Monday, September 12, 2005

The Emancipation of Me-Me

Normally I would address the Michigan loss to Notre Dame with a breakdown of how Michigan blew another early season game against an average opponent. However, it’s not worth my time. I’m sure most of you watched the game and the performance speaks for itself. Instead, I’m going to speak of the epiphany that I had this weekend. I’ve been a Michigan fan for 18 years. I can tell you all the names of all the players that have played in Ann Arbor. I could tell you where they went to high school and how much they could bench press. I remember every single game as if it were yesterday. Each loss has taken a little bit of life out of my maize and blue soul. My wife sarcastically asked me Saturday morning, “What’s on later today?” I said, “The Michigan game.” She said, “Are you excited?” I said, “No.” For the first time in 18 years, I was not excited for a Michigan game. As much as I knew that the sky was blue and that I like donuts, I knew that Michigan was going to lose to Notre Dame. There are some Michigan fans who haven’t taken the hints over the last ten years. These people are shocked each and every time this happens. For those people, I feel sorry for you. However, I am confident that the vast majority of UM faithful are in the same boat that I’m in.

The following is a memorable scene from the much underrated and vastly superior film, Groundhog Day:

Phil Connor (Bill Murray) walks away from Ned Ryerson and immediately steps into a knee-deep puddle of ice-cold water. Ned then says, “Watch out for that first step, it’s a doozy.” This wouldn’t be all that memorable but because Phil is living the same day over and over again, he keeps stepping into the puddle of water prompting Ned to keep saying, “watch out for that first step, it’s a doozy.”

It’s a bit comical at first but then it just gets downright maddening to watch. After stepping into the knee-deep puddle of ice cold water a few dozen times, Phil eventually makes the necessary adjustments to avoid said puddle. Now, if he wanted to, he could keep walking into the puddle but that would bring into question Phil’s sanity. Phil is not insane—and neither am I. Thus, I will no longer step in the giant puddle of ice water every Michigan football season. I had no feeling at any point during the game. I felt like Michael Myers. I was lack of any and all emotion.

Here is Dr. Loomis’ memorable summation of Michael Myers in the even more superior film Halloween:

"I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six year old child with this blind, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes, the devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply evil...He's been here once tonight. I think he'll come back. I'm gonna wait for him. "

That’s how I felt on Saturday. Maybe I’m not six years old and maybe I’m not a serial killer but that’s “spilled milk.” For three hours, I wore a soul-less face.

I may have looked like this on Saturday.

Normally, I would be screaming at the television when a UM quarterback throws the ball out of bounds on 4th and goal. I would normally be equally distraught over a UM quarterback throwing the ball five yards to a covered receiver on 4th and 15. For the previous 18 seasons, an early season loss to an average Notre Dame team crushed my soul. Those days are gone. I don’t care. I will no longer invest my emotions in an organization that’s too full of itself to change for the better. Since 75% of all of my shirts have the Michigan logo on them and 75% of all of my birthday presents have something to do with Michigan football, this will not be easy. I’ve watched every televised UM football game since 1987. However, the time has come. This needs to be done. I’m renouncing my emotional investment in UM football.

Lloyd Carr and friends have single handedly opened Pandora’s Box for both the Notre Dame and Ohio St. football programs. In the late 90’s/early 2000’s, Notre Dame, Ohio St., and Michigan St. were all experiencing some of the worst stretches in their respective histories. One would think that with all three of Michigan’s chief rivals in down cycles, UM would capitalize with dominating performances. However, UM didn’t improve one iota during this stretch. It didn’t matter if it was Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, or Charlie Weiss. Time and time again, Michigan allowed a struggling Notre Dame program a glimmer of hope by embarrassingly losing to inferior Irish teams. Michigan is 1-3 in its last four games against Notre Dame. Michigan is 1-3 in its last four games against Ohio St. Michigan has lost three or more games in 10 of the last 12 seasons. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how good or bad Michigan’s opponents are. It doesn’t matter how good UM’s recruiting classes are. It doesn’t matter who’s on the team. Nothing matters. Michigan will blow three or four games per season. Any organization in the real world would “grab the bull by the horns” and crush the competition when given the opportunity. Instead, UM remains it’s remarkably consistent self. If you need a more convincing argument, you can read Anatomy of a Michigan Loss and Anatomy of a Michigan Loss: The Sequel. I knew when I wrote those articles in July that Michigan was going to lose to Notre Dame. I think I knew back then that this was going to be the season that I stop letting UM football affect my happiness.

I don’t give up on teams. I’ve been a Lion and Tiger fan my whole life. There haven’t been two worse organizations in those sports over the last 15 years. But, I can say that the Lions and Tigers have not consistently underachieved. They lose because they’re supposed to lose. They lose because they aren’t as good. They lose because they don’t have good enough talent. Michigan loses because they refuse to change what they’ve done for 40 years. There is NO legitimate reason for me to know more than the UM coaching staff about what they’re doing wrong. There is NO reason for the head coach to proclaim his satisfaction for UM's defensive performance against N. Illinois only to change his mind the next day. There is NO reason why I should know more about their opponent than the UM coaches. Sadly, I do. There is NO reason for Jason Avant to be ignored for the first 20 minutes of the game. There is NO reason for Michigan to consistently lose to lower ranked teams. There is NO reason for Michigan to consistently lose to Notre Dame when Notre Dame has had one of its worst decades in school history. There is NO reason for Michigan to lose three and four times per season almost exclusively.

I will root for Michigan. I will claim them as my team. However, I no longer care if they win or lose, partly because I already know when they’re going to win or lose before it happens but, mostly because it’s not worth it. I am not unreasonable. I don’t demand national championships every season. However, I do demand competency and competitiveness from a program with a talent advantage over 99% of its opponents. If ESPN or some other organization put together a list of the top five football programs of the last 15 years, and Michigan was not included on this list, Michigan fans would scream “bloody murder”. The fact of the matter is that Michigan is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things not because they can’t be but because they refuse to be. They rarely finish ranked in the top 10. They almost never compete for a National Championship. They consistently get beat by lesser teams. Yet, if there was a ranking of the best aggregate recruiting classes over the last 15 years, I would bet that Michigan would be in the top five. For anyone who’s still fighting the good (or maybe the bad) fight of defending the UM program, check out the other teams that compare similarly to UM in the recruiting rankings. Then, look at how they’ve fared over the past 15 years.

Remember the old saying, “If you burn me once, shame on you. If you burn me twice, shame on me?” Well, my revised version is “If you burn me once, shame on you. If you burn me for more than 18 years, shame on me.” The Michigan football program is exactly where it was ten years ago. Nobody with a pinch of talent fears Michigan. Michigan’s recent legacy has come from beating up on MAC and low-level Big Ten teams. The lack of quality wins over the last decade is alarming.

I’m not intent on starting a revolution or putting up I’m not trying to convince anyone to join me. I simply value my own sanity too much to keep going through the same motions year after year. For all of you that have no issues with the UM program, I envy you. For all of you that feel as I do, I feel your pain. I realized this weekend that it’s OK to not care. Just don’t care.


Anonymous said...

Considering my allegiance to a certain farm school up north, it might surprise people that I attended the Michigan-Notre Dame game. Obviously, I was there because I despise the latter school and wished that they would get wiped off the face of the earth. That didn't happen Saturday, during what is easily the worst football game I've ever seen in person, and I've seen a 4th Lions preseason game in person.

Both teams flat out sucked. ND just happened to not suck as bad as Michigan, particularly on offense. Just a horrid game and a waste of my time.

You'll hear some excuses from the wags now. "Henne is only a sophmore". That's a crock of shit. Saturday was his 14th start. He plays for Michigan. He's not just "only a sophmore", he's a QB that the media loves and has a load of talent, and proceeded to have a poor game regardless of what level of refinement he may have.

It's interesting to note that Henne was locking on to recievers and not taking off to run when there were no passing targets available. Sounds like somebody else who was a much maligned QB at Michigan. One wonders how much of that is the brainwashing Michigan QB's go through from the coaches, because running around and making plays isn't Michigan football.

Injuries will be used as an excuse. 1) Injuries occur to every team. 2) Injuries on Michigan should be easier to overcome, due to the talent and depth that Michigan supposedly has. Mike Hart is a quality RB, but Kevin Grady and Max Martin aren't chicken shit.

Jake, you're 100% right in almost every regard in that post. The Lions and Tigers stink because of a culture of losing. Michigan underachieves because the goals held by most aren't very high to begin with. Everyone refers to the Bo era as halcyon, but how many national titles did Bo win? That's why no one cares about the National Title, because Michigan football is coached by Michigan men who only care about winning the Big 10 and going to the Rose Bowl (to get blown out by better teams out West).

Could the inconcievable occur and Michigan be 2-3 after the State game? It could happen, and although I think they can beat the Bad-Gers, it is a night game, in Madison and the first road game of the season. If Michigan goes 2-3, I think that helps their cause for the Ohio State game later in the year.

I was listening to "Cult of Personality" as I was walking towards Michigan Stadium on Saturday. Appropriate, given the two teams...

Anonymous said...

Just to buttress my point about the fans, a self described Michigan fan called into the sports show I listen to in the morning, and categorized the effort Saturday as a "great game". I shit you not.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your comments. I was not surprised they lost. I quit letting it bother me a few years ago. By the time I had driven home, I was thinking about the Lions game the next day, at least my expectations were lower.

On other thing. As the game ended, I turned to my buddy and said "you know what's going to happen next week, right?". And he knew the answer to the question. He said "MSU is going to kill ND". That you can book.

Anonymous said...

Many thoughts coming at ya:

-It's weird because it didn't bother me as much either. I don't know what that means but I'm more upset when my fantasy team loses or there is no beer on hand. Maybe it is maturity or maybe I just came to my senses much like other Michigan fans have. I knew they were going to lose because I get that sick feeling hours before the game. I've only been wrong once that I can remember. I just can't believe they were ranked number three. All those idiot ND fans came out of the wall today and I said "BFD." It's not even worth arguing because when Michigan wins 38-0 you can't find those bastards anywhere. But I digress; it is imperative that I understand that it is college football and my team will always disappoint. I said after 1997 that I would always enjoy the year to its fullest because I just had the feeling I may never see it again. I now have Oklahoma too the school I actually attended which helps as well. Three years ago I would have been distraught for two weeks after a loss like that. Now I just wish I would have went out or did something constructive instead of wasting my time watching the inevitable.

-I think the Tigers stink because they were poorly managed at every level for so many years not because of a culture of losing. Remember Randy Smith and Bo had control of this franchise for twelve plus years and they were about as good as Kurt Cameron was at acting. Agree with the Lions for sure.

-As far as that caller that said it was a "great game" well.....that would have made me sick. That was one of the five worst games I've ever seen Michigan and their opponent play. Sloppy, bad playcalling, poor execution, predictable, disinteresting, disengaging and three other disses. Some people just fail to watch the game only their team. I have been guilty of it in person but never on TV unless it's a championship type game and my team wins. In that case it was a "great game." What a complete boob. I had a sports talk radio show a few years back and I would have rang a giant bell into the phone.

Good print Jake. Interesting angle.


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