Thursday, June 15, 2017

Are you really a Michigan fan?

File photo
For those from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, for journalists, for Chicago-area journalists, and everything in between, Mike Royko is a name that bounces off the page, rattles and rolls like a one-two punch.

One second, just minding your own business while walking through a gangway, you're blindsided by words -- simple, powerful and cutting. Pow, pow.

For the uninitiated, Royko was a legendary columnist in Chicago, most known for his work for the Chicago Daily News. He died 20 years ago, leaving behind thousands of columns.

Although his work came well before my time, I dove into his writing this week through a collection of his columns, "Slats Grobnik and Some Other Friends."

From penny-lagging competitions to his travels around Europe to skewering of Chicago politicians to his wry depictions of his pal Slats Grobnik, Royko paints a picture of life in Chicago -- the corruption, the characters, the cacophony of it all.

In his column April 11, 1968, titled "Are you really a Cubs fan?", he writes about the North Side club, which at that point in the early season was considered a contender. (In 1968, the Cubs finished 84-78, 13 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals eventually lost to the Detroit Tigers in a seven-game World Series.)

Royko began the column:
The bookies say the Cubs are contenders for the pennant, so it must be true. And now the city is crawling with Cub fans.
But are they really Cubs fans? Were they around, were they loyal, when everything the Cubs did was disgusting? Were they out there cheering when the only thing to cheer about was when the ball came off the screen and hit the batboy in the head?
There is one way to find out: If you are suspicious of someone, make him take the Cub quiz. It is guaranteed to weed out imposters.
Royko then delivered a set of 15 questions: some genuine, others not so much. Every sports personality mentioned in the series of questions was dubbed "immortal."

Q: What did the immortal Wayne K. Otto hit?
A: Nothing. But Hack Wilson once hit him. He was a sportswriter, so he probably deserved it.

Royko jokes that, "Five correct answers qualifies you as a true-blue Cub fan and permits you to paste this column to the front of your face."

The column, written 49 years ago, reminded me of Michigan -- as many things do.

The natural follow-up, then, was simple: Are you really a Michigan fan?

Now that Michigan has reached the pinnacle of human achievement with back-to-back 10-win seasons, including a 78-0 defeat of Rutgers, it's easy to be a Michigan fan these days.

Of course, more trying times still linger in recent memory.

Were you there when Michigan couldn't do anything right, save for beating Notre Dame? When the team fell flat on its face to start the 2007 season, when the Wolverines looked to beat a supposedly inferior team with a then-still-funny offense -- and also Appalachian State?

Well, were you?

What about when Michigan faced the indignity of playing at Minnesota on a Friday night in 2003? (Back then, that was a radical thing to do.) What about the 2002 Citrus Bowl, when Tennessee's Jason Witten and Donte Stallworth embarked on leisurely strolls through Michigan's secondary, like its component parts were trees in the Arb? Did you use the Saturday the week before the Game of the Year of the Decade of the Century to do yardwork, thinking Brady Hoke's Ball State squad wouldn't make too much of a fuss?

To prove your worth as a human being -- and also because it's mid-June and what else is there to do ... watch baseball? -- see how many of these 16 questions you can get right. (Because of yours truly's age, these questions will focus on the last 20 years or so.)

These questions were painstakingly considered and certainly not picked at random or on whims. Good luck.

Answer too many incorrectly and you might have an existential crisis on your hands.

Should that happen, just know you have until the fall to make things right.

1. The immortal Jacob Stewart recorded one career interception -- what was the name of the stadium in which he accomplished the momentous feat?

2. In 2002, Michigan defeated Washington to open the season on a last-second field goal by Philip Brabbs. On the final drive, Braylon Edwards fumbled a fourth-down reception (well, Washington fans might say "fumbled" a fourth-down "reception.") Who recovered the fumble?

3. "In the Big House" made its debut in 2011, brought to, naturally, the Big House by the band Pop Evil. From which Michigan town do the band members hail?

4. Yours truly once saw Calvin Magee, Michigan's former offensive coordinator, picking up food at a no-longer-existing Ann Arbor eatery. Which eatery was it?

5. Before John Navarre attained immortality and won a Big Ten championship at Michigan, he was at one point committed to another school. Which school was it?

6. Follow-up to question No. 5: the immortal John Navarre, after decommitting from the answer to question No. 5, attempted to get a scholarship spot at another school that was not Michigan. He didn't get it because the school had already taken two quarterbacks in the class. One of those quarterbacks became a future longtime NFL backup. Who was he?

7. The immortal Drew Dileo came to Ann Arbor by way of Louisiana, a state Michigan historically hasn't had much success recruiting. But Dileo, in fact, carried the torch from a fellow Pelican Stater who was on the roster the year prior to Dileo's arrival. Who was Dileo's Louisianan predecessor?

8. The immortal Chad Henne got the surprise start as a true freshman for the 2004 season opener when Matt Gutierrez was sidelined by an injury sustained in pregame warm-ups. Of course, Michigan won and the rest is history. Michigan's opponent that day started a new quarterback, too -- who was that team's starter the year before?

9. "The last time Brian Griese ran that far, his daddy was chasing him with a stick." Who said it, and when?

10. Rich Rodriguez had a tough time at Michigan, but especially against Ohio State. In his first season as head coach, the Wolverines lost at Ohio State, 42-7. What was the score at halftime?

11. How many times did Wisconsin pass during the second half of the 2010 game in Ann Arbor?

12. Without looking, how do you spell the name of the immortal running back who galloped for 313 yards against Ohio State in 1995?

13. Carl Grapentine's voice has filled the Big House for a long time. He's been the PA man full-time since 2006 (he filled in a few games for Howard King in 2005). But Mr. Grapentine isn't just about football -- in fact, he's hosted a radio show for far longer than he's welcomed the band to the field. On which Chicago radio station does he lend his voice on weekday mornings?

14. Who was the immortal -- wink wink -- Michigan defensive lineman who started 12 games in each of the 2001 and 2002 seasons and whose last name matches that of a Biblical figure?

15. Who were the four "metallic" defenders of the 1990s (think names)?

16. The reverse/end around is a beautiful play. As far as trick plays go for Old Michigan, they were decidedly subversive. You think it's going here, friend, but no! Who was Michigan's unofficial Designated Reverse/End Around Man of the early 2000s?

For the answers to these pointed, important questions, hit the jump. Answer at least five correctly and you have earned the right to print your answers, laminate the page and wear it pinned to your shirt at Michigan's season opener in Texas later this year.

That way, people will know you are true blue.

1. The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome -- a kind place it was.

2. Tyrece Butler, of course. (With today's replay system, there's no doubt a hypothetical review process for that particular play would have taken at least 10 minutes. And, who knows, maybe that hypothetical delay would've changed the flow of the game, its result and, thus, the course of history.

3. Muskegon. I have nothing else to add here.

4. Bell's Pizza (RIP). I don't know what he ordered. Calzone, maybe.

5. Northwestern, before Gary Barnett ultimately left Evanston for the Colorado job.

6. Navarre sought to play for Barry Alvarez, but the Badgers coach had promised his two quarterback commits he would not take any additional quarterbacks in the class. The future NFL backup in that Wisconsin class? Jim Sorgi. (Bonus fact: Alvarez asked Navarre to play defense. Check out this article from the ancient internet.)

7. Why, that would be fellow wide receiver and the eminently-Louisianan-sounding LaTerryal Savoy, of Mamou, Louisiana. He only made one career start (2008 Illinois) but he came up with two big catches during the game-winning drive of the 2009 Notre Dame game.

8. The opponent, Miami (OH) -- coached by the late Terry Hoeppner -- had to replace Ben Roethlisberger. In case you are curious, Josh Betts started that 2004 game for the RedHawks. The more you know.

9. Keith Jackson said it during Michigan's 1997 drubbing of Penn State in Happy Valley.

10. 14-7. I, then a college sophomore, was there. There could not have been more than a couple hundred Michigan fans in Ohio Stadium that day. Brandon Minor scored near the end of the first half. There wasn't much else to cheer about that day; that is, other than the season's merciful end.

11. Once. I was also there for that one. It was my last home game as a student. Montee Ball and future should've-been-Super-Bowl-MVP James White ran for a combined 354 yards (6.8 YPC). Calling it grim doesn't do it justice. Imagine a schoolyard bully holding a younger kid's head away at an arm's length as the youngster flails and shouts. Actually, it was more like the older kid just pummeling the younger kid. As for Wisconsin's lone pass of the second half? It resulted in a fumble, recovered by Michigan.

12. Tshimanga Biakabutuka. Most people around campus, I imagine, just called him Tim.

13. 98.7 WFMT in Chicago -- classical music on weekday mornings for Carl, the Michigan Marching Band on Saturdays.

14. The immortal Shawn Lazarus. The very idea of him is reborn in your mind, now.

15. Sam Sword, Ian Gold, Jarrett Irons and Glen Steele. The 1990s were truly a golden age for many things, but especially Michigan football names.

16. The immortal Calvin Bell. In 2001, Bell carried the ball 14 times for 158 yards and three touchdowns, good for a transcendent 21.4 percent touchdown rate. That, of course, put Bell among the greats of the game. They didn't call him Calvin "A Touchdown Every Five Carries" Bell in 2001 for nothing.


  1. 11. I completely forgot about Bell's spongy pizza, and had exorcised Pop Evil from memory. I got Gold, Steele, and Irons...but alas, Sam Sword, who saved the 97 season with the pick against Iowa, was forgotten. No chance with Grapentine, although I know he did classical music.

    1. Well, on second thought, a sword is not a metal in and of itself (I was not a materials engineer, you see), so that one was a little misleading. You have my permission to give yourself the point for that one.

    2. Much appreciated. I will drink to this great success.

  2. 2.5...ouch.. got roethlisberger, the 3 metals, and keith jackson...maybe I can blame it on my age...