Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Remember When: 2008 Wisconsin

It's curious how some days in life are just like any other. Bland and anonymous days, days you wake up to and do what you have to do to make it through them, then you go to bed and wake up the next day to do it again. Days can come and go without anything interesting coming along to break up the monotony. Days like a generic, forgettable cheeseburger, a mind-numbing dubstep beat*, and most of Ohio's soul-crushing landscape. They're just there to whittle away the time you've got, like pieces in a utilitarian sketch, a model of something boring and practical like a road or a courthouse. These types of days do nothing to deviate from the General Mean, the accepted middle of day-to-day life. Things happen in moderation, in restrained apathy.

Not all days are like that.

*Still don't know what that is, really...NOW GET OFF MY LAWN. --------------------------------------- Needless to say, the 27th of September of 2008 was not one of those days. Michigan was 1-2, giving a tough  Utah team a fight while stumbling their way through an ugly win against Miami (OH) and a frustrating loss on a rain-drenched day in South Bend. Things were bleak to say the least, and they would of course get worse...but that's neither here nor there.

It was a day of extremes. We were down 19 at the half, having just played one of the worst halves of offensive football that I've ever seen.

Michigan Drive Summaries
12:38101:10MICH 2037Fumble
09:03102:15MICH 1657Punt
01:18101:27MICH 1731Punt
14:42201:22MICH 4531Punt
10:49201:10WIS 4833Punt
04:47200:59MICH 1831Punt
02:29201:14MICH 1031Interception
00:10200:10MICH 3910Interception

And yet, I stayed. Honestly, I feel a little bit odd having to say that, as if I did some laudable thing. No, I stayed because I watched the 2000 Alabama game, the 2003 Minnesota game, 2004 MSU game, the 2005 PSU game, and many, many others, and I knew that no lead was safe. More importantly, I had (and still have) an unbendable faith in Michigan paired with a lifelong aversion to all that is fickle and wishy-washy, all that folds upon itself when assailed with even the slightest of stressors. This was one of the most ridiculous days of my Michigan fandom, and its memory is in fact lifted up even farther by the fact that none of it really meant anything at all. 

The Michigan players and coaches run for the tunnel, down 19, to a cascade of boos. Other than a solid majority's predilection for key-jingling, there are few times in my life when I have ever truly been ashamed of anything I'd seen in the Big House. Having just graduated in April, I had the pleasure of experiencing four of the worst years of Michigan football history...and yet, I say it was a pleasure still. I'm not entitled to anything, but apparently some people are. It was a moment when I wished I could not be where I was. It was embarrassing.  

I've never quite understood the concept of booing, to be quite honest. It's a strange act to begin with, if you really think about it. Somewhere along the line it became a primal evocation of dissatisfaction, and along the entire way since it has been a stupid, stupid thing to do. If you're going to boo a pro team for not trying or for being just plain bad, fine. If you're going to boo a hockey goon for being a goon, I understand. Why would you boo college kids? This was the worst, most incompetent display of Michigan football in the Big House that I have ever seen, but I never thought that booing would be a logical way to make anything better. Steven Threet, Rich Rodriguez, Terrance Taylor...they all ran off the field after an offseason of Barwis Beach and family values and learning new schemes only to be told they weren't good enough, that whatever they had done was not enough. 

What does it accomplish? Nothing. In any case, those are probably the same people who left shortly thereafter, or who dipped out before the end of the Northwestern rain-slow apocalypse game because it was too cold. We all know somebody like that, and they are insufferable. Many of them probably jumped off the bandwagon at some point, maybe as early as the 2008 season, and they will be back soon. It's too bad, too. 

I sat and wondered how we could spring a comeback from so much flailing incompetence. I had faith, but it was that kind of belief that eats at itself if exposed to the light.. It's propped up by rubber bands and paper clips and a little bit of measured delusion and naivete. 

Somehow, Michigan pulled itself together and willed themselves through a halfway decent touchdown drive in the third quarter, capped by Kevin Koger's first touchdown reception. A promise of a bright future. Michigan went down the field on the arm of Steven Threet, the legs of Sam McGuffie and Kevin Grady, and the hands of Martavious Odoms and Greg Mathews. Greg's last name only had one "t," but people managed to always get it wrong, and they probably still do. This wasn't Henson, Terrell, Walker, and A-Train. It wasn't Henne, Manningham, Arrington, and Hart. It wasn't Navarre, Braylon, Avant

Minor ran towards the end zone as if he was running from a cloud of hornets. 

John Thompson, who hipsters liked back in 2005 when he was "that linebacker who was actually kind of good against Iowa that one time," put Michigan ahead. 

Rich Rodriguez would later joke that he'd hoped that ball would have landed in somebody else's hands, but I think even he would admit that Thompson was the perfect man to carry it to the end zone, like Frodo carrying the ring. He's not your first choice, but that's how things go sometimes. This was one of the loudest moments in the often times moribund Big House that I have ever experienced. It wasn't over yet, but those who had stayed were certainly better for it already. 

Michigan rushed three on the ensuing Wisconsin drive...and made the stop. What more could you want?

Then, in perhaps the most absurd moment of the day, Steven Threet ran and ran and ran, looking behind him like somebody who clearly hadn't run that far without being stopped before.

In 58 yards, disbelief in things great and small was shattered and a lot of people were feeling the thing we call shame. How could you have abandoned this team?


Sam McGuffie scored, and then Wisconsin scored after being rebuffed in the red zone on the previous drive. Wisconsin scored, went for two and converted but had it called back. Then, the Big House rose to the occasion:


This win didn't make up for the rest of that season, but I was glad to be there, just as I was glad to be in the Big House for every single game of sloppy, unsatisfying football in my four years in Ann Arbor. There are a lot of people wishing they had stayed, and they deserve that feeling of regret. Sadly, people will continue to leave games early even after this. You'd think that this game would serve as a prime example for why you should never leave early no matter what. But, backwards hat-wearing dudes and sorority girls will continue to exist, so the odds of that coming to an end is...unlikely.

In any case, it was a lone bright spot in a season of misery and an era filled with in-conference failures. It was not without its imperfections; Michigan stumbled for more than a half before finding its way, and maybe that's representative of the program's path in general. Sometimes it takes a try or two, but if you stick it out...good things happen. 

I left the Big House that day a better person.  

"They weren't booing at the end," Rodriguez said. 

1 comment:

  1. I was there, too. Thank you for bringing back the goosebumps I felt that day. Easily one of the most rewarding games I've been to.