Sunday, November 09, 2008

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

It had been a long time coming. Certainly as long a gap as I could remember. They had all started in the same hopeful way, getting a lead, going in to halftime with a decent chance to win, only to watch it all fall apart in the second half. It was as if we had used all of our good second half karma for the season in that win over Wisconsin. Now we were facing five straight losses, and Nick Sheridan starting at quarterback. I was certain the Jug was going to stay in Minnesota until 2011, because on paper, and in my heart, I couldn't see how Michigan could pull it off.

The danger of football is also its beauty: It is utterly unpredictable. You may correctly be able to predict the winner of a game, but it's unlikely you'll be able to predict how it is going to happen. So to see a 7-2 team at home hosting a 2-7 team, it wouldn't matter which team was in which helmets, the 7-2 team should win. It didn't matter that Michigan had never lost in the Metrodome, that Michigan hadn't lost in Minnesota in my lifetime, the Brewster Crew was likely going to come out and send Michigan to its eighth loss.

But something strange happened. Nick Sheridan didn't utterly suck. He was making plays (as were his receivers. Michigan was moving the ball. It converted a fake punt. There was almost a hint of swagger. The defense was aggressive, and if not ball hawking, they were letting Minnesota know that they weren't going to go anywhere, particularly on third down. All of the things that had driven Michigan fans crazy in the last five weeks weren't happening. But still, there was cause for concern. We were only getting field goals, and while Michigan's defense was pitching a shutout, there was worry that those field goals would be a portend of our doom.

That's why the second half was amazing. Nothing bad really happened. (OK, Brandon Minor got hurt, but we don't know how bad yet.) Michigan's defense kept playing well. Michigan's offense kept getting the job done. Minnesota never put together a great drive and Michigan was able to stop them short of the end zone every time. Michigan was going to win, and it felt strange.

During the broadcast, ESPN showed that Minnesota coach Tim Brewster had moved the trophy case for the Little Brown Jug in to the locker room, the empty case hopefully serving to motivate the Gophers to reclaim what they want and what they prize perhaps much more highly than Michigan. But perhaps what Michigan needed to put everything together (if a little too late for 2008) was to realize that not everything was gone yet. It's a small token, as someone said, Michigan really only cares about the Jug when we don't have it, but if that small token served to bring Michigan together for sixty minutes on Saturday, served to get everyone on the team to work as one, to execute at the top of their game, to make plays and play hard for the entire game, then so be it. The Jug is in Ann Arbor until 2011. There isn't an utter emptiness in Michigan football in 2008, just disappointment. We can only hope Michigan can build on this next week, find a way to win another game, and then give it everything they can in Columbus.

In the end, it felt really good to win yesterday. I think I almost ended up appreciating it more than other wins just because it had been so few and far between this season. I'm not sure if this is learning humility, or just learning that winning is better than not losing, but either way, thank you Michigan for putting it together on Saturday. Now, let's build on it.


Jill said...

Nice post! Thanks!

Thought I'd leave a comment so you know your blog posts ARE being read!

Craig Barker said...

Thanks Jill, I appreciate the knowledge and the readership, especially if people enjoy the pieces.

WhiteSpeedReceiver said...

Congratulations, all. I doubt I can say anything that won't come across as angry or disappointed 2 days after the game, but you guys did what was needed to win. I actually thought I was seeing Michigan playing more old-fashioned Michigan football Saturday with a few new spiffy formations.

Oh well, it's almost hockey season, right? Enjoy the jug, you earned it. We'll get it back someday.

Craig Barker said...


Believe me, I'm not sure you're wrong. I think that, knowing Sheridan would be the QB, Michigan was compelled to devise a game plan that would play to his strengths, and the strengths of the team at present, so basically, sideline deep routes and run Minor up the middle when possible. It worked, but it also worked in part because the defense was able to make some big plays, if not in the traditional turnover sense, in the "oh my goodness, did you see that hit" sense.

Indeed, it is hockey season, and I know many of us are relieved by that fact.

Sgt. Wolverine said...

Much as I hate seasons like this, I do think it's good to reminded that winning isn't automatic and losing isn't fun. We Michigan fans have been spoiled by so many years of winning records, so this year may turn out to be good for us.

I have these same thoughts about the local high school program I photograph. They're on a 10-year playoff streak with an 89-21 record during that streak, and over the last couple years I've gotten the feeling people have grown accustomed to winning and don't really value it as much as they should (most notably demonstrated by what I consider to be some sparse playoff crowds).

In some ways I think that sort of thing is inevitable in the fan base of a consistently successful program, but I still hate to see it happen, and really the only cure is a lousy season (as Michigan is having now, and as is inevitable at some point for the high school program).