Friday, September 16, 2011

Embracing the Legends

"You know it's just Dave Brandon's way of getting us to like the name of the division, right?"
--My lovely wife on Sunday when discussing the new Michigan Football Legends honor.

A list, in no particular order, of my thoughts the new Michigan Football Legends program, honor, designation.

1). It's not unique.  It actually borrows significantly from the Toronto Maple Leafs, wherein the Leafs have a policy of retiring numbers only for players "who have made a significant contribution to the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club and have experienced a career-ending incident while a member of the Maple Leaf team". The Leafs therein only have two retired numbers (Ace Bailey and Bill Barilko*).  The Leafs, however, also have SIXTEEN honored numbers (OK, technically it's ten honored numbers for sixteen total players.)  This allows them to recognize the contributions of the players while keeping the numbers in circulation.  Back in the late 1990s, when this program was starting, the Leafs player currently wearing the number would wear the name of the honored player in the middle of the maple leaf patch on their shoulder for the remainder of the season.  I always thought that it was pretty cool.  Similarly, this notion should have felt familiar to Notre Dame fans, as they do not retire number, but place a placard in each player's locker with a list of important players that previously wore their number.

*-Yes, this is an excuse to gratuitously link to the Tragically Hip's "Fifty Mission Cap".

2). I still think, truth be told, Desmond wanted his number retired, but Mr. Brandon sold him on this being "unique" and "different".  It actually feels a little like the "soft" retirement I had suggested back in July.  I do wonder if Desmond will be consulted on future #21s, and will all future #21s need to be receivers, and will they need to be slot receivers?

3). Personal opinion, the patch is a little bit too big, I think, but perhaps it will look different on the regular jersey.  Will the patch be a white background with a navy blue M and name for the road jersey, or will it just be this?

4). Our aspirational peer Greg Dooley at MVictors has a nice set of thoughts on the designation and I wholly cosign on the notion of Bob Chappuis earning the honor for his #49*, hopefully sooner rather than later while he is still with us to be honored.  Chappuis's story is pretty amazing and it would be a way of honoring the "Mad Magicians" as a whole.**  Similarly, I love the idea of honoring Benny Friedman's #27 in this manner as well.

*-If Chappuis were honored, that would make a neat run of #47, #48, and #49 honored.  I don't think any other school could make that claim.
**-Well, that and a series of speed Bumps in the Crisler Parking Lot***.
***-This is actually a long-time running joke among the HSR staff.

5). As I stated on the MVictors post, here's my solution to the #1 jersey issue (because you know damn well it's going to come up:)

"My solution on the #1 jersey issue feels like a cop out, but hear me out. Make Anthony Carter the Legend on the grounds that he was thrice all-America and thus he and Bennie Oosterbaan, the only two thrice all-Americas in Michigan history would both be honored in this way (or in the manner of a retired number.) However, on the bottom of the patch add "Braylon Edwards Endowed Scholarship Recipient" which will acknowledge Braylon's financial largess and the meaning of the #1 jersey to him, while still honoring AC as the legend."

6). Let us assume for the moment that all five families agree to converting the numbers to Legends.  One of the interesting things about this would then become this: Are the numbers locked in to a position?  Would #11 have to go to an O-Lineman?  Would #98 need to go to a halfback who loves NCIS?   Would #87 need to go to a receiver/end/punter/kicker?  Would #47 need to be a receiver who looks like they could be a future coach?  Would #48 need to go to a center majoring in political science, public policy or pre-law?*

*--Upon hearing the unretirement notions, my brother-in-law said that if #48 is unretired, it should immediate be given to Jack Kennedy, just because it would be awesome.

7). Are we all presuming that #2, with Brady Hoke's promise of going to Michigan's top cornerback after Vincent Smith is done with it, will become a "Michigan Football Legend" when Mr. Woodson gets his call from the College Football Hall of Fame in 2017ish?  

8). One of the nice things about this is that even as this may not happen with any frequency or regularity, it does allow kids coming to Michigan to pursue numbers that mean something to them.  Are you a running back who <3 Hart?  You can get #20.  Are you a safety who thought Marcus Ray was the man?  You, sir, can get #29.  Are you a plucky robot who is programmed to throw perfect seven yard out patterns and fall in love?  You, sir, can wear #7.  Numbers have meaning to people for whatever reason, and I like that those numbers will now connect them even more so to the past.

9). One worry, because it's always something, is the notion that this designation undermines the notion of "The Team.  The Team.  The Team."  It's a fair criticism, but I think that if you listen to the members of Team 132, they're so well instructed in everything being built around the team that this designation is about the heritage and the past, so it meshes quite nicely with the team concept.  Besides, being great on the field serves the purpose of helping the team win.

10). I do wonder if this is going to make its way to other sports.  I particularly wonder with hockey, which does not have retired numbers because, as I understand it, Red doesn't want to take anything from 1-40 out of circulation.  But the notion of a "Michigan Hockey Legend" patch split between Red Berenson and Brendan Morrison would be pretty awesome for kids who want to wear #9 at Michigan.  Then you'd just need a #35 and a #11 patch as well.

In the end, this is a pretty cool thing Michigan did.  Not unique, not first of its kind, but done well, done with the right amount of pomp and circumstance, and a fun speculative question for future Michigan off-seasons.

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