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

So sweet...

Via the M-Den, your 2010 Big Chill at the Big House "throwback" jersey:

 Love this!

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

(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.