Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Page turned

There are a lot of interesting phrases being thrown around that have me, a bizarre combination of fledgling and long-time fan of the University of Michigan's football team, scratching my head in both contemplation and hopeful agreement.

Things like "comeback" and "epic" and "team" all focusing around one central theme: The dawning of a new era.

That's the rumor. Saturday's game against the Wisconsin Badgers, that was supposed to be a blowout, and looked like a textbook blowout, turned into what Mitch Albom called "A comeback for the ages." My friend, when I called him after the game, to see if he was interested in celebrating our joyous upset, told me that he was glad that I could be at the game, and said much the same thing that Mr. Albom said about this being the dawn of the new era of Michigan football.

I guess I don't really know what that means. In the years that I've been around, I caught the tail end of the legendary General Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr, and now Rich Rodriguez. Of those, I can only remember Lloyd Carr, the man who led us to a win at the Rose Bowl and a National Championship. He is like a walking god in my mind, deified from the years of my youth of my dad sitting before the television every fall Saturday and bellowing with all his heart as if his screams from Spartan Country could in fact help the outcome of the game away off in the Valhalla of Ann Arbor. With every touch down he'd get me riled up singing a rousing chorus of The Victors, the fight song which John Philip Sousa, the master of the march, declared was "the greatest college fight song ever written" (for citation see the wikipedia article). That was Michigan football for me. My dad called it smash-mouth. A battle in the trenches.

So when talk of Lloyd Carr's retirement became fact last year, and this was accompanied by his replacement with Rich Rodriguez, there was a natural fear. A fear of change. Lloyd has been god of this hundred yards of battleground for over ten years. He knew Michigan football, having apprenticed under General Bo himself, may he always watch over us. This new guy was--well, new. And in a buck of tradition he brought this dreaded "spread offense."

Now I won't go into a lot of detail on the spread, other than that RichRod more or less pioneered it, and it is utterly unlike Michigan Ball. It wasn't dirty and in the mud and the pushing and the grunting and the helmet to helmet smashing. It relied on spreading out the opponents defense and passing, and for the last couple years it had been wrecking havoc on our defense. As a response they brought Rich Rodriguez and with him the spread offense. As Albom said, an "experiment" that "wasn't working."

After a devistating loss to Utah, which brought with it tremors of another Appalachian State massacre, and another loss to Notre Dame, all hope was lost. In the fan section the cheers of "Hail to the victors" was replaced quickly with jeers about Threet's wonderful passes to the opposition, and a growing call to bring back Lloyd (one that I gladly picked up). Our offense could be summed up as "Threet and out," followed by the traditional and nearly impenetrable Michigan defense.

But then came the last Saturday in September. A cloudy and cool day, one of the first real fall days of the year. There wasn't a hope in the world--at least that is what everyone was saying. If you go by the first three quarters of play I'd have agreed with you. In the last twenty minutes of play we managed to go from nothing to a victory. And for the first time we looked like a team. "Now that's the Michigan team I know and love," my friend Zach texted me. I couldn't call him, not because I didn't want to, but because by the end of the game my voice was shredded from cheering and yelling along with the thousands in the student section.

And thus with the bellowing cries was a page turned and Michigan Football came into its new era. "We're one and oh in the big ten," our coach said.