Can we go back to November 17, 2006? Let’s just forget everything that’s happened in the world of Michigan football since then. Just erase it and go from there. Forget The Game of the Century (of the Year). Forget the Rose Bowl. Forget the Mountaineers, the Ducks, even forget Lloyd’s last win, in the Capital One Bowl against Florida.
After a horrendous 2005 season, the calls for Lloyd Carr’s head came out. “He doesn’t have it anymore,” “he’s so boring,” “argh Terry Malone.” 2006 was Lloyd’s chance to shut them up, and shut them up he did.
In 2006, Michigan fans felt good. It started with a week 1 victory over Vanderbilt that wasn’t half as close as the score indicated. I remember after that game, poring over the Central Michigan-Boston College game that I had recorded, trying to glean any morsel of information I could about the Chippewas. After Lamarr Woodley and co. introduced Dan LeFevour to the Michigan Stadium turf four times, it was on to the game against Notre Dame.
We were all a little more naïve then, or perhaps more accurately, a little less jaded. I was still dumb enough to call Charlie Weis a “good coach” on WOLV-TV. Then, September 16th came. Paul and I loaded into my car early that morning. We got food on the way to South Bend, & documented the drive on the back of a McDonald’s placemat. After we arrived and reached our parking spot, we explored a bit. We saw the Irish March from their chapel to the stadium. The fans in South Bend were as confident as could be. Me? I was scared shitless.I never thought my beloved Wolverines stood a chance. All I had to hold onto was hope.
On the field a couple hours before gametime, I was terrified. As they went through warm-ups, the Irish were at least as confident as their fans. These Goliaths looked like they couldn’t be beat. As the game rolled around, thousands of people filled in the empty spaces around me, but I was still alone. If they knew that I was from Michigan, these beasts would eat me alive.
Through the first two quarters of the game, my nerves are evident from the game footage. It might has well have been an earthquake, though it was only my arms shaking. Though Michigan dominated the game, I feared a comeback the entire time. Until Lamarr Woodley picked up Brady Quinn’s fumble and ran into the endzone, I thought there was no way Michigan would emerge victorious. By the end of the game, however, I realized that I hadn’t been standing alone by myself all along. Mike was with me. Alan was with me. Mario was with me.
That smile never left my face. Blasting “The Victors” from my car stereo as we waited to get out of the parking lot. On the entire drive back to Ann Arbor, as Paul and I excitedly discussed just how good, exactly, this team might be. All night, as I celebrated with my friends back in Ann Arbor.
Can I have that feeling back?
The next few weeks were a blur, as Michigan’s defense destroyed opponents, and Mike DeBord did just enough to get away with a win. Michigan, for the first time since 1997, was in the national title hunt beyond September.
October 14 provided another roadtrip opportunity. We left for State College on Thursday night, so Danny could visit his girlfriend, a freshman at Penn State. By the time we got there, it was nearly midnight, so we dropped off our companions, explored the campus a bit, and paid way too much for one night in a hotel.
The next day, we were completely free from responsibility. We explored the town, bought Penn State gear (I’m an avid collector of any and all college merchandise), went for a ride on the Nittany Lion (a phrase which here means “sat on a stationary statue”), and generally took in the Penn State experience. It is at this time that I should probably recommend against going to an away game 40+ hours before it starts unless you have something or someone to see there, or are 21.
Paternoville was certainly an experience itself, and the atmosphere among the student body was awesome. Of course, a friendly PSU fan offered me a paper plate to tape over the Michigan decal on the back of my car, to avoid getting all my windows broken. After failing to find a random couch to stay on (are there even house parties at Penn State?), we found a parking lot, tilted the seats in my car back, and slept. When we woke up the next morning, we found my passenger seat permanently reclined. This was a bad omen.
Fortunately for us, Penn State’s media relations office had provided us with a parking pass. Unfortunately, their instructions on reaching the parking lot were something short of “subpar.” After finally dealing with myriad parking lot attendants, we left the car in the Black Lot and walked back to the dorms. Once there, we snagged something to eat and a couple of couches in a common room. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, catching up on sleep from the previous night, the games that we watched are kind of hazy. I remember seeing Indiana shock Iowa, diminishing the importance of our tilt against the Hawkeyes the following week. It was that much easier to focus on tonight’s game.
As we left the commons area, I stripped off my Penn State sweatshirt, under which I had been wearing a maize Michigan shirt all along. After revealing to the unwitting Nittany Lions all around me that I had been nothing more than a mole from the beginning, I became the recipient of all sorts of friendly trash talk, a phrase which here means “death threats.”
On the death march back to my car, one thing really struck me, the Penn State fans has no doubt that they would win this game. Perhaps it’s just a difference between the fan bases, but I think the general tailgating attitude in Ann Arbor is mortal fear (or this year, resignation), especially when facing a more-highly ranked team that didn’t get housed by Notre Dame (Zing!). If I could extract that excitement from their fan base without getting the asshole factor, I would certainly love to inject it into Michigan fans. There was no sense of entitlement, just excitement leading to confidence.
After arriving at the stadium (we were among the first people there, once again), I took photos of the completely empty stadium. Beaver may be one of the most minor league hockey-like venues in the conference (of course, it doesn’t hold a candle to Sparty’s eye lasers), but the facility itself is nothing short of impressive. The students started to filter in before the rest of the fans. This took place two hours before the game started. Every single one was wearing white. Are you taking notes Michigan students? Be more like that. Always.
The white-out was in full force. Again I was on the sidelines. This time, I knew I wasn’t alone. Mike, Adrian, and Alan were definitely there. Steve Breaston may have been the unsung hero of the game (as he was for much of the 2006 season). Though the defense played well, I managed to hear a spirited Ron English rip into them at halftime. They responded. Again, I was ecstatic on the drive home. This time, it was too long, and I was too tired to smile the whole way.
Blur. Iowa. Blur. Northwestern. Blur. Ball State… regretfully non-blur. Indiana. Blur.
Ohio State. The season. The national championship play-in game. #1 v. #2. Good v. Evil.
I went to Columbus on Thursday. Bo died Friday morning. I was glued to the TV all day. CNN had a birds-eye view of the charter buses pulling out of Schembechler Hall. In the dorm, Ohio State students were literally celebratin
g the death of Schmbechler, one of their own. If Woody disowned Bo (which he did publicly, but never privately), by His name, they would too. Come midnight, I watched several thousand OSU undergrads partake in their annual tradition of jumping in Mirror Lake.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. Nerves, adrenaline, anticipation. I stayed up all night. Eleven Swans literally moved me to the point of tears. Maybe I was just tired. But when I re-read it a year later, after watching a dismal, rainy beatdown in our own stadium, I cried again. If I were to read it today, I can guarantee I would cry again. Maybe the prose is just that beautiful, maybe it just recaptures my excitement from November 17, 2006, and I know now that it doesn’t have a happy ending. At that time, in that dorm room in Park Hall, I was still just a little naïve, I guess.
I “woke up” at 4AM, without having slept an instant. I was ready to go to GameDay. My cousin and her boyfriend didn’t want to get up and wait in line for something they had been to several times that year. Didn’t they realize I hadn’t had an opportunity to experience it? Didn’t they understand that this week was somehow different, more important? By 6AM I had dragged them out to the Shoe.
The actual goings-on at GameDay are of virtually no importance, except to note that, during a commercial break Chris Fowler specifically asked the OSU fans to show their class when he gave a eulogy of sorts for Bo Schembechler. Show their class they did, cheering the death of a man who had coached in Columbus for 6 years.
Several things happened after that, but let’s forget them. Forget 42-39, and the entirety of 2007. History lapses between November 18, 2006 and January 1, 2008. We can’t completely forget Utah, Notre Dame, Illinois, or Purdue. But they can’t help us now. Let’s start over, and fill in the gaps in history.
Beat the Buckeyes.