( HT: Mike Desimone)
It's interesting how such a high profile guy from a "high profile" family has sort of slipped under the radar amidst the winds of change in Schembechler Hall. Tate Forcier was not without his flaws, but he was a Wolverine (often times a great one), and he has chosen, like his brothers before him, to take his talents elsewhere. While I do not wish to imply that this is a debilitating loss in any way other than the quarterback depth perspective for next season, Tate was perhaps the most controversial, and, dare I say it, definitive figure of the RR era and it's collapse. No offense to Steven Threet, but this transfer is an entirely different beast. At least the weather will be nice.
And so we sit in the doldrums of the dreaded offseason with too much time to think about things. Why was Kenny Demens consistently lined up so close to the line? Why did the coaching staff pretend that Craig Roh could be anything but an end? Why did Tate Forcier ultimately decide that Ann Arbor was not for him anymore (and, let's be honest, thoughts of leaving were likely in his head even before the academic troubles)?
What went wrong?
Put him in a prison cell but one time he coulda been
The champion of the world
You might posit that the answers to that question are fairly obvious. His dubious commitment to academics, Denard's Great Leap Forward, and even his cursed 2009 shoulder all did him in in a series of blows coming from outside and within. These are all true, and yet, I still see a Michigan offense being effectively led by Tate Forcier. In any case, that will not happen. All we have available to us is the tragic rise and fall of a young man who reached the top likely far sooner that he would have wanted, only to begin a long, slow decline reminiscent of the former Ottoman Empire, the so called Sick Man of Europe.
We all remember it fondly. Emerging from the destruction and sorrow that was the 2008 season was one Tate Forcier, whose talents and aura has been hyped up for many months, on the heels of his recruitment and early enrollment. By the Western Michigan game, he wasn't the typical freshman who comes in in August, thrown to the fire and asked to enter games here and there against teams with players several years older and many pounds heavier. He was still small and physically underdeveloped, but he was full of GRIT and MOXIE, like a quarterbacking doppleganger of Zack Novak. After a season of superior talent losing to vastly inferior or comparable teams, and a season of unmentionable anarchy, this was a welcome change. Sadly, when I think of these aforementioned traits, I think of Troy Smith in 2005 driving down the field, avoiding the rush to find Anthony Gonzalez down the field, delivering the penultimate blow and completing the comeback. The rise of Tate was all of that...for a while.
Any discussion of Tate Forcier begins and ends with the 2009 Notre Dame game. While Notre Dame was certainly not an elite squad, the importance of the game at the time holds fast. It was a game that Michigan needed, much like Michigan needed the 2010 Notre Dame game in South Bend. Then again, it is historically accurate that Michigan "needs" to win every Notre Dame game to have a good season. It is the first step, the gateway to greater things. Upon reaching this gate, Tate Forcier juked the Cover 0 and kick flipped over and beyond it like Bart Simpson in his most mischievous state.
And the rest is history. I still remember seeing images of Tate and Coach Rod after the game, and it seemed that everything was alright for the first time in a while. They were, to use a hackneyed expression, on the same page, and the brilliant offensive mind that Rich Rodriguez had brought to Ann Arbor has seemingly been infused in the skull of this young man from California. Whereas pat White executed methodically and quickly, each read option like a blitzkrieg of moving parts, Tate Forcier did it in his own way. Sometimes he scrambled for too long, taking sacks and causing a general pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth. Then, on the very next play, with no intention of changing his overall raison d'etre, he'd scramble and hit the open man. He'd often take the most unorthodox path, zig-zagging, going bckwards, almost falling and taking another sack like a drunken bumblebee. Then it would all come together, as if to say "Hey guys, this was my plan all along. I've got this."
For a second it reminded me of Johnny's bittersweet musings on Michael Hart:
A few seconds after Minor fumbled they showed Mike walking up the sideline with his helmet in his hand, and this “I’ll handle it,” look on his face. Like he’d done it before and he almost wanted to laugh because he was about to do it again. Maybe he was hurt, maybe he wasn’t. But he ran for 115 yards in the fourth quarter and had the guts to talk to us after it was all over.
Only this time it was different. While Mike's drive to put the team on his back was relentless and full of angst and rage and desperation, Tate's was free-wheeling and weightless, as if all this didn't matter but hey we might as we'll win while we're here. We had the golden boy, the one that the media would fawn over and talk about in a Favre-esque sense (whether you think that is a good or bad thing is obviously up for debate). It seemed that the good will of the universe was on our side for the first time in a while. I don't think that, even after the Notre Dame win, anybody expected to go undefeated (or even win the Big Ten), but we all thought we'd have a chance if things kept going the way that they were up to that point.
It all happened so suddenly. In one triumphant moment, the seeds of the end were sown.
It was a Pyhrric victory. We got the win, but at a cost. He was never the same for the rest of the season, like a prized horse trying to go on a gimpy leg. It is probably convenient to cite this as one of the reasons for the fall and not, for example, the upswing in the level of competition as the season went on, but, as I said, there are many reasons for how the Tate Forcier era came and went in a flash and a cloud of smoke.
The season went on and we all know what happened. The Iowa game engendered the beginnings of the Legend of Denard, and Tate's struggles in the OSU game opened the door for legitimate competition for the position in 2010.
From that point until the news of his academic issues, it is unclear what really transpired. The offseason came and went, and Devin Gardner took the field when Denard took his standard snap or two off each game due to injury. He didn't work as hard as Denard in the offseason, his attitude had gone sour...who knows. All we have is what goes into the box and what comes out, and what came out was a bitter, immature shell of what we saw the year before when he was on top of the world.
Illinois came to town and we were returned to familiar feelings. With Denard out, Tate was asked to lead the team once again, having regained the good will of Coach Rod after a tumultous offseason. And, like the 2009 ND game, he did not disappoint.
Even then, it was clear that Denard was the man. Even the above interaction between RR and Tate is a shadowy outline of their embrace following the 2009 ND game. Like Napoleon's Hundred Days, Tate was once again exiled to second string shortly thereafter. There was still hope for Tate as a Wolverine, but as a leader of the team?
Now we have our answer. His immaturity, repressed by praise and adulation circa 2009, emerged. He was no longer a Wolverine, and then he definitively distanced himself from Ann Arbor by taking his talents to Coral Gables. Despite it all, I see a Michigan team led by Tate Forcier--a new, mature, better Tate--in some alternate universe that exists only in the minds of the optimistic (or the delusional), a world where Crable takes the inside guy and Demar Dorsey enforces a No Fly Zone with aplomb over the Ann Arbor skies. Like the RR era, it was not meant to be, and like the RR era, it was a case of what could've been.
What is there to say other than "good luck, Tate?" If the career arc of Tate Forcier tells us anything, it is that the great can rise and fall in the span of a blink of an eye, that greatness and longevity are not given let alone assured. He was bred to be a quarterback from the beginning, from when he was a bright-eyed tyke to a cocky free-styling high schooler. Yet, as we all know, college football, the game we all love, doesn't care about what you did before. It takes all your accomplishments and shreds them, pointing to the Big House as if to say you're not the first to come through this place.
As fans, we can only say that to take things for granted is foolish. Very few players ever achieve the brief success that Tate did in his short reign as the leader of the Michigan offense. His penchant for the miraculous and unplanned maneuvering will not soon be forgotten. Even the selflessness he displayed in 2010, trying his best to cage the inner drive to be the man despite the existence of Denard (and even Devin), while also winning us the Illinois game, will always be something that I'll remember. While his nature (i.e., being a 20 year-old kid) did him in in the end, he could've left a while ago, like many often do when put in his situation. The rise and fall of Tate Forcier was swift and not necessarily unwritten for quite some time, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating. Despite the way he went out, I hope that he will be remembered for what he did and not for what he didn't do.
That's the story of the Hurricane
But it won't be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he's done