Sunday, September 02, 2007
I'm hoping that writing about this will be sort of therapeutic. Or something.
By now you're probably all well aware of the historically horrific Michigan football game that took place on Saturday, when Appalachian State became the first 1-AA team in the history of ever to defeat an AP-ranked team. It was every bit as bad in the stadium as you probably imagine.
Usually the first game of the season is a time for fun and happy good times. The opposing team is always some non-conference school with a definite fluff factor, and while of course there's the Any Given Saturday factor and all that, it's still THE MICHIGAN WOLVERINES playing against SOME LOW-DIVISION SCHOOL, so the odds are not exactly squared up. If you're a Michigan fan, it's stress-free. All you have to worry about is how hot it's going to be in the stadium at gametime, and if you're watching at home, well, no worries at all.
This year already got off to a bad start, because most people who wanted to watch at home couldn't-- thank you, Big 10 Network. Bad karma for sure.
It was pretty warm out, but I've experienced worse in the Big House before. We also weren't sitting in the student section for the first time in my life, which meant that instead of balancing precariously on a narrow bench with a bunch of drunken frat boys swaying dangerously into me, I actually got to sit down for much of the game. That and the fact that there was a seat or two vacant in my row (so we weren't packed in like sardines) makes the heat shockingly easier to bear. I still managed to get sunburnt, but that's par for the course.
Still, it was a pleasant sunny day, with one of those "high skies" you hear about sometimes in baseball. You know the kind: that endless vault of blue without a scrap of cloud in it, bright enough to look perfectly collegiate against anyone wearing maize. It was hard to imagine that the game was going to have any outcome other than the expected one.
When Michigan first drove down the field and scored on a Mike Hart touchdown run, it seemed even more like things were going to progress in the usual manner. Mike Hart looked great, a force of sheer unstoppable Mike Hart-ness. Who does not love Mike Hart? Is this a thing which is possible? I think not.
Appalachian State scored soon after that, though. It was a little deflating, especially because it came on a great big 68-yard pass, the kind of thing that it would later seem impossible for Henne to throw. Chad Henne apparently prefers little dumpy passes that may travel 30 yards sideways, but only ACTUALLY go 2 yards up the field. We know Henne has the arm; when he does go long, part of his problem is actually going TOO long and overthrowing his receivers. So I'm not sure why the coaching staff sticks with this wee-pass scheme when it has failed to work so many times.
But the point is that even though the game had been quickly tied up, we weren't too upset yet. A little pissed off at the defense, sure. Grumbling a little, sure. But no one in the stands ACTUALLY believed that we were looking at a straight-up defeat. This kind of stuff has happened to Michigan before. We've had a TON of trouble with mobile quarterbacks the past few years, and Armanti Edwards is very, very mobile (or at least we sure made him look that way).
(Why yes, that IS a hole the size of Alaska that has obligingly opened up in the Michigan defense for Mr. Edwards to saunter right through.)
I guess this is a kind of arrogance, but honestly? We win these kinds of games. We may do so annoyingly according to the fans, especially in the Lloyd Carr era, where the win would likely be just enough and not a whit more, but we win. This isn't an arrogant statement; it's a statement of FACT.
The whole game slowly became a series of unbelievable occurrences. Surely we wouldn't be down this much by halftime. Surely we wouldn't be down in the second half. Surely we wouldn't be down so close to the end of the game.
When we came back in the last minutes of the game to squeak ahead, it was like everyone in the crowd said, "Ah ha!, so THIS is how it will go!" We would sneak ahead of the Mountaineers and it would be an ugly, ugly game that would get the attention of the team, so they would hopefully be extremely motivated to learn from their mistakes... but we would still WIN. It seemed impossible that we wouldn't. And then when we came back AGAIN, with that great pass from Henne and the great catch from Mario Manningham... when we got into field goal range...
That was ugly. That was an ugly, ugly blocked kick, but holy freakin' cats, it should not have even come down to that. Is it inexcusable for Gingell to be kicking the ball that low? Yes. Of course. What the hell. But it is MORE inexcusable to be depending on a field goal with the clock ticking down to prevent a defeat at the hands of a 1-AA team, even if that 1-AA team is the best 1-AA team to ever put on its little 1-AA pants.
I am not sure that I can accurately describe the feeling in the stadium after the Mountaineers ran that blocked kick back and dogpiled on the Michigan sideline.
It may best be summed up by the older guy sitting in front of me, who, as soon as the game ended, sat down heavily on his bit of bleacher and immediately pulled out and lit up a cigarette. This is a clear violation of probably 50 different and equally strident Big House rules and regulations. You'll see people sneaking alcohol into Michigan games all the time, but I had never seen someone smoking; that always seemed to be a much worse offense.
This guy was so obviously stunned and traumatized that he did not, in that moment, care. At all. He stared into space, motionless except for the little motions needed to smoke his cigarette. He looked so utterly lost that people coming up the stairs past him kept patting him consolingly on the back. It's possible that he didn't decide to ignore the rules; it looked like he might have just forgot where he was altogether.
Were there any good moments? Sure. Of course.
One of the best moments was after the bands had come off the field at halftime and the kickers were warming up. Jason Vitaris, the Appalachian State place kicker, was kicking down at my end of the field. They had only managed/bothered to get the net about halfway up, so when he boomed a kick way high, it ended up in the crowd, maybe 10 or 15 rows up.
Vitaris gazed patiently into the crowd, waiting for the ball to get thrown back. The Michigan fans of course immediately started passing the ball backwards, farther and farther up into the stadium, yelling at people who didn't understand what was going on. This took a while, since the ball had a long way to go and its passage was pretty erratic. The whole time this was going on Vitaris was just staring at the crowd, like he couldn't quite believe that he wasn't getting the ball back.
This continued until the crowd collectively managed to get the ball all way to the top row, where it was ceremoniously hurled out of the stadium entire. Vitaris kind of looked around furtively, like he still could not believe that the whole thing wasn't some sort of colossal joke and he would be getting his ball back shortly, before he finally had to give up on it.
The other best moment was when we were walking back from the stadium and one of the kids hanging out of a window along the way was screaming to everyone, "Drink the loss away! Drink the loss away! It's the only way!" in a truly brave and heroic manner. That's the good ol' collegiate spirit right there, that is.
The rest of the photos from the game are right here, if for some sick masochist reason you want to look at them all.
(Watching Sportscenter. They're talking about BASEBALL. The Yankees/Devil Rays game, to be exact. The Sportscenter announcer says something along the lines of, "Nobody expected much out of the Devil Rays here, but they're at least as good as Appalachian State". Of course the D'Rays went on to win. Yuk yuk yuk. We're a catdamned joke now. People will for years talk about some rinkydink team upsetting a powerhouse and they'll use Michigan and Appalachian State as a metaphor. This may never die and I hate that fact just as much as I hate the game outcome itself.)
Labels: Appalachian State, football, history, in attendance, loss, Michigan, NCAA, photoblog, record, terrible, Wolverines