|Cornelius Johnson made the most of his turn on punt block duty today. (David Guralnick/Detroit News)|
You kept me wanting wanting wantingLike the wanting in the movies and the hymnsI want the pharaohs, but there's only menI want the pharaohs, but there's only men
You said I was your blue, blue babyAnd you were rightYou said I was your blue, blue babyAnd you were right
--"The Pharaohs" by Neko Case from her 2009 album Middle Cyclone
One of the fun things I learned when I was still assigned to teach World History is that the word pharaoh translates into something roughly meaning either "great house" or "big house". I have always favored the latter interpretation for obvious Michigan reasons. I also remembered that, thematically, Neko Case loves the word pharaoh, as it appears in several of her songs.
The lyrics today are a solid representation of the two pieces of this game, the first half and the second half. Games against Northwestern are never fun or easy. Even as Michigan has won the last seven meetings, the chaos and closeness of those meetings have made each installment more teeth grinding than just a crossover game on the schedules. Even with the welcome addition of the George Jewett Trophy to this series legacy, it was still always going to be an annoying state of affairs. First half rust off the bye week. Trap game. Looming 7-0 Michigan State on the horizon.
Five punts were exchanged before a Blake Corum touchdown to allow the Big House crowd a moderate sense of relief that maybe this would not be one of those games. And sure, it wasn't ideal that Michigan had to kick a 20-yard field goal because the offense stalled once again inside the five-yard line, but Northwestern had not really shown any signs of offense life and....Evan Hull just ran for 75 yards, essentially untouched to make the game 10-7 late in the second quarter. But Michigan was moving the ball well in the two-minute drill and was inside the five when there was a decision made to be too cute by half, Mike Sainristil fumbled, Northwestern recovered, and the teams went into the locker room at 10-7 and Michigan social media went into a full meltdown.
Let's acknowledge an unpleasant reality about a wide segment of Michigan fans: We live in perpetual waiting for the other shoe to drop, followed by a question of how many shoes remain up there. It isn't just Twitter, I was surrounded by various generations of Michigan fans who spent halftime grousing on a number of issues and faults with the first half game plan. Every fanbase has this, if not in this particular idiom. The weight of expectations grows with each victory, but so does the height from which one would fall when that moment comes when it all goes awry. The high wire act of a college football season when a team is winning and winning and winning becomes a dizzying exercise. Simultaneously, there is this desire for the fanbase to want players, who are very very excellent, to be even better, and that can be dangerous.
So when Michigan, aided by a holding call and a DPI call, went on a 7 play, 74-yard drive on the opening possession of the second half, followed by a ball don't lie missed field goal for Northwestern, followed by another touchdown about three minutes of game time later (after the Cornelius Johnson punt block seen above) to put Michigan up 24-7, the game took on a different dimension to the point where a 17 point third quarter had the same people who had been grousing at halftime were now aggressively yelling for Harbaugh to pull the starters with a lot of time left in the fourth quarter. Well, except for the one guy behind me to my right who desperately needed Michigan to hold on to the 26 point lead because he had some money on Michigan covering.
In the end, every Michigan draw play that turned into positive yardage for Blake Corum, every coverage bust that still saw Michigan get off the field before Northwestern crossed midfield, there is this realization that this is team is the team we love and in being so, we just want them to win because they want to win. It's a form of emotional whiplash, but this is our team, and I am glad we have chosen to embrace them, imperfect as they might be, as they seek a form of perfection.