Monday, September 29, 2008

Holy F@#$in' Sh#$!

As I walked my son to the gate at the north end of the stadium at halftime, I found myself wondering just how bad this season was going to get. Could they keep the bowl streak alive? Could they even get to four wins? As bad as the first half had been, nothing was guaranteed. I felt going into the season that this was going to be our toughest game outside of Columbus, and after seeing us get pushed around a little by a pretty ordinary Notre Dame rushing attack, I was intellectually prepared for this to be a loss. But emotionally, I wasn't ready for what I witnessed in the first half against the Badgers. 21 yards total yards. Negative passing yards. 3 dozen turnovers. No blocking from the Oline, bad throws by the quarterback. This was a nightmare. And what's worse, unlike the twin disasters that opened last year, there was no promise that it was going to get better.

So when my six year old son asked to go home with about a minute left in the half, I agreed to call his mom to come pick him up. I wanted to tell him to tough it out, that you never leave a game early. But he's still a new football fan, and I didn't want to sour him on the experience. When we met my wife at the gate amongst a rush of fans looking to head back to the tailgate, my wife asked me if I was going to stay. I'd like to say I chose to stay because I thought they had a snowball's chance in South Bend of making the game interesting. I'd like to say I stayed out of some sort of "never give up, never surrender" attitude. But the truth was, I simply didn't have anything better to do. I was resigned to our fate, and felt if I was going to be depressed about it, I'd rather do it with my dad, my friend, and 100 thousand other suffering fans.

When they got their first first down in the third quarter we joined the entire stadium in a sarcastic Bronx cheer. We decided to keep score ourselves, giving Michigan three points for every first down, to see if they could catch up to Wisconsin that way. About halfway through the third, I realized that the nation's longest scoring streak (October 1984 at Iowa was the last time we were shut out) was in jeopardy. When we scored the first TD, I was just happy they were fighting a little bit, maybe finding something that might help them next week. When Brandon Minor scampered in from 40 yards out on a great call from RR and Calvin McGee, I turned to my friend and commented, "Wouldn't it be ironic if that tackle of the Wisconsin defender at the three as time expired in the first half ended up being the difference in the game?" I think we all figured that Wisconsin would move the ball down the field, chew up some clock, maybe kick a FG and that would be that. We were just happy that they had fought back.

When John Thompson intercepted the tipped pass on the very next play and followed a herd of defensive lineman into the end zone, I kept shouting at the top of my lungs, "Holy F'in Sh#$, Holy F'in Sh@#!!" We had no business even being in this game, let alone leading it halfway through the fourth quarter. The Badger fans near us were absolutely stunned. I thought about taunting some of them, but I didn't have the heart, and I knew the game wasn't over. When Steven Threet pulled off that beautiful fake and 70 yard run, I kept shouting it again, and could hear echoes of the ghost of Bob Ufer, "He faked the ball to Minor, and the whole Wisconsin defense and yours truly went with Minor, and Threet tucked the ball and went down that sideline like a penguin with a hot herring in his cummerbund." When McGuffie punched it in a few plays later, the nightmare had become the unlikeliest of dreams.

The Badger offense finally awoke, helped by their all everything TE Travis Beckum, who hadn't played all game, and pulled off two stellar drives with a number of plays where we seemed to be just a step late for the game sealing interception. Only when that onside kick went out of bounds, did we exhale and exult. We had stolen a game, plain and simple.

I think this was Rich Rod's Virginia game. In his first career game, Lloyd Carr's team came back from 17 points down to beat a good Virginia team 18-17. Like this game, it was a game the other team dominated all game, but just didn't cash in their opportunities when they had them. That win was Carr's signature win for most of his first season, until they upset Ohio State, and it showed everyone that Michigan football was going to be just fine under Carr. This game is a signature win for Rich Rod, at least for right now. There will be more ups and downs in this season, but this win was reassurance for all of us who were worrying as we walked around the stadium at halftime that Michigan football will survive. That resiliency that we loved so much under Coach Carr hasn't gone away. There will be new heroes, new thrills, and many triumphs to come.