
And then they killed her.

The hints had been there and we were so proud of ourselves for catching them, and then we all realized "wait, that would suck" so we collectively talked ourselves out of it.  And then they killed her.  And they gave us all of 30 seconds to grieve before Ted's off to win Robin back with a bookend to create perfect symmetry for the series.  But while Ted may have had six years to get to that point to be OK, and while Ted may be a person who can't be alone, we as viewers spent eight years waiting to meet this person, Tracy, the core premise of the show, only to have her killed off in a passing moment.  We don't get to see Ted's grief, we don't get to see this because we spent a season watching the build up to a wedding that was undone halfway through the next episode.  There was no time for any of this to breathe because of the decisions made by the creators.

So much of this boils down to the core issue of American television development.  We don't know how long we're going to get with a show, especially a sitcom, but if it can get in striking range of 100 episodes, we know it will get there because the business model says it should.  But then when you don't have anything as promising in development, you drag things on well past the point where you should have logically wrapped things up.  But you've held on to the way you wanted things to end for so long, you couldn't let go of it now, even if it didn't make any sense.  I suppose this is fair, when you're living inside of something, you can get tunnel vision for the sake of your own artistic creation.

In the end, this was a fun show, it was clever at times, it missed at others, but it's probably one I will have a long-standing attachment to because of that age cohort connection.  But like so many things, it ended badly, because happy endings really are too often too much to ask.

Monday, March 31, 2014


Mister Fantastic tried his absolute best. (Dustin Johnson/
Dustin Johnson captured many amazing shots of the Regional Final, which I recommend checking out here before going forward.  But this one stands out, because it speaks to the hardest part about being a sports fan.

Sometimes, the other guy just makes a play.  Your team didn't do anything wrong, the other guy just does his job and it works.  Aaron Harrison was one of the most highly sought after recruits in the country last season and sometimes talent just overwhelms.

Look at what else is going on in that shot.  Look at all of that Kentucky Blue in the stands, punctuated by hints of adidas highlighter yellow.  Kentucky is actually a touch closer to Indianapolis than Michigan is, especially the heart of Michigan country relative to the heart of Big Blue Nation.  Big Blue Nation was out in force, they wanted to see the battle royale with their in-state rivals in Louisville, and now they were back here in the House that Peyton Built to see their prized class, the pre-season #1, their beloved Wildcats try to prove everyone wrong by advancing to the Final Four.  The only team younger than Michigan in the tournament, they had grown up quickly, or so we had been told.  Sometimes talent can find its way.

Sometimes statistics are defied.  Kentucky shot 7-11 on three pointers, or nearly double their season average, whereas conversely, Michigan shot just a shade under their usual 40% on threes.  (Side note: If they call LeVert's shot in the first half a three, which could have gone either way, then Michigan shoots 42% for the game, or just a shade above their season average.  It also puts Michigan up one after the putback, which may have changed any number of things, but that is speculation at best.)

Sometimes, your luck runs out.  Michigan had not lost a game by fewer than double digits since their two point loss to Arizona back in December.  When Michigan had lost, it had lost big, at Indiana, at Iowa, to Wisconsin, to Michigan State, it was rough outings.  Conversely, Michigan has won thirteen games by single digits, seven by three points or fewer.  Michigan had lived on the knife edge on Friday night against the Vols and survived.  This time, they lost their margin of error that they had had throughout the tournament was not there, and it was over.  It was gone.

Sometimes you don't appreciate you have until it's gone.  Which is why I am thankful we were able to send off Jordan Morgan on a high note.  Morgan is exactly what we want our players to be, tenacious, hard-working, always working to be better, and, oh yeah, a pretty damn good student to boot.  To see all of the #ThanksJMo tweets after the game is to know that we didn't lose sight of what was going to end when Stauskas's last shot fell short.  We know we're probably also losing some other players, and we'll deal with that when the time comes, but for now, we appreciate what we had, because it was fun.  It was just fun.

So a tip of a cap to Coach Beilein and his staff for making us care again.  A salute to the Wildcats for a well-earned victory.  But most of all, a thanks for the memories that this team created, ones not soon forgotten.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hypersensitive Probabilities

There's been a lot of talk about Tennessee and their bewilderingly high tempo-free rating, a rating so confusing that Ken Pomeroy wrote a column trying to explain it. To summarize, Tennessee is CHAOSTEAM: they throw a wrench into the ranking system by consistently winning by a lot and losing by a little. That's how a 12-loss team can have a Pythagorean rating of 91.61%.

A team's Pythagorean rating is an estimate of the probability of the team defeating an average team. In Division I in 2013-14, the teams that rate out as most average are Holy Cross, a good team from a weak conference, and USC, a bad team from a power conference. If you have the Pythagorean ratings for two teams, A and B, you can calculate the probability that Team A defeats Team B using the log5 formula rediscovered by Bill James:

In words, the log5 formula states that the odds in favor of Team A beating Team B are equal to the odds in favor of Team A beating an average team times the odds in favor of an average team beating Team B. This formula is equivalent to the Elo chess rating system and several formal statistical models. If we apply the log5 formula to the Tennessee-Michigan game, we input Tennessee's Pythagorean rating of 91.61% and Michigan's rating of 90.32% and find that the probability of Tennessee winning the game is about 55%.

However, a lot of people are looking askance at these Pythagorean ratings as it just doesn't seem right that a 24-12 team from the weakest of the power conferences should be the #6 team in the country. Tennessee has been extremely unlucky according to kenpom: they rank 337th out of 351 with a luck score of -0.86. Among major conference teams, only Iowa and Oklahoma State have been unluckier.

The word "luck" is a misnomer here as it implies that deviations from the model are due to random chance. For all but the simplest of phenomena, errors in a statistical model are a combination of both random chance and systemic error. No existing model has captured effects like the B Factor - these effects are not necessary intangible, but they aren't captured by the models and are part of the reason that predictions can go awry.

Let's look at the Final Four probabilities for the Midwest Regional and suppose that some percentage of a team's luck is a real, systemic, deviation from their calculated Pythagorean rating. If luck is completely transitory, then Louisville is the clear favorite with a 46% chance of making it to Dallas, followed by Tennessee, Michigan, and then Kentucky.

The ratings and luck for the four teams are:

            Pyth  Luck
Louisville .9543 -.034
Tennessee  .9161 -.086
Michigan   .9032  .054
Kentucky   .8986 -.043

Of these four teams, only Michigan has had positive luck this year. If some of this luck is a real effect, how does luck effect the probability of going to the Final Four? Introduce a luck factor that can vary from 0 to 1, and suppose that each team's actual rating is Pyth+Luck*(luck factor). As the effect of luck (or uncertainty) increases, the chances of making the Final Four change a great deal:
You only need to believe that 10% of that luck is a real systemic error for Tennessee and Michigan to be at even odds. If you're willing to accept that even more luck is real, you can increase the chances of Michigan making the Final Four from 17% to 57%!

The issue is that probabilities computed using log5 become very sensitive when each team has a very high Pythagorean rating. This isn't a huge problem in baseball, where teams almost never win less than 30% or more than 70% of their games. But this does cause a problem when calculating the win probabilities between very good teams. Slight changes in the Pythagorean ratings can result in big changes in the log5 output.

For comparison, let's turn the four teams in the Midwest Regional into average teams by subtracting 0.4 from their Pythagorean ratings. I've changed the team names to average teams with similar tempo-free numbers:

                Pyth  Luck
Boston College .5543 -.034
Santa Clara    .5161 -.086
Holy Cross     .5032  .054
Brown          .4986 -.043

When the teams are close to average, the log5 probabilities are far less sensitive to changes in the Pythagorean ratings. Holy Cross, as the only lucky team, sees its win probability increase from 23% to 35% as we increase the role of luck, but this is far less than the 40% swing we saw with Michigan. The probabilities for Boston College and Brown decrease only slightly, while Santa Clara, the unluckiest team of all, has its probability of winning two games decrease by 10%.

Most statistical models are far better at predicting the behavior of the average or typical subjects and far weaker at predicting how outliers will behave. Now that we've reached the Sweet Sixteen, it turns out that tempo-free stats are no different: the probability that a given team will make the final four is very sensitive to the precise value of the Pythagorean rating, to the point where these ratings can really only give a rough estimate of win probability with very large error bars.

Or, to put things even more simply: I am incapable of predicting what's going to happen in the Sweet Sixteen because no one can predict what's going to happen with a high degree of confidence. The probabilities are just too sensitive to underlying uncertainties and systemic errors. Being uncertain about the outcome makes sports fun. Also terrifying, but fun.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tempo-Free Hate 2013-2014: Bo Ryan's Revenge!

Last year, between the Ohio and Wisconsin games, we spent the time wondering why do we all hate Aaron Craft so much? To answer this question, we proposed the Four Factors of Hate, and used these factors to find the Big Ten leaders in Tempo-Free Hate. This year, the question of why we all hate Aaron Craft was answered once and for all when Doug Gottlieb blamed this on the ball being too slippery:

GIF by Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog)
Even though unwarranted media attention and apologia are good reasons to be annoyed by a player, the Four Factors of Hate try to quantify just what makes a player so annoying using only the stats on the floor. The four factors are:
  • Steals per personal foul (ST/PF). Also known as handchecking ability, or Craftiness.
  • Ability to draw fouls (Free Throw Attempts/(Minutes Played * Usage %)).  Jordan Morgan is not as bad at this as you think.
  • Three-Point Specialization (3FG/FG). The "Just A Shooter" Award.
  • Free Throw Percentage (FT%). For those annoying players who just Win The Game. Since all players are supposed to be able to shoot free throws reasonably well FT% only counts half as much as the other three.
All stats come from Sports Reference College Basketball, except for team adjusted tempo, which is pulled from the front page at kenpom. Who is the most annoying player in the Big Ten? Find out after the jump!