Thursday, December 09, 2010

Let It Snow

I was going to turn this into a whole long form post, but as I lack the time, a quick insight:

For the second year in a row, Michigan has a finalist for the Chicago Tribune's Silver Football, given annually to the best football player in the Big Ten.  Brandon Graham shared the honor last year, Denard Robinson is nominated this season.  The article profiling Denard can be found here.

The whole story gives you some wonderful insight into Denard, but this is the money passage:
Robinson also packed snow into a plastic bag for his return flight.
"Melted on the plane," he said.
Can you, as you read that sentence, hear a slight chuckle and picture Denard smiling about it with that broad smile he has.  It's goofy, but you know, he's 19, he's from Florida, and the first time he ever saw snow, it was awesome.

We who have grown up in Michigan or the colder climes treat snow as a burden to be borne, but to someone who has spent 17 years of their life in Florida where 50 degrees is cold, this white stuff falling from the sky is pure magic.  We lose the wonder because we've been there before, but if you've never seen snow, you don't have to drive in it, or plow it, or walk in it, snow is pretty awesome. 


And even though it was likely known the snow wouldn't make it home to Florida, that's not the point.  The point is that that bag of water even represents the magic of seeing something unlike anything you have ever seen before, something read about, or seen in television commercials, or described to you, but not actually having been in the presence of until now.

Denard's melted bag of snow is a perfect metaphor for my memories of the 2010 season.  It was magical when we first saw it, and it melted, like we suspected it would in the end, but the memories that stay with us will be with us for a long time.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I have nothing to add

Seriously, if I had anything to add, I would have already said it.  The wide array of emotions, feelings, outrages, sympathies, and notions have already been put forward.  All of the best jokes have been used, all of the most passionate points have been made.  

The short simple version is Michigan must wait another year to beat Ohio State and this was suspected in the week leading up to The Game and borne out on Saturday.  None of us knows what the future holds and those who claim they do are likely selling something.  But for now, let us hope for better days, brighter days, and days with less anguish and heartbreak.  They will come some day.  Some day.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle

I once heard someone say, if you're dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you're smart, surround yourself with smart people that disagree with you. If you don't know what to say, you have two choices, don't say anything, or think of something someone else said and use that.

So, because I am a history teacher (but not a bando) by trade, I'm going with one of my favorites to sum up not yesterday's game, but the I-can't-even-deal-with-this-any-more sniping between the two factions (and dozens of sub-factions) of the Michigan fanbase.


Having just won a hotly contested Presidential Election in 1800, Thomas Jefferson walked down the muddied streets of the District of Columbia towards an unfinished Capitol Building.  As he entered the chamber of the House of Representatives, he delivered an address that few heard because Jefferson had a notoriously weak voice and hated public speaking.  But those in attendance had a copy of the address, which had been printed in the newspapers that morning and were able to follow along as Jefferson tried to create something new in American political life, the notion of a loyal opposition:

So, if I may, Ladies and gentlemen, the First Inaugural Address of third President of the United States:

During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long-lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by others, and should divide opinions as to measures of safety. But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government can not be strong, that this Government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this Government, the world's best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest Government on earth. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern. Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.
In the end, my opinion matters no more than yours does.  I liked things I saw yesterday, I was disappointed by others, and further still confused by other things.  But one simple reality is playing through my mind.  Before the season began, when I was asked, I said "7-5, losses to Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State."  And I thought I was being hopeful, because there were no guarantees on the Connecticut, Notre Dame, or Purdue games.  Here we sit, during Football Easter week, and we're 7-4.  We're going bowling.  We're beating bad teams, we're losing to good teams.  The offense can do some amazing things.  The defense can do very little.  History, memory, and expectations become burdens.  They cloud our judgment, they make us see ghosts where there are none, mirages of what might be, but is not.
 
You want to tell me that Michigan needs a new coach, I will listen, but you better have your plan thought through, because I will have questions.  You want to tell me that Coach Rodriguez deserves another year, I will listen, but I want to know how you think the defense will improve. You want to tell me you just don't know and throw up your hands in despair, I will welcome you as a friend and kindred spirit, because you're probably the most sane Michigan fan I know right now (unless you're David Brandon doing this, in which case, I will be deeply deeply worried.  I wouldn't blame you, but I would be worried.) If you're upset that your fellow fans seem to have lost their mind, all I will say is, I can't blame them, because there really are no answers right now.

It's Ohio State week.  It is another final chapter, but not the end of the story.  There will be more, more written, more said, more speculated, more postulated, and certainly, absolutely, criticized.  But that chapter remains to be written, and sometimes a story playing out exactly as you expect has a shocking twist ending that comes out of nowhere.  There's a saying among writers that the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.  Here's to hoping something that happens out of seemingly nowhere happens and instead of criticizing the author for a plot hole, we find the deus ex machina enormously satisfying.

Go Blue!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Return to Normalcy



The man above this caption of 29th President Warren G. Harding. During his campaign in 1920, he promised "A return to normalcy" which no one could really pin down what it meant, beyond he wanted to go back to the way things were before the war. ("Status quo ante bellum" is a much better term for that, but we already use that for the Treaty of Ghent, so we had to go in a different direction.)

This past Saturday, for right or wrong, for good or for ill, Michigan returned to normalcy by earning its seventh victory of the year, thus ensuring its first winning season since 2007. A return to normalcy by seeing the defense step up, allowing just two third down conversions in seventeen Purdue attempts. A return to normalcy by forcing five Boilermaker turnovers. A return to normalcy by getting the ball back on the Purdue 49 yard line with a four point lead with just a shade over eight minutes to go and putting together a 9 play, 49 yard touchdown drive that too six minutes and nineteen seconds, converting a big third down by passing to a tight end, and rushing the other eight plays, using the featured back, the quarterback, and the goal line guy. That was classic Lloydball, made better by the fact that it ended with a touchdown and put Purdue on the ropes.

But, perhaps the most normal thing about this game was simply how I felt about it. I was mildly pissed off about a win. We turned the ball over five times. We couldn't decide on a quarterback. We saw Denard show some mild signs of regression in the passing game (the pick six was just terrible decision making, which I am sure will be borne out in the video analysis of the game.) We saw Denard pooch punt for 11 yards from the Purdue 42 in the "Things that must have seemed like a good idea in practice" pile. We saw Tate "surprisingly" pooch punt from the Purdue 39 and drop in the end zone for a touchback and make you wonder what Michigan would be like with a real kicker. Oh, right, we saw Seth Broekhuizen try a 42 yard field goal that missed so badly, it actually didn't even get inside the support for the net that goes up behind the goalposts.

But perhaps in the end, the Harding comparison is a little too apt. Harding was widely reviled for his incompetence, his willingness to let his friends do as they pleased, the general sense of fail that emanated from the White House followed him until his death in 1923. Except, when historians look back, they see that things were not as bad as they once thought. Harding was blamed when things went wrong, but got little to no credit for the things that went right. People saw what they wanted to see and argued their points as they chose a new path to their future. Then again, Harding never got America bowl eligible, so we'll see.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sunday, November 07, 2010

A Better Offense/Defense


If you've been around the Michigan fan neighborhoods of the internet, you know that thanks to Brian's 2008 season "highlight" video was set to Rilo Kiley's "A Better Son/Daughter" and, in doing so, its lyrics became like a shibboleth among the Michigan football faithful. You could quote a snippet and know where they were going and why they were quoting it. We had hoped that the lyrics would only refer to that one season, but here we are, another season, and goodly part of a third later, and we're still coming back to it.

Somehow, in the insanity of a triple overtime game that saw Michigan score 67 points, give up 65 points, and win the game, ultimately, on a defensive stop by Michigan, all I could come back to when I drove home was the voice of Jenny Lewis.

And sometimes when you're on
You're really f*cking on
And your friends they sing along
And they love you


The first five games of this year need little recap. They showed the cracks in the Michigan defense, but ultimately, it was simply watching Denard Robinson run the offensive machine that Michigan had become and a fast start that left questions, because we had seen this movie before.

But the lows are so extreme
That the good seems f*cking cheap
And it teases you for weeks in its absence


And then you had the lost October of Michigan State, Iowa, and Penn State. Only a bye week prevented October from being any darker than it was. The Penn State game put an emphatic cap on the fact that Michigan had no defense to speak of, and any explanation, reasoning, logic, or exception you could make wouldn't float. Michigan could not stop anyone, their only chance to get bowl eligible was literally to outscore one of the remaining four Big Ten teams on their schedule. The first chance they would have at that was Illinois, who was coming in to the game with a defense that rated among the Top 20 statistically in the country. It looked very likely that Michigan was going to crater.

But you'll fight and you'll make it through
You'll fake it if you have to
And you'll show up for work with a smile


On Thursday, the murky chapter of Michigan, the NCAA, the Detroit Free Press, and knowing how much time you spent stretching, came to an end. The storm had passed and Michigan could come out of the storm cellar and survey the damage. To Michigan's credit, they pretty much got their penalties right when they self-imposed them. David Brandon said that Michigan had debated two years of probation versus three and went with two (I will always suspect Michigan went with the lower number to allow the NCAA to add the third year and look like it had "done something" rather than just say "Yes, Michigan, you're right, I don't even know why we had to be here.") and everyone spoke of moving on and focusing on the field. Let's play hard on Saturday and see what happens.

And you'll be better
And you'll be smarter

Like a 75 yard bomb on the first offensive play of the game, yeah.

And more grown up

Like Craig Roh back to playing his hand on the ground after making the request to the coaches personally.

And a better daughter or son
And a real good friend


Like Roy Roundtree and Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway all saying essentially that they don't care about who gets the ball, as long as when they get it, they do something with it.  And then Roy Roundtree going out and having a better day (yardage wise) than any Michigan reciever...ever.

And you'll be awake
You'll be alert

OK, this would NOT be allowing someone, say Mikel Leshoure to get WIDE FREAKING OPEN on THE SAME WHEEL ROUTE...TWICE! 

You'll be positive though it hurts.


Sorry.  But seriously...
Wheel route!  Wheel route!

And you'll laugh and embrace all your friends

When Michigan brought the blitz and Nathan Scheelhaase went down, throwing a pass that went nowhere, I realized that Michigan had just won the game, had become bowl eligible, and actually ended the narrative that this year is not last year. I realized that there were just people around us hugging, because well, it meant that much.

And you'll be a real good listener
You'll be honest
You'll be brave

I don't know if Rich Rodriguez will get another year. I do not know if he should get another year. It's not my call to make and I am glad I don't have to make it. But I do know that for a man who does know that his job is on the line, to keep his starting quarterback on the bench in the second half because he was exhibiting symptoms similar to those of a concussion, well, that was honest and brave. It's a sign of the current state of affairs in football that we need to praise a coach for doing what should not even be a question, but thank you coach for making the right call, knowing it was going to hard to explain to people if things ended with an L.

You'll be handsome and you'll be beautiful
You'll be happy


In the end, we're happy. It may not be handsome yet. It may not be beautiful yet. But we're making progress. As we look around us and we see the carnage among the "traditional powers", we're getting back to where we want to be. One step at a time.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Off to see the Wizard-MMB Halftime 11/6/10

Because I have had several requests, here is my quick summary of today's rather epic halftime show retelling of The Wizard of Oz by the Michigan Marching Band.

(Note: This is like trying to remember a fever dream, so I may make some mistakes. Apologies in advance.)

The show starts with a video of a cyclone picking up the Big House. Then it picks up the Notre Dame Leprechaun. Then it picks up Purdue's "World's Largest Drum." Then it picks up a green block S, in front of said block S is a flaming couch. Then it picks up an angry picture of Joe Paterno, and over the PA, you can hear "COME TO PENN STATE!" from the Big Ten Network ad.

So the Big House lands on "The Wicked Witch of the South", whose socks are scarlet and grey. The Witch has stolen Denard Robinson's shoes, so our hero, Dorothy Hail has to get them back to Ann Arbor for the second half. She then gets a visit from Mary Sue (President Coleman), the Good Witch of the North, who tells her she needs to go see the Wizard who lives in the Sapphire City at the end of the Maize Brick Road. Dorothy is also met by some munchkins, whom she notes remind her of her "Little Brothers in East Lansing."

So Dorothy sets out down the Maize Brick Road where she meets a scarecrow who does have a brain, having to stand out in fields in horrible places like Indiana, Illinois, and Nebraska. Then they meet a Tin Man who doesn't have a heart, because it broke after he at so many bratwursts and cheese from his work in Wisconsin. Dorothy agrees to bring him along, because at worst, when they get back to Ann Arbor, she can turn him in for the ten cent deposit. Then they meet up with the Cowardly Nittany Lion, who lacks courage.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, one of the minions of the Wicked Witch of the East, Brutus Buckeye attacks our merry band, but they are rescued by Rufus, the Ohio Bobcat, who tackles Brutus and chases him off the Maize Brick Road. Then the Wicked Witch of the East attacks and uses her powers to make the Michigan Marching Band spell out Script Ohio. Dorothy has no fear though, as she reminds the witch that Michigan was the first marching band to spell out Script Ohio as a MMB sousaphone knocks the Witch out and O-H-I-O becomes O-H-N-O.

Eventually they reach the Sapphire City where the Wizard turns out to be Michigan drum major David Hines Jr. who tells Dorothy she had the power to go home all along by just putting on Denard's shoes (leave the laces untied) click her heels together and say "There's no place like The Big House."

And as crazy as this reads, it's about a million times crazier when you actually see it. If you have video, please let us know.

MMB, full marks.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The shields are down

Source: http://tos.trekcore.com/hd/albums/1x13hd/theconscienceofthekinghd293.jpg
(McCoy uses his iPad to tweet during the Michigan/Penn State game.  The word "Dammit" was used a lot.)

I like to think that I have become a better college football fan in the last five years. Better, not in the sense of cheering louder or harder, but simply in the sense of understanding more of the whys and hows of the game, of looking for contrary opinion, of understanding the larger context of what is going on in the landscape of the game, and of trying to enjoy the game on a rational level. The one problem with this approach was vividly exposed to me on Saturday night during the Penn State game. I was frustrated, angry, and eventually just depressed. All of the arguments, all of the numbers, all of the explanations didn't seem to matter. All that seemed to matter is that a former walk-on quarterback was ripping Michigan's defense apart and no matter how brilliant Denard Robinson can be, and let us be clear, the moments of brilliance Denard had in this game were exceptional shining moments, it is wholly unfair to tell the offense that the only way Michigan can win is to score every time they have the ball. It's a seemingly impossible task and while Michigan's offense did its best job (31 points should be enough to win most Big Ten games), the defense was such a colossal letdown that no chart, graph, data mining, or statistical analysis could make me feel better. It was just depressing. In the words of puppet Brian Kelly from Stuffing the Passer: "No…I'm, er, uh, too angry to sing."

This isn't one of those "I'm giving up on Coach Rodriguez" post, nor is it a rant that calls down the thunder and curses all which is evil. I'm not a ranting angry person, I'm a sullen one. I sit there and I stare a thousand yard stare and I just wonder why. I question things in my mind. I want explanations, and when none are forthcoming, all you're left to do is to stare blankly at the wall, a wall that isn't changing either, and come back to one fundamental realization: Where people are involved, math and science can only tell us so much. We're flawed, it makes us who we are, and when combined with other flawed individuals, we can make a combustible mix of failings. We like to preach that there is strength in numbers, that the team is stronger than the individual, that the strength of the wolf is in the pack, but the flip side to that, the side the motivational gurus want you to ignore is that groups are only as strong as their weakest point, that groups allow for blame to be distributed outward and not taken inward, that collectively fear is more powerful in a group because it can be amplified, and that while a person is smart, collectively, people are dumb. In theory, fandom is a collective activity, but the reality is that it is an individual pursuit. Our own experiences will instruct is as to our meaning, and no matter the rational desire to look at the data and draw a rational conclusion, emotion is still present. Quite simply, no matter how often we want to be college football Spocks, we usually end up being McCoys, we let the emotional side win out, because it is tribal, it is speaking to something about us. ("Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a defensive coordinator!")

I know from my experience that history can be instructive, but it is not fate, that history rarely repeats itself, but it does echo itself, and that the moment that we begin to believe that our fate is sealed is often the moment it is. But I come back to one thing. We only get 12 of these a year. They are rare and precious moments, something that while taken individually, are part of a collective experience, something that does tie us to a larger whole, makes us a part of something. If the mood is dark, the best we can do is be a light, hope for the best, and remember that while anger and fury are part of the emotional spectrum of fandom, so are hope, joy, and passion. They are opposite sides of the same coin. Hopefully the next time that coin flips, it comes up on the bright side.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Durham Town

Ahh, October hockey. So easy to lose sight of it in all the football talk. Michigan has already played 3 real games, including a pair in the CCHA. They opened the season with 2 periods of solid hockey that looked like it was leading up to comfortable win over Mercyhurst, a team that plays in that Sun Belt of hockey conferences, Atlantic Hockey. OK, maybe that's unfair. They could be Conference USA. Whatever they are, the Wolverines let a 4-0 lead evaporate into a 2-1 shootout loss. Even though the game goes into the NCAA books as a tie, it's still a big disappointment to let up on the gas like that.

Michigan responded the next night with a 4-2 exhibition win over Western Ontario. Generally Canadian teams aren't very good, but Yost Built noted that UWO is supposed to be one of the better ones out their, with a goalie who has a fair amount of OHL experience under his belt, so this one is probably an even better win than it looks.

Last weekend, Michigan played the rare series with Bowling Green that wasn't a home-and-home, sweeping the Falcons 4-1 and 4-2. Bowling Green was a terrible team last year, yet still managed to take a game at Yost, so it's good news to see a pair of moderately decisive victories to start the CCHA season. Shawn Hunwick got the Friday start and Bryan Hogan the Saturday, and that looks like it'll be the rotation in the early part of the year. Hogan also got the start on Tuesday night for the exhibition game against the US Under-18's in a 3-0 shutout.

So...that's the season thus far. One bad data point to start the year, a few encouraging ones to follow it up. We'll see how the rest of it goes. I don't expect the domination we got from the '07 team, but I'm hoping we don't see the "excitement" we got last year. Up next is a single game this weekend with New Hampshire out in Durham. Just like the BU game last year, we don't get any TV coverage. What's up with that, Hockey East?

New Hampshire is led by senior forward Paul Thompson, who put up a 17-19--36 line last year, a big step down from departed Hobey Baker finalist Bobby Butler's 27-50--77, but Thompson could very well blow up this year like Kevin Porter did in '07-'08. Nobody has more than one goal goal yet, but freshman Phil DeSimone has a couple of assists to go along with his tally, making him the points leader at 1-2--3. UNH's goalie is junior Matt DiGirolamo, who's played sparingly over the last couple of seasons. He had a .906 SV% and 3.24 GAA in four games last year, and he's at .899/4.01 this year after their series with Miami, for what that tiny sample size is worth. He's backed up by two guys who have yet to register any statistics, junior Tyler Scott and freshman Jeff Wyer.

Like Michigan last year, New Hampshire squeaked into the NCAA tournament. Unlike Michigan, they had to sit on their hands and hope for things to fall their way after losing their Hockey East first-round series to Vermont. The Wildcats made it in as a #3 seed and proceeded to absolutely demolish what was supposed to be a good Cornell team with a spectacular defense by a score of 6-2. The University of No Hardware then turned around and were horsewhipped by RIT by an identical 6-2 margin. Woo, single-elimination hockey!

This is all to say that I have no idea what to expect on Saturday night. You could get Good UNH or Bad UNH on any given night. This year, they've already lost to Miami 6-3 and beaten Miami 6-3, while tying a St. Francis Xavier (a Canadian university) 3-3 in an exhibition. They seem to be an entirely schizophrenic hockey team, and I think someone's walking out with a 5-3 win, but I don't know who. Game on.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The 24 hour rule, the Peloponnesian War, and an Oracle.

I have this rule at work about what I do when someone sends me an email that sends me into a near apoplectic fit.

1). I resolve that I will not respond for 24 hours if at all feasible, or 12, or 1 hour as the situation warrants.

2). If I can, I will write out the angry response I want to write in Word, and then immediately delete it and close Word.

This has the advantage of getting everything off my mind that could be unfortunate before actually responding. So trust me to say that there was an epic post that went into the digital ether on Saturday night. I don't remember much of it, but I do know that there was a point where Dave, my college roommate and Michigan football partner in crime, and I were contemplating how cathartic the actions of certain Central/South American or Serbian "ultras" must feel at soccer games and we'll leave it at that.

It was a little later that I was struck by the story of the Peloponnesian War. The brief version of it was that for most of the 5th Century BC, Athens had leveraged its power into protecting the other Greek city-states, earning tribute from them and in turn had used it to build up temples and public works. It set forth the attitude that it was the greatest, the finest, and that it always won. Then, in 430 BC, a plague struck Greece, hitting Athens harder than any other city-state, killing anywhere for one-third to two-thirds of the population of Athens and their longtime leader, Pericles. Pericles had been a long time defensive strategist, a conservative who would rather force the enemy into making a mistake, but with him gone the Athenians now went for a bolder strategy, bringing in a clever new general who tried audacious new strategies. The Athenian population was excited but concerned, the Spartan leadership was staunch, the best it had been in decades and the Athenians were divided over whether the new general could win. It was not until the Athenians decided to get involved with Syracuse that the Athenians reached the point of no return and the Spartans would conquer the hated Athenians.

Now, it kind of falls apart from there. We could talk about how the Spartans repeatedly offered terms of peace to the Athenians, but the Athenians were too proud to accept them. We could talk about how Athens would be come to be ruled by the Thirty Tyrants as a reaction to their defeat, only to see democracy quickly restored. We could talk about how the Spartans were eventually humbled by the Thebans at the Battle of Leuctra thirty years later. We could talk about how Athens and Sparta were both eventually conquered by Philip II of Macedon. But these parallels fall apart. The reality is, for the third straight year, Michigan can only see that it lost to Michigan State. It can only see that Michigan State had an exceptional game plan, executed it to a T, and forced Michigan in to making mistakes. Michigan is left to stare at its glorious temple on a hill, dedicated to those who have protected the citizens for years, looking for signs from an oracle, and wondering if we are interpreting the ambiguous garbled messages correctly, or if what the holy man told us was only what we wanted to hear.

What I do know is that for the Athenians, the temple is still there on a hill, a glorious ruin of what once was, one of the true wonders of their Classical Age. For the Spartans, their legacy is a bunch of CGI abdominal muscles and kicking foreign diplomats into a bottomless pit in the center of their civilization. The side upon which you fall on this debate tells you all you need to know about yourself. Because the Oracle can't tell you anything. Even about the 3-3-5.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Forty-Two Ways to Beat Indiana

Forty-Two Ways to Beat Indiana

(with so many apologies to Paul Simon)

"The problem is all with your defense", they said to me
The answer is the offense, as you'll see logically
We'd like to help you in your struggle for bowl eligibility
There must be forty-two ways to beat Indiana

They said I should look at the stats they've accrued.
Furthermore, what about the QB's ability to elude
But they repeated themselves about this opening Big Ten feud
There must be forty-two ways to beat Indiana
Forty-two ways to beat Indiana

Just cut it this instant, Vincent
Hit the jets hard, Denard
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free

Put us up by seven, Kevin
You don't need to ponder therein
Just burn that Hoosier, Junior
And get yourself free

Just cut it this instant, Vincent
Hit the jets hard, Denard
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free

Put us up by seven, Kevin
You don't need to ponder therein
Just burn that Hoosier, Junior
And get yourself free

They said it grieves us so to see you in such pain
We wish there was something we could do to make you smile again
I said I appreciate that and would you please explain
About the forty-two ways

They said "Why don't we just watch it the U?", to no one's delight
And I believe in the evening, you'll begin to see the light
And then they smiled and I realized they were probably right
There must be forty-two ways to beat Indiana
Forty-two ways to beat Indiana

Just cut it this instant, Vincent
Hit the jets hard, Denard
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free

Put us up by seven, Kevin
You don't need to ponder therein
Just burn that Hoosier, Junior
And get yourself free

Just cut it this instant, Vincent
Hit the jets hard, Denard
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free

Put us up by seven, Kevin
You don't need to ponder therein
Just burn that Hoosier, Junior
And get yourself free

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Boom Times

We at the Hoover Street Rag have seen it reported in numerous locations that Florida State has been seeing a dramatic drop-off in attendance in the past two seasons, leaving tens of thousands of empty seats at Doak Campbell Stadium. At the same time, I can't help but notice that the same can not be said of Michigan, even though the 'Noles have made bowl games (and won them!) both years, finishing 9-4 and 7-6. This is Doc Sat's chart of FSU attendance:

Yikes. That's a steep cliff. Now, to be fair, the 2008 season saw Doak Campbell 94.7% full, which isn't too bad, and it was 2009 when it dropped down to 90.3% full, a year the Seminoles barely cracked .500. But let's look at Michigan attendance in terms of % capacity since the Moeller era.

Now there's a graph you can set your watch to. If you want to see anything exciting, you have to back up to the start of the Schembechler era.

There's a dip in there at the end, mostly taken up by the 2008 and 2009 seasons. You may recall that Michigan struggled somewhat in the first couple of years of the Rodriguez regime, and that accounts for some of the drop-off I'm sure, but this was also when the University added additional handicap seating as they started construction on the luxury boxes. The official capacity was not recomputed, so the number of seats lost is not certain, but total attendance fell by 1,860, or 1.69%, and actually rose by 387 (0.35%) following Michigan's worst season in 46 years. In 2010, with the renovations complete, attendance through three games is off by 0.27% in terms of capactiy, but up by 2,137 per game in raw numbers thanks to a 2,400-seat increase in capacity. This is what the raw attendance figures look like:

Honestly, they're only likely to get better this year, and it's not just due to the sheer wizardry of Denard Robinson. The official re-dedication of the stadium was exciting, but following that the other two games were against an FCS squad and a MAC school. Whatever the actual merits of the teams, historically they don't draw big crowds. Over the past couple seasons, an extra 2,136 fans have come out for Big Ten/Notre Dame games than games against other opponents. I fully expect next year's Ohio State game to crack 114,000, assuming the feat isn't accomplished against MSU next Saturday (and also assuming they don't re-number the benches before then). The 104.29% capacity from the 2003 edition of the Game translates to a crowd of 114,621 in the bigger Big House, and if both teams are as good as they could be next year, 115,000 isn't ridiculous.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Break Even

Image: AnnArbor.com
This is the space where I get to tell you what I think.  I made myself a couple of promises when I decided to start doing these.  First, I was never going to judge other people for their feelings.  Their experience is their experience, how they feel is based on how they take in the data before them and process it.  I do not need to agree with their feelings, nor do they need to agree with mine.  Second, I decided that I was going to try and be positive and forward looking, because the alternative just makes me something I don't like and something I cannot sustain for very long.

Now, all of the said, consider, if you will, where a Michigan fan might be standing right now.  Since September 1, 2007, you have seen your team play 40 games.  In that time span as of this weekend, you have seen your team win as many games as they have lost.  Twenty Saturdays up, twenty Saturdays down.  Twenty times happy, twenty times sad.  You have seen hope crushed in the waking moments of a new rising sun.  You have seen hope's corpse taken out back and burned repeatedly.  You've seen redemption come from unlikely sources.  You've seen a cold night in Champaign.  You've seen a darn near miracle in Orlando.  You've seen a comeback like nothing you've seen before in Ann Arbor.  You've seen another quarterback in orange and blue leave flame trails behind him like a time-traveling DeLorean.  You've seen a walk-on save the Jug.  You've seen a freshman led an unlikely comeback in a shootout.  You've seen all hope die on four chances from the one.  You've seen an invasion of red into the Big House.  You've seen a sophomore do things we only thought that other teams did to Michigan.  You've seen 20 wins and 20 losses. 

So maybe this is why Saturday's performance doesn't bother me.  It was a win.  The gap between "survives upset bid" or "gets a scare from an FCS school" and losing is a chasm visible from space.  We've been on the other side of that chasm, or perhaps more accurately at the bottom of it.  Michigan won on a day when they didn't play well.  That genuinely may not happen for the rest of the season.  Why would this bother us?  It's because college football has an amazing propensity to be unable to allow people to live in the moment.  The future and the past are always eminently more important in college football, as exemplified by "recruiting" and "tradition".  We cannot enjoy a win because of worries like "What does this say to recruits?" and "How does this fit in to the Michigan tradition?"  We're fixated on the two end points because we do not like the middle, the place we are standing right now.  It saddens me because it's hard to appreciate the moment when you're in it.  So allow me to try. 

On Saturday, I saw some amazing things at a game that was just one of many that day.  I saw a marching band put on an exceptional performance in a circumstance of whose difficulty and emotional toll I cannot even begin to fathom.  I saw a tribute to a Michigan man that was so perfect for him because it didn't try to recast him as a saint, but simply as a fantastic athlete who genuinely cared about where he came from and being a part of the fabric of that.  I saw a sophomore quarterback throw an interception and shake it off to have a really remarkable day, including a couple of deep balls that are among the prettiest I've seen.  I saw a receiver get to show off his new field vision and some of the promise he's long been purported to have.  I saw a pair of running backs find holes, drag guys, and gain yardage.  I saw Vincent Smith cut so hard on the wet turf that the rubber pellets in the field turf made a little cloud under his feet.  I saw a team with flaws but flaws that can be worked on.  I saw a team with promise, but promise that needs work to be fulfilled.

I don't get to watch next week's game for the first time in seven years, family commitments.  I just hope the next 40 games find us happier, smarter, wiser, and more able to live in the moment.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Notre Dame: Two Videos

The first video from my trip to South Bend: Dave Brandon on the MMB and amplification. Trust, but verify: The second: Celebration in the concourses.

Excelsior

(photo credit: Michigan Daily)

I just don't know what to say. I've never seen a player account for more than 500 yards of total offense for his team outside of a video game. I've never seen a player take a team on his back with such ease. I've never heard a player who had such an amazing stats day say that he had no idea what his stats were, that he's a team player.

It's very simple. We know it's just two games. We know we spent too many words last year thinking that Tate Forcier was the solution to all of Michigan's problems only to find out that he was not. We know that we have learned that September means nothing without October and November. We know that Notre Dame might not be a very good team. We know that we need more evidence and that the next two weeks may not provide very much in the way of evidence. But for now, Denard Robinson feels very special, and this is a feeling that we have not known, perhaps not ever in our lives as Michigan fans.

One game at a time. One play at a time. Fix that which can be fixed. Improve that which can be improved. Everything will spill out from there.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Farewell Mr. Kramer


Jerry Green did this about a million times better than I ever could, but I wanted to share my Ron Kramer story.

Last year, my college roommate and longtime Michigan football seatmate Dave talked me into going to a local card show because Al "Ox" Wistert was signing and so was Ron Kramer, meaning two of Michigan's retired numbers would be there, and well, they're both older and we don't know how much longer they'll be around.  So we go to the Livonia Elks club, and we wait in line, and we get a chance to talk to Mr. Wistert, and we then make our way down to Ron Kramer.  He's wearing a cowboy hat, shooting the breeze with the gentleman sitting next to him, signing autographs with his huge hands, and being just an overall good guy.  So Dave says "Mr. Kramer, would it be possible for us to get a picture with you?" and instantly Kramer says "Go f*ck yourself."  Dave turns as white as a ghost, I don't know what to do and then Kramer just bursts into the biggest smile and starts laughing his ass off and says "That was hilarious!  You made my day kid."  Dave and I got our picture and a story that we will never forget about a Michigan legend.

Thank you Ron for everything you did for the Maize and Blue and thank you for being a man who loved every second he was here on this earth.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Damn Lies: Connecticut

[Author's note: I'm going to try this year, in the vein of statistical analysis, to try and find things that struck my from the Michigan box score after each game. However, because I do not have as much time as I used to to write meaningful things, this analysis will be limited to 120 seconds of looking at the box score and attempting to find something. Sometimes it will build off something that struck me while watching the game, other times it will just be something that stands out. My impressions could be wholly and completely incorrect, my conclusions could be completely wrong, but this is why I am calling this feature "Damn Lies", because well, we're looking at statistics.]

1). Michigan was 15 for 19 on third down, and 1 for 2 on fourth down yesterday.

Michigan needed an average of six yards yesterday on those 19 third downs. Their average game on those third downs was 7.3 yards. Of the 14 conversions, Denard Robinson ran for 7 of them himself, and passed for six of them. Michael Shaw's two yard run in the first quarter was the only third down conversion for which Denard was not partially or wholly responsible. More amazingly, of the four failed third down conversions, none were the result of an incomplete pass. Which is why Michigan likely only needed to punt once.

2). Michigan had drives of 96 yards (5:57), 77 yards (2:35), 75 yards (8:05), 96 yards (4:22) and 51 yards (7:59).

If you're convinced that Rich Rodriguez's up-tempo style does not protect leads (or by extension, the defense), look at those drive totals. While Michigan did have some short drives, Michigan ate up the clock with a long early TD drive, a long TD drive to start the third quarter, and a long drive late that came up short, but left Connecticut without much time to do anything.

3). Denard Robinson targeted 8 different players yesterday, but a running back scored the only receiving touchdown of the day.

I thought that Stonum and Roundtree came up on the short end of the stick yesterday, and I was partially right, Roundtree was targeted once, the first play of the second half, and lost one yard on his catch. Stonum actually caught five balls, so my bad on that one.

[Author's addition (Monday): So, missed this initially, but Roundtree was hurt during the game, which would further explain this. Sorry Shaft!]

4). The officials called a total of three penalties in the game. Two false starts on the Connecticut offense, one personal foul on the Michigan offense.

I am not saying this is the most penalty free game I have ever seen, but I would be hard pressed to remember a game where there was a gap between penalties from the second drive of the game to the final drive of the game. Whether this was an effect of coaching, officiating, or a combination thereof remains to be seen.

5). Denard Robinson was 19 of 22 passing yesterday, after being 14 of 31 passing...for all of 2009.

Robinson's Quarterback Rating was 188% higher than his average QB rating for all of last season. More impressively, his 197 yards are 56.12% of his rushing total from last season. I have no idea what this means, it's just what it is.

The First Heroes

This past winter, I read a book by Craig Nelson entitled The First Heroes. I had picked it up because Geoff suggested Nelson's book Rocket Men to me, which was essentially a biography of the Apollo project, and always one to go on the premise when you find a history writer you like, read all of his stuff, I read his Thomas Paine biography (which is really bringing this full circle) and then First Heroes.

The First Heroes is the story of the Doolittle Raid and more importantly, the story of the Doolittle Raiders themselves. In the book, Nelson makes the case, like so many World War II histories, that these were essentially ordinary men placed in extraordinary circumstances and that the stories that came from the Doolittle Raid were just that, extraordinary circumstances.

The B-25 Mitchell bomber that flew over Michigan Stadium Saturday as a part of the rededication ceremonies was a similar model to the one flown over Tokyo by the Doolittle Raiders. The Doolittle Raid was an audacious plan by an unconventional man who felt a strong sense that, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, America had to do something to strike at the heart of the Empire of Japan, so what better than to design a crazy, shouldn't work on paper, never been tested plan that would break the Japanese of their long-held belief of invincibility, and boost American morale...

If it worked.

Doolittle knew that there was a huge chance that for all of the planning, all of the training, the raid still had a very small chance of success. Even if the planes were successful in their mission, there was still no guarantee that any of them would come home. Doolittle himself loved to point out that the raid only meant something in retrospect, that because of what happened after the Raid, including the Japanese decision to attack Midway and the decisive American victory there. Most of the Raiders themselves would not even know what the raid meant for many months afterward because of the nature of what happened to their planes after the mission.

Which brings us to a football game.

Rich Rodriguez may not count Jimmy Doolittle among his heroes, but it would not surprise me if he did. Doolittle was an innovator, someone who saw possibilities born of necessity, who met with resistance among the traditionalists who could not see what he was seeing, who would get in trouble just to show his bosses he was right, and who was willing to take risks where others worried about their career track. Doolittle's development of instrument flying was to give the pilot complete operational freedom, and his efforts to convince Shell to develop 100 octane aviation fuel allowed planes to run faster, fly longer, and do more. In 1932, he won the three major air racing trophies of the time by flying faster than any one ever had. Most importantly, Doolittle knew that a pilot was only as good as his plane.

And in the spread offense, a coach is only as good as his quarterback.

Denard Robinson is not, even metaphorically, a B-25 Mitchell bomber. He is a quarterback, but he is also an evolutionary improvement, something better than it was because the opposition compelled improvement in the machines given to the planners. In a way, Rich Rodriguez looked at his Michigan teams, and he looked at his quarterback position and what he wanted to do with what he had. Metaphorically, Nick Sheridan was a Brewster F2A Buffalo, Steven Threet was a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. They were equipment he inherited who were designed before the rules changed. He needed something more, and so he went out and got Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Tate is a Grumman F6F Hellcat, taking the lessons of battle and applying them, getting something much quicker than its predecessors and effective in getting the job done. But Denard is a Lockheed P-38 Lightning, as fast as anything built to that point, different than anything people had seen. When you watch him, he's more a fork-tailed devil, a dual threat who does things that the opposition has never seen before this point. (By the way, to painfully conclude this metaphor, there is part of me that wants to believe that Devin Gardner is a North American P-51 Mustang, the evolutionary conclusion of the lessons learned, just as fast as the Lightning, but more robust and able to handle a greater variety of missions. Time will tell on that front. For now, this is Denard's day.)

If the lesson of last September is that September means nothing without knowing how October and November will play out, then we cannot get too excited about one game, no matter how good it feels. This is the larger working thesis of several prominent national writers and they are correct. In the end, only time will tell what today meant. Was it the start of something that has been longed for by Michigan fans for the last two seasons? Was it part of a roller coaster ride of good days and bad days which will tease us for weeks with its absence? Was it the high point that marked the beginning of the end of an era? We don't know today, and we cannot know today.

When word of the Doolittle Raid got back to America, it felt good; it was necessary relief and release for a people both stunned and angry at something that happened to them that they never saw coming until they were in the middle of it. But Doolittle himself noted in his autobiography (entitled I Could Never Be So Lucky Again) that it would have been a footnote, a blip, if the war had gone differently; that without planning, preparation, dedication, and no small amount of luck, the Raid would have just been a hill of beans. But with the success of the Raid, America once again believed that it could win, that it may take longer than they thought, but that victory was possible, even against long odds and monomaniacal opposition.

It's one victory. It feels really good in the moment. It may end up meaning nothing, and the next test of our resolve is right over the horizon. But for now, let us believe again that victory is possible, but we cannot presume it will be there. We must earn it.

Friday, September 03, 2010

To begin the world over again

"We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand."

--Thomas Paine, "Common Sense", 1776

I cannot write anything better than FOOTBALL SEASON IS OVER. FOOTBALL SEASON HAS BEGUN., really few among us could. In the end, what struck me was simply this, every September brings us the chance for renewal. Every September will be someone's first Michigan football season. It may be your first season you cared about the team, it may be your first as a student, it may be your first under any number of different circumstances, but even for someone who has been a lifelong Michigan fan, tomorrow is the first day of another first season. Because, before that first game, every season is your first season, every season holds the promise of what could be. Because hope is born again every September, and hope dies last.

Enjoy tomorrow, and enjoy the season, because, really, what is the alternative?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Geoff's MGoMix 2010

1. Sleater-Kinney - Dig Me Out

"Dig me out, dig me in / Outta this mess, baby, outta my head" is an apt description of how much of the summer, and the past three years, has gone. We're hoping and pleading for better things, but it's not in our hands.

2. Tegan and Sara - The Con
Yes I'm guilty of this
You should know this
I broke down and wrote you back
Before you had a chance to
Forget forgotten
I am moving past this giving notice

The allegations leveled against the Michigan football program were true - practices ran long by an average of 15 minutes, which rises to the level of a major violation. More embarrassing was the record-keeping fiasco and the grad assistant who lied to NCAA investigators, not to mention the miserable battle with the Freep. Now is the time to start putting the past in the past.

3. The Thermals - I Let It Go
I looked my fear in the eyes!
Looked at the water below!
I knew I could love or live!
I let it go!

There's been a point in 3, maybe 4 of the last 5 seasons where I've had to pull back from how much I put into the Michigan football team, how much I live and die with wins and losses. Losses have traditionally been such a painful thing for this team, and learning how to want them to win so badly without getting too crushed by a defeat has been a difficult process. But that's just it: Wins are so precious and so sweet, and we need to celebrate them that way. Let go of unrealistic expectations and media hype and watch Denard find his passing game or an unheralded Carvin Johnson grab a starting spot as a true freshman. There's joy to be found in that.

4. The Replacements - Can't Hardly Wait

Such a great song. And I can never wait for the season to start. We're just a few days away.

5. Rilo Kiley - With Arms Outstretched
It's sixteen miles
To the promised land
And I promise you, I'm doing the best I can

Everyone involved in this team is doing their damnedest to get to that promised land. The coaching staff's jobs probably depend on making a bowl game, and any kid that's stuck it out is playing for more than just his own pride.

6. Thin Lizzy - The Boys Are Back In Town
Guess who just got back today?
Them wild-eyed boys that had been away

Mike Martin wrecking fools. Tay Odoms blocking some dude who's got 50 pounds on him. Tate Forcier juking a Notre Dame safety out of his jock and taking it to the house. Denard dropping the snap, picking it up, and scoring a ridiculous 40+ yard TD on his first touch as a college player. Goosebumps.

7. Stars - Take Me To The Riot

I've only watched one Michigan home game on TV since I became a student -- I had enough time to watch the first half of EMU last year before my cousin's wedding, and I just wanted to be there, to here the crash of the helmets and the thud of a good hit.

8. The Avett Brothers - I And Love And You
One foot in and one foot back
But it don't pay to live like that
So I cut the ties and I jumped the tracks
For never to return

It feels like this team can never get moving in the right direction, whether it's a great non-conference followed by a disastrous Big Ten season, or an offseason of progress derailed by a key injury, or any of the countless PR contrivoversies. But we're doing our best to make a clean break with all of that, to do the difficult thing and to trust in the future.

9. The Gaslight Anthem - Meet Me By The River's Edge
See I've been here for 28 years.
Pounding sweat beneath these wheels.
We tattooed lines beneath our skin.
No surrender, my Bobby Jean.

NO RETREAT, NO REGRETS.

10. Warren Zevon - Lawyers, Guns and Money
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan

Barwis will handle THE GUN SHOW, Bill Martin already sent the lawyers in, and David Brandon can take care of the money. But man, it's a deep pile we're standing in.

11. The Pixies - UMass
It's educational!

Such an obvious choice. So unlikely that the MMB does a Pixies tribute. What a waste. (NSWF language)

12. PJ Harvey - Victory

I love the bass line in this song

13. Gnarls Barkley - Going On
And you can stand right there if you want
But I’m going on
And I’m prepared to go it alone
I’m going on

The Puma campaign that used this song as the soundtrack for their World Cup spot was pretty good, but I like the original video better. And my fundamental belief is that Rodriguez didn't forget how to coach and will eventually successful again. I hope it's at Michigan.

14. The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio
I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees

I would like that "swarm of bees" to be half a dozen Michigan helmets and the "I" to be "Terrell Pryor's spleen"

15. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts - Bad Reputation
An' everyone can say
What they want to say
It never gets better anyway
So why should I care
'Bout a bad reputation anyway

The media story on Rich Rodriguez hasn't varied from the same basic template ever since he decided to leave West Virginia - He turned his back on his home, he's engaged in various shady activities, he's no MICHIGAN MAN. Rodriguez can't do a lot to change opinions on this. He can only coach football. So suit up and get to work.

16. Drive-By Truckers - Never Gonna Change
Mean and strong like liquor.
Mean and strong like fear.
Strong like the people from South Alabama and mean like the people from here.

The DBT's are Alabaman to the core, so no use transplanting this to Michigan, but you want your football team to hit like a truck and run twice as fast, and there's a lot of that toughness in this song.

17. Silversun Pickups - Future Foe Scenarios

The Big Ten has now released their 2011 and 2012 schedules. Now you just have to find a way to beat them.

18. Guided By Voices - Teenage FBI
Someone tell me why I do the things
That I don't wanna do
When you're around me I'm somebody else

Sometimes it really does feel like "Michigan Football" died when Bo did. I know this is ridiculous, and there have been some bright spots, but sometimes you feel like you're watching a different school, one that just can't get it right, but one that has the potential to put it all together.

19. Barenaked Ladies - The Old Apartment

Sometimes the urge to compare the way things are versus the way they were is overwhelming.

20. Josh Ritter - Empty Hearts
Singing don't let me into this year with an empty heart
With an empty heart
Don't let me into this year with an empty heart

Don't let this team go out without a bowl game to reward them for the last few years of disappointment. Get them over the hump and back in the postseason. A win over OSU is probably too much to ask for, but a man can dream...

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Like a fiddle

We doubted Dave Brandon. We knew better and yet, we doubted him nevertheless. The storm clouds were gathering, we quaked with fear that all that we cherished, that all we held dear, was being rent asunder.

We said that they were wrong, that they would sell their souls and screw it up.

And it was a smoke screen. It was a head fake and we bought it hook, line, and sinker.

We must trust Dave Brandon. Trust, but verify.

It is wholly possible that Michigan is one of the biggest winners in the Big Ten divisional alignment. I see the downsides, but here's what I see as the upsides for Michigan: You now get a major annual game against Nebraska, a traditional power with over 800 wins and a built in animosity between the 1997 National Championship issue, and the 2005 Alamo Bowl. It will not be an instant rivalry, but it will hit the ground running. A bonus is that Michigan and Nebraska will face off in the game before The Game, at least for 2011.

Michigan State is a divisional rival, meaning that Michigan's two protected rivalries will be preserved. It means that the Michigan/Michigan State game means something beyond bragging rights and the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Also, Michigan State is not the last game of the season. I was genuinely dreading that possibility. They'll now close at Northwestern in 2011 and at Minnesota in 2012.

You now get the annual playing of the Little Brown Jug game against Minnesota, improving that situation from the old schedule where it occurred eight out of every 12 seasons. The Little Brown Jug's history is full and rich and is the essence of the Big Ten Trophy game. This is a very unexpected perk of this division.

An annual game against Iowa, which just feels right. 1939 Heisman winner Nile Kinnick vs. 1940 Heisman winner Tom Harmon. Forest Evashevski and Bump Elliot as Venn overlap!

An annual game against Northwestern, meaning every other year, Michigan plays in Chicago, where it has a ton of alums. Also, the battle of the two biggest university endowments in the Big Ten.

Michigan and Ohio State playing The Game on the last weekend, even if in opposite divisions, with the potential rematch in the championship game if someone [glares at someone] can ever get their act together.

The downsides:

The biggest loss is going from playing Penn State 10 years on, 2 years off to playing Penn State 2 years on, four years off. I hope that the nine conference game potential change in 2015 will help that. Jim Delany even acknowledged that Michigan and Michigan State both "gave up" playing Penn State every year, or almost every year as one of the losses in the new configuration.

No Indiana and Purdue annually, well...Michigan frequently didn't play Indiana every year during the ten team era of the Big Ten, so that's not that surprising (similarly, they were frequently off the schedule in the rotation in the Penn State era of scheduling.) I lament losing Purdue, as that is quickly becoming a heated rivalry, what with wizard hats and such, but they are on the schedule for 2011-12, so, there's that.

No Wisconsin or Illinois annually, well, Wisconsin was also frequently off the schedule in the old ten team era. Plus, we'll still, hopefully, play them in hockey every year with the Big Ten's effort to make the CCHA and WCHA Big Ten teams play one another.

As for Illinois, I am sure they are bummed as they consider Michigan one of their arch rivals, but again, each of the five teams Michigan does not face every year previously rotated off the schedule at some point.

So yes, there are down sides, but I think the upside is better for Michigan.

A couple of other notes. Jim Delany says that he "doesn't do trial balloons." I am pretty sure that he believes that, but consider, the last three weeks of the run up to college football, pretty much since after Michigan went to Seattle, have been discussions about the Big Ten's divisional alignment, and then about possibly moving "The Game". It has kept the Big Ten in the media spotlight for the last three weeks, and now tomorrow night Ohio State and Marshall play on the Big Ten Network. This is about building the brand. Similarly, Jim Delany targeted hopefully 90 days from now, or December 1, oh yeah, the week of the Conference Championship games for the Big XII, SEC, and ACC. Jim Delany keeps the Big Ten in the discussion for another week and reminds people that next year, the Big Ten will be playing one of these as well. This is brand management and it's pretty darn slick.

Is it the best of all possible worlds? No. But honestly, if you're a Michigan fan, there's a lot to like here. Now to work with Nebraska to create the "We call it Maize, you call it Corn" Trophy.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Craig's MGoMix 2010

[Author's note: Today, I'll be breaking down the songs that I put on this year’s MGoMix, the "mix tape" that I make for driving to Michigan football games. It should be noted that this is not a hype mix, it’s more in line with Will Ferrell's character in The Other Guys having Little River Band on as they drive to the call, these are songs which reflect where I am right now as a Michigan football fan. As is the rule, until Michigan wins a Big Ten title, no repeat non-Michigan songs from the previous year’s MGoMix. Also, this entire endeavor owes a debt of gratitude to Geoff for giving me the idea to do it in the first place.]

1). "L'estasi dell'oro (The Ecstasy of Gold)" by Ennio Morricone (from the soundtrack to the 1966 film The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.)

Metallica has used this as their introductory music for every concert since 1983, and it is a perfect mood setter for wanting to get something done.  The Red Wings also used it as part of their pre-game video this past season.
In the film, this track plays while Tuco is frantically searching a graveyard for the grave that holds $200,000 in gold coins.  Which is sort of an apt parallel for Michigan fans the last two seasons when you think about it.  Searching through a graveyard, looking for something shiny and beautiful.

2). "Duck and Cover" by Glen Phillips (from his 2005 album Winter Pays for Summer)

I've always been a huge Toad the Wet Sprocket fan since I was in high school, and so when this track from Glen's solo album came up on Pandora, I was immediately drawn to it.  The lyrics are simply amazing and speak deeply to the Michigan fan experience of the last couple of seasons.  To wit:
Everybody here's got a story to tell
Everybody's been through their own hell
There's nothing too special about getting hurt
Getting over it, that takes the work
Or...
Cause one way or another
One way or another
You won't get what you wanted
You'll get enough, for sure
One way or another
Winter pays for the summer
Won't get what you wanted
What you got'll be good
It is my hope that this is pretty much what will happen this season.  You won't get what you wanted, but what you got will be good.

3). "19th Nervous Breakdown" by the Rolling Stones (from the 1966 single "As Tears Go By/19th Nervous Breakdown")

When I was making the mix this year, I had it down to this track or "The Last Time" and I took it to Dave, my college roommate and longtime Michigan football partner in crime to make the decision.  He chose "19th Nervous Breakdown", not simply because it represented how we both feel about the Michigan secondary this season, but also because of the line "Well, nothing I do don't seem to work / It only seems to make the matters worse."  That's the last two seasons in a nutshell.

4). "Don't Let Me Down" by the Beatles (from the 1969 single "Get Back/Don't Let Me Down")

What is an anguished love song/plea from John Lennon to Yoko doing on a college football mix?  Because as a Michigan football fan, you're not rooting for victories, you're rooting not to be disappointed, or to have your heart ripped out in memorable fashion.  "Don't let me down" is the perfect sentiment for this.  It's trust, but verify, at its finest.

5). "Don't Let Go" by Weezer (from the band's 2001 album Weezer (Green Album)

This is the flip side of the "Don't Let Me Down" coin, not letting go.  It would be so easy to give up right now, wait for another losing season, and a new head coach and say "I never liked him, he didn't feel right."  It would be easy, but it doesn't make you a good fan.  Anyone can do that.  You picked the team for a reason, you don't just get up and leave in the middle of it because it's not going the way it had for so long.  Loyalty is a two-way street.  "Confrontations in my mind / Got me running out of time."

6). "Crossfire" by Brandon Flowers (from his forthcoming 2010 debut solo album Flamingo)
As many of you know, I am a huge fan of the Killers.  So when this rotated in on my Pandora in May 2010, I knew this was going to end up being in this year's MGoMix.  Why?
"And we're caught up in the crossfire / of heaven and hell / And were searching for shelter."  Yep, Michigan football for the last two years.

7). "Radiation Vibe" by Fountains of Wayne (from the band's 1996 self-titled album)

I was going to try and connect this to the "I went to Pittsburgh / and joined a pro team / What a bad dream / I broke a knee." but the reality is, I just really like this song and wanted to include it in the mix.  It's that simple.

8). "Reptilia" by The Strokes (from the band's 2003 album Room on Fire.)

This is where we enter the "need to get pumped" section of the MGoMix.  It's upbeat, it's guitar driven, and "I said please don't slow me down / If I'm going too fast / You're in a strange part of our town...", well, that's the Rodriguez offense for you...

9). "Let's Go Blue" by the Michigan Marching Band (from the 1993 album A Saturday Tradition)

Think of it as an interlude, a little intermission before moving on to other things.  Worth noting, "Joe Carl, a tuba player from 1973 to 1976, and Albert Ahronheim, a drum major from 1972 to 1974. It originated as a cheer at Michigan hockey games before moving to the Big House."  I can't verify this with a second source, but it sounds reasonable to me.

10). "Not Afraid" by Eminem (from his 2010 album Recovery)

I am fully and wholly expecting this will show up in a Michigan hype video for 2010, official or otherwise.  Let's run down why:

Chorus that is essentially defiant and calls for a return to previous glory?  Check.
Michigan born and raised product?  Check.
#1 song at some point during 2010? Check.

So yeah, I'm totally going cliche here and I know it.
We'll walk this road together, through the storm
Whatever weather, cold or warm
Just lettin you know that, you're not alone
Holla if you feel like you've been down the same road (same road)
11). “Time Won't Let Me Go" by The Bravery (from their 2007 album The Sun and the Moon)

"Whenever I look back / On the best days of my life / I think I saw them all on T.V."
If I had to figure out a way to describe so much of my early Michigan fandom, this would be it.  Desmond's catch against Notre Dame in 1991, "Hello Heisman", Biakabutuka's 313 yards against Ohio State, Woodson's interception against Michigan State, Navarre's rumble against Minnesota, the Trick Play in Champaign...all of them on TV.  (Yes, I realize that I have also been there for many great moments, Braylonfest, The comeback against Wisconsin, Forcier to Matthews, but it's just still what stuck with me.)

"I am so homesick now for / Someone that I never knew / I am so homesick now for / Someplace I will never be."
(aka The Carr Years)
12). “Show Me What I'm Looking For” by Carolina Liar (from the band’s 2008 album Coming to Terms)

Of any song on here, I think the lyrics for this track best represent Michigan football 2008-09:

Don't let go / I've wanted this far too long / Mistakes become regrets / I've learned to love abuse / Please show me what I'm looking for

Save me, I'm lost / Oh lord, I've been waiting for you / I'll pay any cost / Save me from being confused / Show me what I'm looking for / Show me what I'm looking for…oh lord.
13). “Twilight Zone” by CSS (from the 2009 Lincoln ad campaign.)

Somewhere in a lonely hotel room there's a guy starting to realize that eternal fate has turned its back on him. It's 2 AM.

And then discussing the Michigan fan civil war:

Help, I'm stepping into the Twilight Zone
The place is a mad-house, feels like being cloned
My beacon's been moved under moon and star
Where am I to go now that I've gone too far


Soon you will come to know
When the bullet hits the bone
Soon you will come to know
When the bullet hits the bone
14). “Singular Girl” by Old 97s (a bonus track from the band's 2001 album Satellite Rides)

You've got the teeth of the hyrda upon you.  I love the T.Rex reference.  Plus, Old 97s is one off from Old 98 and Old 97 is a pretty good year in Michigan football history.  Plus, I frequently used "Murder or a H(e)art Attack" to reference Mike Hart runs during his Michigan tenure.  Oh, also:

"I've been trying to find you / May I remind you, I'm under oath now / I've been trying to see you / 'cause I can see you, want the truth now."
15). “In Hiding” by Pearl Jam (from the band's 1998 album Yield)

It's been about three days now
Since I've been aground
No longer overwhelmed and it seems so simple now
It's funny when things change so much
It's all state of mind
It's all State of Mind.  If you believe that there's something good to be seen, we can find it.  Otherwise, we're just doing to keep seeing the bad things, finding fault, and hating life.

16). "A Better Son/Daughter" by Rilo Kiley (from the band's 2002 album The Execution of All Things)

It's highlights set to a waltz
!  It makes sense.  Because sometimes when you're on, you're really fucking on and your friends they sing along, and they love you!   But the lows are so extreme, that the good seems fucking cheap! And it teases you for weeks in its absence!
I know it didn't work out last year, but I still believe this to be true.

17). "Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)" by Mike and the Mechanics (from the band's 1985 self-titled album.)

OK, so it's a song about a country being over run by a war, civil or otherwise.  Instructions are being giving to someone who is caught in the middle of it.  It's not hopeful, it's practical, and honest.  If I were making a Michigan hype video for this season, it would be to this song (save the fact that you would need to find six minutes of highlights from last season.  Perhaps it's best not to think about it too much...)

Swear allegiance to the flag
Whatever flag they offer
Never hint at what you really feel
Teach the children quietly
For some day sons and daughters
Will rise up and fight while we stood still
The mix then finishes with the Michigan songs run:

18). "Across 110th Street" by J.J. Johnson & His Orchestra
(aka the Michigan Replay theme.  Plus, a bonus Yaphet Kotto reset!)

19). "I Can't Turn You Loose" by the Michigan Marching Band (1993 edition)
(aka the Blues Brothers theme, but more importantly, sometimes there is cake.  You need to get a chance to hear master bluesmen practicing their craft.)

20). "The Hoover Street Rag" by the Michigan Marching Band (1993 edition)
(yeah, like I couldn't have the HSR on this.  The ragtime arraignment of "The Victors." Worth noting, the 1993 album A Saturday Tradition was picked this year in part because it is the album that my brother-in-law was a member of the band for.)

21). "Temptation" by the Michigan Marching Band (1993 edition)
(I have no idea how a standard, made popular by Perry Como, became one of the most beloved songs in the MMB arsenal, but there it is.)

22). "Hawaiian War Chant" by the Michigan Marching Band (1993 edition)
(because you can't have one without the other.)

23). "M Fanfare" by the Michigan Marching Band (1993 edition)

24). "The Victors" by the Michigan Marching Band (1993 edition)
(the standard full version of the Victors.)

25). "The Yellow and Blue" by the Michigan Marching Band (1993 edition)
Closing with the alma mater.  Hoorah for the yellow and blue.  Hail! [small fist raise])

So that's it, that's the list, 78 1/2 minutes of mix.  Probably a bit too depressed for it's own good, but who knows?  Comments, concerns, questions, you know where to find me.  Go Blue!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong."

Yeah, so about that trial balloon. Consider that the optimist in me, and a naive one at best.

So, where does that leave us?

Brian has the roundup of everything you need to get caught up to speed on this matter (the Bucknuts piece is very much worth the read), but as I read, my mind wandered and I was struck by this (slightly modified) notion:

"We of the [Big Ten] administration who participated in the decisions on [divisional alignment] acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of this [conference]. We made our decisions in light of those values. Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why."

That is a modified version of the opening of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's 1995 book In Retrospect where he examined the decision making that went on during the Vietnam War in the highest levels of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. What has always struck me about this (and McNamara's later comments in The Fog of War) is that rarely do people who are making decisions think "I am making a terrible decision, but I am going to continue to do so, because I love making terrible decisions." There are reasons, and people believe they are good reasons, and it is sometimes only when it is too late to see the folly.

I guess what makes me sad is that there's no good way to do this, when you think about it:

1). Michigan and Ohio State in the same division

Pro: They would still play at the end of the season. In 9 of the last 13 seasons, it is likely that the outcome of the Game would have decided the division winner.

Con: They would not still play for the right to go to the Rose Bowl/BCS/What have you.

2). Michigan and Ohio State in different divisions, play the last game of the regular season.

Pro: They would still play at the end of the season.

Con: The game might have little to no impact on who plays in the Championship game, and if it does, it sets up a potential rematch the next week, which diminishes the value of the product.

3). Michigan and Ohio State in different divisions, play at some other point in the season.

Pro: Makes a potential Big Ten championship game between Michigan and Ohio State more appealing to television. Con: Ends 75 years of tradition. Diminishes the meaning of "The Game".

So, they'll, of course, do #3, because they'll see the revenue projections and they'll say "We'd be stupid NOT to do this. Look at the money." Meanwhile, a little part of the soul of every Big Ten fan dies. They try to make it better by introducing new rivalries, or convincing you that it's better this way, but you're not stupid, you know better. You know that playing Michigan State on Thanksgiving weekend is not only wrong, but that it actually benefits Michigan State because they actually get their Michigan obsessed existence justified. Ohio State, meanwhile, is playing Penn State or Nebraska in the final game of the season, and it's a good game, and people are interested, but it's not the same. It's like Coca-Cola Classic. Because you no longer have the real thing, you now have to accept the imitation that's close to the original, but just doesn't taste the same.

In other places, there are people who don't get it, who don't understand why this matters, and why we're making such a big deal about it. The rest of college football has changed, the Big Ten should be no different. But please be understanding if some of us feel like something that matters to us is dying. And life will go on, and we'll get through, but we will miss it, and we will be sad when we look back on what once was and what went away because of decision makers who thought they were doing what was in the best interest of the conference. And perhaps down the line some say, Jim Delany, or someone of his ilk, will come back and say "We were wrong, terribly wrong" or something similar, and it won't make us feel better, because it won't bring back what we have lost.

There's still time, there's still a chance, there's still ways to make your voice heard. I encourage you to do what you need to do to make yourself feel like you have made a difference. Even if it doesn't end up making a difference in the end. You'll be like General Winfield Scott Hancock in Gods and Generals, reviewing General Burnside's plan for the assault on Mayre's Heights behind Fredricksburg in 1862 via pontoon boat.

"No, general, we'll meet them head on. And it will be a bloody mess. We'll march up to that hill there, and we'll eat their artillery fire all the way across this field. And when it's over, we'll be able to look at ourselves and say: "We're good soldiers. We did what we were told." If we're not successful, we can say it was a good plan, but there were contingencies. You can go back to your hometown and tell the families of your men they died doing their duty."

Friday, August 20, 2010

"It's a damn trial balloon, Kenny!"

So, this happened.

David Brandon went on the radio this morning and cautioned Michigan football fans that it may be the end of the (football) world as they know it, and they should feel fine. Michigan fans, being Michigan fans, did, well pretty much the exact opposite.

As I stated over at MVictors.com, and will expand upon here, I have a theory, for what it is worth.

Consider whom were dealing with here. David Brandon. The guy who Michigan fans have been resoundingly praising as a savior for the Michigan Athletic Department, a man who exudes strength, leadership, confidence, and charisma from the Athletic Department offices. A guy who spent a long time in the business world and who played football at Michigan during the Ten Year War. He is pretty much the wish list of what Michigan fans, old school, new school, and every school in between, could ask for in an AD. This is why I firmly believe that David Brandon is test marketing this idea, just like he and his leadership team at Domino's test marketed the new Domino's Pizza. He's getting critical feedback on what matters to Michigan fans (and Ohio State fans. As I said, this may be the first thing that Michigan and Ohio State fans have ever agreed upon. Seriously, Michigan fans could say the sky is blue, and Ohio State fans would say that the sky is "OH-IO." But this, this we agree upon. "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"). He can then take it back to the other ADs and to Jim Delany and say "Look, this is a dumb idea. Here's WHY it's a dumb idea." He may be "the new guy", but when you're a smart guy, when you do your homework, when you show up with the data, people will listen. They may not agree with you, but they will listen. It's the James Madison theory of committee meetings.

Because it's not just Michigan fans and Ohio State fans who feel this way. This is becoming an MSM thing and it is being picked up by national writers. This is why I am convinced that it's a trial balloon and it's savvy business. This is the worst case scenario for Michigan and Ohio State fans, right? So anything else they come up with will seem better by comparison. But more importantly, there's still time to fix this and to placate the masses by saying "We heard you! The traditions of the Big Ten mean something to our fans and our alumni and we want to do what we can to preserve them."

Notice that no one is rolling out the old chestnuts about how Michigan and Ohio State didn't start playing until the last game of the season since 1935, about how Michigan and Ohio State have both gone to Hawaii in some years, about how the Big Ten Championship game between Michigan and Ohio State would be huge? No, because they know that they won't hold water. Eyeballs are eyeballs, but Michigan and Ohio State is about emotion, it's as close as anything in the Big Ten comes to pure SEC fan insanity (meant in the most respectful and awestruck way possible SEC fans.) On Eight Simple Rules, John Ritter's character Paul said "For Michigan fans, football is a religion. And the Ohio State game is Easter." He was right. It's a religious thing. To do this would be to tell Michigan and Ohio State fans that Easter is now in August and well, get over it.

There is also an additional benefit. With David Brandon discussing this situation in this manner, it frames Michigan in a very positive long-time, big picture light. Michigan may be down at the moment, The Game may not have gone Michigan's way during the last decade, but it still matters. David Brandon is focusing attention right now on Michigan, the brand, Michigan, the all-time winningest program in Division I football history, not Michigan, the 2010 football team, not Michigan, the house divided. Given everything that has happened this week when the focus has been on the 2010 team and how it's been Panic! in the Disco, and fire at the Taco bell, this, to me, feels like a smart CEO protecting his flagship brand by talking about changing it. Plus, in discussing changing it, doesn't it focus on what makes Big Ten football great, focusing on what many consider to be the greatest rivalry in all of North American sports? This is not just Michigan, this is Michigan and Ohio State, the yin and yang of a spiritual battle for the soul of Midwestern football. Blue versus red. The Victors versus Carmen Ohio. Touching the Banner versus Script Ohio. Winged Helmets versus Buckeye stickers and gold pants. Bo vs. Woody. Good versus evil (your side may vary).

What if this is the Big Ten football equivalent of New Coke? What if we're being played exactly like the very smart men in charge of multi-million dollar enterprises want us to be played? What if this is nothing more than a trial balloon?

That is, at least, my hope. Because otherwise, it will be the end of the football world as we know it, and I'll be very sad.