Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Name Games

Name Games are simultaneous an easy and difficult concept to grasp in college football.  It started, interestingly enough, with a discussion of John O'Korn's number change to #8 and a mention of Nick Sheridan and my defense that Nick Sheridan will always have "The Nick Sheridan Game".  That led to my desire to make this list.

So a "Name Game" is, on some level, a great performance by a player where it is that player's signature game.  It is seemingly simple, but as discussion bore out, like anything that seems simple, it is not.  Let us eliminate a few things ahead of making the list.

It is, generally, not:
·         A Game that is better known by another name.
To wit, Barry Pierson had a tremendous performance in the 1969 Ohio State game, and that may very well be his signature game, but that would not be immediately how anyone characterized it in discussing it.  This is not to disparage three interceptions and a 60-yard punt return to set up Michigan's third touchdown, he is clearly the game's MVP, but that's not quite what this exercise is.  That also tends to eliminate bowl games, which knocks out Leroy Hoard's effort in the 1989 Rose Bowl, Steve Breaston's valiant effort in the 2005 Rose Bowl and the like.  It also eliminates Anthony Carter's effort against Indiana in 1979, which is better known as "Ufer Goes Crazy".
·         A Game that Michigan lost.
Interestingly enough, that tends to create its own version of the Name Game, like The Donovan McNabb Game, The Dennis Dixon Game, The Troy Smith Game, where the opponent that did it to Michigan goes down in legend.  But that is not out focus here.  But some honorable mentions would have to go to Devin Gardner's effort on a broken foot against Ohio State in 2013 and Walter Cross's 104 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman that came up shy against Syracuse in 1998 (yes, the Donovan McNabb game).
·        A Game in the Darkest Timeline
Though many of these are eliminated by the previous condition, though suggested to me, I'm not going down the road of Nebraska 2012 or Minnesota 2014.  We all know what happened and to hang that title on the name of a player when it speaks more to decisions made by the coaching staff prior to the game is simply not fair to the player.  It also knocks out the Tyler Ecker game. #pitchittobreaston
·         A Game that immediately raises an argument.
I dubbed this "the autopen argument" and it's more of a compliment than anything.  To wit, what is Denard Robinson's signature game for Michigan?   Heck, he has two signature performances against Notre Dame alone (even if one is Under the Lights, aka "Jeremy Gallon's Cloaking Device").  Or Desmond Howard?  Do you pick Notre Dame 1991, Boston College 1991, or Ohio State 1991.  Charles Woodson?  Michigan State 1997, Ohio State 1997, etc.  This tends to hurt quarterbacks, as they can have multiple great games in their careers.
·         A Game which is more about the "One Shining Moment" principle, aka sharing the wealth.
Also not a knock.  But a single shining moment in a game is not, necessarily, enough to make it a Name Game for you.  To wit, John Thompson's scoop and score against Wisconsin in 2008 is memorable, but not necessarily "The John Thompson Game", because it's also a bit of "The Steven Threet Game" due to his crazy, season long for the team scramble in the second half.  It also, kind of, eliminates Indiana 2015, since that is simultaneously The Jake Rudock Game and The Jehu Chesson Game (we hope that Mr. Chesson autopens a few more of those efforts this season, allowing us to move Mr. Rudock's six TDs into this category.)  It also eliminates Iowa 2001, because as much as Larry Foote was an absolute, absolute monster in that game, 15 tackles, including setting a school record 7 TFL, Marquise Walker's "how did he catch that" grab late in the third quarter keeps it from reaching the singularity.   Tai Streets effort in 1996 against Ohio State at the Horseshoe is also memorable for how Brian Griese seemingly came out of the depths of nowheresville to regain the starting quarterback job.

Now, all of that said, there are always exceptions to how we remember things, memory very rarely follows a strict set of rules.  So, with that in mind, a ranking of Name Games of the last 25 years.

Honorable Mentions:
The John Kolesar Game - at Ohio State 1988
Yes, this is outside the scope of our consideration, but Ohio native John Kolesar, with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, ran back a kickoff 59 yards to get Michigan in position and then caught a 41-yard TD pass to give Michigan the win.  That gets you a mention, for sure.  (Keeping in mind that Kolesar also had a huge catch in the 1985 game from Harbaugh as well.  He saved some of his best work for The Game.)

The Roy Roundtree Game - Illinois 2010
Treezy set the Michigan record for receiving yards in a game with 246, besting Braylon Edwards effort in 2004 against Michigan State (more on that in a moment.)  But this also falls under the "better known as" principle, since this is the 67-65 triple overtime game against the Illini, so it is not necessarily remembered as the Roy Roundtree Game.

The Mario Manningham Game - Penn State 2005
The Ernest Shazor Game - at Purdue 2004
The Phil Brabbs Game - Washington 2002

In each of these three cases, they should not qualify under the "One Shining Moment" guidelines, but in each of these cases, they are moments "at the death", to use the term from English football, where the victory is sealed by their actions.  In the case of Manningham, TOUCHDOWN MANNINGHAM is indelibly seared into the brains of many a Michigan fan (and many a Penn State fan, who will tell you this write up is two seconds too long to begin with.)   In the case of Ernest Shazor, though he had a monster game, his explosive hit of the Boilermakers' Dorien Bryant, following a Markus Curry hit, which led to a Leon Hall fumble recovery to end Purdue's last gasp drive was so big, it overshadowed a 206-yard rushing effort by freshman Mike Hart in our collective memory.  In the case of Phil Brabbs, his two early missed field goals against the Huskies in the 2002 season opener led to one more shot at redemption on the last play of the game, of which he made the most.  Worthy of mentioning, but not necessarily what we're looking for here.

The Drake Johnson Game - Indiana 2014
Though I have already dubbed Indiana 2014 "The Drake Johnson Game" on this blog, I am leaving it out, as I do not feel it is fair to cast in stone a Michigan career not yet finished.  I hope, I sincerely hope, that there is a bigger, better Drake Johnson game left somewhere in the future.

10).        The Brandon Herron Game - Western Michigan 2011
Brady Hoke's first game as Michigan head coach, when we were so full of hope…and Denard.   Better remembered for the wicked weather and being called early with 87 seconds left in the third quarter, this is still the Brandon Herron game, between his 94 yard pick six, and his score off a fumble forced by Captain Kovacs, two defensive scores, in such a delightful manner gave hope to an era and a fanbase desperately looking for it.

  9).        The Jerome Jackson Game - at Iowa 2005
Interesting case here, because it was suggested several times by different Twitter users, but others could not remember it when mentioned.   Jerome Jackson's name game comes from pinch hitting for a dinged up Mike Hart and taking over the fourth quarter at Kinnick, then scoring on a 1-yard run in overtime to seal a big win during "the season of infinite pain" and Coach Carr's 100th win as Michigan head coach.

  8).        The Justin Fargas Game - at Northwestern 1998
Before Son of Huggybear left Ann Arbor for the warmer climes of Los Angeles, he had one legendary night in the muck and the mire of a soaked Ryan Field in Evanston.  Though usually the purview of the A-Train in that era (who will have a hugely memorable moment at Ryan Field two seasons later and I don't want to talk about it.), Justin Fargas had 31 carries for 120 yards to secure a much needed conference win against a Northwestern team that looked more fierce at the time than it would at the end of the season.

  7).        The Tate Forcier Game - Notre Dame 2009
Though the post itself was one of the biggest whiffs of my chronicling career, the point remains.  The image of Forcier, pointing to the crowd after a masterful scramble, the freshman so full of potential that would never truly be fulfilled, the false promise of the infamous "Rich Rod Year 2" meme that died on the one-yard line in Champaign, the charitable contributions of Charlie Weis's schematic use of times out.  All of this goes into making The Tate Forcier Game what it is.  Because, if nothing else, you beat a rival, again, in a completely unexpected and shocking manner.

  6).        The Chris Perry Game - at Michigan State 2003
51 times.  No FBS player since 2003 has carried the ball more times in a game than Chris Perry did on that day in East Lansing.  Only one, Michael "The Burner" Turner, has carried it more in a game since 2000 (as far back as the Play Index goes), and that was literally just one more carry.  219 yards and Michigan needed every one of them to hold off Michigan State that day, 27-20.  "I need a hot tub," Perry said that day. "And we've got one in our apartment."

  5).        The Nick Sheridan Game - at Minnesota 2008
I have often dubbed this "Sheridan Saves the Jug" and it's true.  In the darkest night in recent Michigan football memory, well, at least until 2014 and another Minnesota game, Nick Sheridan, the coach's son who came to Michigan and probably never expected to see game action behind Ryan Mallett, fills in for a banged up Steven Threet and proceeds to, in utterly efficient fashion, go 18/30 for 203 yards and a TD, no picks, and Michigan wins 29-6. Sheridan saves the Jug (until 2014…ugh), and preserves Michigan's perfect record at the Metrodome.

  4).        The John Navarre Game - at Minnesota 2003
OK, yes, this is probably remembered for "the Water Buffalo Stampede" and being on a Friday night, and the comeback, and being for the Jug, but it is the moment for John Navarre.  "Not Drew Henson" led Michigan to a 31 point fourth quarter, threw for three touchdowns, ran for a huge gain on the Transcontinental, and won the 100th anniversary of the purchase of the Jug game (wanting to get that just right for Dooley) and Michigan's 15th straight win in the series.  You'll always have the Metrodome, John.

  3).        The Jeremy Gallon Game - Indiana 2013
This isn't fair to Devin Gardner, who had 584 yards of total offense, 503 of which came through the air.  It's just that he kept finding Jeremy Gallon.  Again and again and again.  Gallon had a B1G record 369 receiving yards on 14 catches with two touchdowns as Michigan won 63-47.  Even as further cracks appeared in the foundation of the Hoke era, Gallon was there with spackle, a trowel, and an indomitable will.

(Author's edit: 3/9/16.  A compelling case for The Devin Gardner Game - Notre Dame 2015 has been made in the comments, so I am slotting it in at 2a), which feels right.  Seth, take it away.)

The DEVIN GARDNER game! You brought up the Ohio State one on a broken foot, but what about in Under the Lights II, which name needs to go both for being not very descriptive (who's going to remember every night game?) and for the Dave Brandonness of it.

The Game in 2013 was representative of the Tragedy of Devin, but against ND that year Gardner was transcendent:

*21 for 33 for 294 yards, 4 TDs and an interception
*13 rushes for 96 yards and another TD
*That totally insane INT where he was falling down and chucked it to a nose tackle in the end zone.

THIS THROW: that's 30 yards and made ropes feel bad.
THIS THROW: where he took over the mind of his receiver.

You skipped the last one didn't you? Don't do that. Unless of course you want to do anything else again ever because once you click that you will need to simulcast the Woodson/Desmond returns to break your skull out of it.

On a night after an entire day of having to listen to tailgate idiots talk about how Shane Morris would replace him, on a night when his offensive line was a disaster on the level of, well, 2013 Michigan, on a night when not a single linebacker or safety showed the least bit of fear of any kind of handoff run, Gardner looked like an NFL franchise QB, ran like an NFL-bound RB, and then we all got to make glorious chicken noises.

  2).        The Tim Biakabatuka Game - Ohio State 1995
313 yards.  In The Game.  To upset previously unbeaten and #2 in the country Ohio State.  To send Northwestern to the Rose Bowl.  To overshadow eventual Heisman winner Eddie George.  To forever be BIAKA…..BATUKA in the hearts and minds of a generation of Michigan football fans.

  1).        The Braylon Edwards Game (bka Braylonfest) - Michigan State 2004
One of my first outings in football blogging, Braylonfest is as magic a game as I have ever been to at Michigan Stadium for the reasons outlined in this post.   That there are over 1500 Google results for this specific one-word term speaks to MGoBlog's power to create a meme and to the magic in the gloaming of that evening.  Braylon Edwards had other great games at Michigan, but if every Michigan receiver who wears #1 has to earn it, he earned it, in spades, that evening. 

I may have missed some (you know where to find us), and I am exceptionally grateful to all of you who joined in this exercise on Twitter, it was some fun in the dark of early Spring in Michigan.