I wonder why I ever decided to become a sports fan. After yesterday's debacle against Appalachian State, I ended up talking to my college friend Andy while walking home from Taco Mac. I announced that the silver lining from the loss is that it is a strong indication that I shouldn't care about sports in general and Michigan particularly as much as I do. I have a job, a wife, and a son; don't I have enough to occupy my attention without worry about whether a senior linebacker can properly pick the right player to block on a decisive field goal? I am still mulling this proposition over. As the day went on, I came up with the more traditional methods of a sports fan coping with a major loss:
Transferring my negative energy onto a rival: Hahaha, Notre Dame also sucks.
Transferring my negative energy onto my team: F*** Lloyd Carr.
Transferring my attention from one favorite team to another: Maybe I should invest less emotional energy in Michigan football and more in F.C. Barcelona. After all, if Barca was knocked out of the Champions League by Shakhtar Donetsk, I wouldn't be inundated by e-mails, text messages, and voice mails from "friends" talking shit about Michigan's humiliation.
Being the intellectualizer that I am, I need to talk a few issues out. Prepare to be bored.
The most vexing aspect about Michigan's loss yesterday is that it demonstrated that Lloyd & company just do not learn. They drove Michigan fans crazy in 2005 by repeatedly bungling chances to ice games. Every time Michigan got the ball with the lead in the fourth quarter, you could be absolutely certain that they would get one first down (at most) and would punt the ball back to the opponent to give the opponent a chance to win the game. Michigan did this despite the fact that the defense had shown time and again that it could not hold a lead. So what happens yesterday? Michigan takes a one-point lead (and the lead was one instead of three because of the idiotic decision to go for two after Michigan scored to make the game 31-26 [and yes, I said aloud that the decision was bad when Michigan lined up for two]), UM then picks off a pass, and then gets one first down and gives the ball back. Michigan ran four straight times, all out of formations that gave away not only that Michigan was running, but also that they were running left or center. Compounding the problems were a delay penalty (evidence of Michigan unbelievable levels of sloppiness that were indicative of a totally unfocused team) and a typically conservative four-yard pass on third and ten when a first down would have salted the game away. Michigan put the game in the hands of a defense that had been torched for 31 points up to that point. Michigan only had a chance to come back from Appalachian State's winning field goal because Jerry Moore had a brain fart and kicked with 30 seconds to go as opposed to centering the ball, bleeding down the clock, and ensuring that the field goal would be the last play of the game.
The second most vexing aspect of the game was the fact that Michigan had all the same scheme-related flaws that they have shown throughout this decade. Inability to stop a run-based spread attack? Check. Inability to tackle a mobile quarterback? Check. Inability to recognize that the opposing offense didn't use the outside receivers and almost never threw the ball down the field or outside the hashmarks? Check. Totally predictable defensive formations that give away whether a blitz is coming? Check. Linebackers trying to cover wide receivers? Check. Dreadful safety play? Check. (Watch Steve Brown's angle on App. State's first touchdown.) Offensive formations that give away the fact that Michigan is running? Check. (Every time the fullback shuffled or freshman receiver Junior Hemingway was in the game, Michigan ran. Hell, I'd be interested to know if Michigan ever threw the ball with the fullback in the game, period.) Reducing Michigan's best receiver to a one-dimensional option who runs nothing but fly patterns? Check. (I shudder to think about how open Mario Manningham would have been for ten-yard stop routes, given the way that he was being defended.) Focus on getting six yards on third and five, thus requiring perfect execution time and again to get down the field? Check. Failure to use the entire field in the passing game? Check. Lousy special teams? Check.
The third most vexing aspect of the game yesterday is that it reminded me of the soul-crushing nature of college football. I love the sport because it is the only American sport with a meaningful regular season and as a result, every game means so much. The downside to this reality is that my team blew its season in the noon timeslot on the first day of the season. Where do I go from here (other than to decide that sports are a cruel bitch goddess that needs to be dumped)? Additionally, because college football games mean so much, fans remember them. No one remembers the Devil Rays beating the Yankees or the Hawks beating the Spurs, but everyone will remember Michigan losing to Appalchian State. Michigan fans are going to hear about this game for years. Casual fans who don't know the first thing about the sport will be able to smirk and say "Appalachian State, dude!" every time I wear a Michigan t-shirt. (And suffice it to say, I won't be wearing the one that just says "The Victors" any time soon.)
The fourth most vexing aspect of the game yesterday is that my humiliation was not simply confined to the comfort of my living room. No, because the Big Ten decided to use me and fans like me as hostages, I had to watch it in a packed sports bar that celebrated wildly when Michigan's final field goal was blocked. I'm certainly not going to say that I wouldn't have done the same thing if the shoe were on the other foot. If Ohio State would have lost on the last play to Youngstown State, I surely would have danced on the table and shot nasty looks at the Sta-Puft Marshamallow Man in the Laurinitis jersey with his walking Brutus doll two tables over. What made the defeat so difficult was that it brought so much joy to everyone else in the bar. It's hard to be really pissed off; it's doubly hard when you're pissed off and everyone else is celebrating as if it were V-E Day.
The fifth most vexing aspect of the game yesterday is that I have tickets to the Michigan-Purdue game in six weeks, so I won't be able to simply tune Michigan football out. I'll have to bear witness to Lloyd and Company gritting their teeth and emphasizing execution over and over again. I'll enjoy going to Ann Arbor with my college friends and I'll enjoy seeing Mike Hart play in person one last time. I can't say that there's much else to be excited about Michigan football, other than the fact that Lloyd Carr is probably in his last season, his political capital in determining his successor is at rock bottom, and my dreamed of replacement bolstered his resume last night in Berkeley.