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Stadium and Main: April 2006

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Stop Freaking Out about the NFL Draft

No love for the WolverinesFor those of you about to jump off a cliff because Michigan didn’t have a player taken until the 4th round (DT Gabe Watson to Arizona, WR Jason Avant to Philadelphia), I suggest you take a step back. I think most “experts” would agree that the “best” talent is usually taken in the first 2 rounds... makes sense, right? So let’s look at what Michigan’s recent teams have done in the seasons after they have not had a player selected in the first 2 rounds:

1997 Draft, prior to the 1997 season: No Michigan players selected in first 2 rounds. Hmmm, what happened with that 1997 team? The program must have really been in decline then, huh?!

2002 Draft, prior to the 2002 season: No Michigan players selected in first 2 rounds. The 2002 team finished 10-3, with losses to eventual National Champion Ohio State, a Top-10 Iowa team, and a 2-point loss at Notre Dame. Nice wins over Washington to start the year and over Florida in the Outback Bowl to end the year. Not a “great” season, but not the monumental meltdown that some fans think will happen after having (outrage!) no players drafted in the opening rounds.

Similarly, our recent teams have really struggled after losing a lot of talent in the first 2 rounds:

2001 Draft, prior to the 2001 season: Pick #8, WR David Terrell. Pick #17, OL Steve Hutchinson. Pick #18, OL Jeff Backus. Pick #38, RB Anthony Thomas. Pick #43, OL Maurice Williams. The 2001 Michigan team was one of the worst in recent memory, falling apart down the stretch and finishing 8-4 after a blowout loss to Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl.

2005 Draft, prior to the 2005 season: Pick #3, WR Braylon Edwards. Pick #29, DB Marlin Jackson. Pick #33, OL David Baas. The 2005 Michigan was likely the worst in recent memory, finishing 7-5, partly due to injuries, but also due to losing these three high-quality players.

In case you haven’t noticed, Michigan’s teams do much, much better when they are top-heavy with experienced talent. 1997 and 2003 are two examples of this. And I really think 2006 and 2007 will follow that trend as well (especially 2007). So while you complain about all of Ohio State’s draft picks, ask yourself if you would have been happy with their last 2 seasons of play with that Mega-Loaded roster: 8-4 in 2004, with losses to Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin and Iowa, and 10-2 in 2005, with no Big Ten Title, but respectable losses to Texas and PSU. I have a feeling that in 2007, we will look back and say, “how did Michigan lose 5 games in 2005 with such a talented roster?” Much like Ohio State fans are thinking, “how did we lose 4 games in 2004 with such a talented roster?”

My point is that things tend to even out over time. While the 2006 Draft was not kind to Michigan, it looks like the 2007 and 2008 versions will be much better. Overall, we might not have as many NFL players as Ohio State or Florida State, but I think or win-loss record over time will be quite comparable to those schools (and has been very comparable in recent years). So having a “bad draft” doesn’t mean that our program is dead or that we are going to stink next year – it more likely means the opposite: that we have kept most of our talent on the roster, and that we only lost a handful of decent role-players (I’m looking at you, Grant Mason, Pierre Woods, Pat Massey and company). Conclusion: We will probably be much better next year. Fingers crossed…

Friday, April 28, 2006

Shame on you, Tony Kornheiser

I'm not cool!On yesterday’s Pardon the Interruption, the retirement of broadcaster Keith Jackson was one of the topics. You guys already know how I feel about the man (if not, see my last post), so I was pretty shocked and annoyed that Tony Kornheiser didn’t even take 2 seconds to compliment Keith, say “thank you,” or remind the audience that Jackson was one of the best ever. Instead, Kornheiser decided to joke around about Jackson’s recent comment, “I don’t want to die in a stadium parking lot.”

I was so taken aback that I quickly hit “Record” on my DVR so I could re-watch it and make sure I hadn’t missed something. I hadn’t. Michael Wilbon at least made sure to make some kind comments about Jackson, but Kornheiser just grinned and joked around, even turning the conversation away from Jackson and on to legendary columnist Red Smith of The New York Times.

I really shouldn’t have been shocked, because Kornheiser is not a football fan. He may be a fan of the NFL, but he is not a football fan. He grew up in New York, and is a baseball fan first and foremost. Many East Coast natives don’t follow college football, because there aren’t many good teams (or even many Division I programs) up there. So, I can’t blame him too much, but it is clear that his knowledge of college football is very, very limited. Whenever they talk college football on PTI, he just regurgitates the same comments and stereotypes: “Notre Dame is the University of Football in America,” “Urban Meyer is the hottest young coach in the country,” “The Pac-10 is weak,” etc. While some (or all) of these comments might be accurate, it is obvious that the guy doesn’t actually watch many college games. He wouldn’t know Steve Breaston from Steve Buscemi.

So now he will be the “quirky” color man in the Monday Night Football booth, and I don’t think it is going to end well. And for three reasons: (1) Because he won’t know enough about the players to satisfy the real football fans, (2) because he isn’t nearly as funny as he thinks he is, and (3) because he doesn’t seem to have much humility or respect for those that came before him.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

"Whoa, Nellie!" no longer

Southern drawl styleLegendary sports broadcaster Keith Jackson is probably going to retire. You might remember that Jackson "retired" a few years ago, then continued to do Pac-10 games, and eventually started calling more national games in recent years. But this time it sounds like he might be gone for good.

While he slipped a bit in recent years, which is to be expected for a man in his mid-70's, Jackson will always be the voice of college football to me. Some of my first memories of Michigan Football include Jackson's other trademark saying: "He fummmbled the fooootball.... Michigan's got it!" Jackson is widely credited for giving Michigan Stadium its nickname: The Big House. He has gone on record as being a big Michigan fan, and hinted strongly during a TV interview that he voted for Charles Woodson on his 1997 Heisman ballot. It would have been nice if he could have gone out calling a Michigan Rose Bowl victory, but I guess this isn't a storybook ending. But I say "thanks" to Keith Jackson for years of entertainment and one of the most memorable voices in sports history.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Off-Topic Tuesday: Hip Hop Hooray and Parker Lewis

Classic early-90'sNaughty By Nature’s Hip Hop Hooray is one of the most well-known rap songs of all time. Now, maybe you don’t like it if you’re a “true thug,” but you’ve gotta admit that the chorus and beat can get stuck in your head. But is that what makes the song such a good one? No… what makes the song a classic is a quick reference to the much-too-short-lived Fox comedy Parker Lewis Can’t Lose:”

“Fools get foolish, neither them or Parker Lewis knew us…
You could have crews wit shoes and can’t step to us.”

Am I the only one that finds it completely awesome that one of the most-played hip hop songs of all time makes reference to this show? And for 2 reasons: (1) Because the show was sweet, and (2) because it means that Naughty By Nature actually watched it?! If you enjoyed the show, too, click here to help get it released on DVD. “Gentlemen, we have achieved coolness... Synchronize Swatches!”

Monday, April 24, 2006

Do you know Ryan Mallett?

If you don’t, let’s hope that you know him as a Michigan QB come September, 2007. Ryan Mallett is a kid that a few scouts consider the best High School QB this year (sorry ND fans, Jimmy Clausen is too skinny, way too old for his grade (he’s 20 as a Junior in High School!), and plays for a virtual California All-Star team). Mallett, from Texarkana, Texas, has had high interest in Michigan for more than a year now, with some people speculating that we are his “favorite.” Set to announce his college choice some time this week between Michigan, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Florida State, let’s hope that Mallett read the latest article confirming that Michigan is indeed the new “QB U.”

As Jim Carty points out here, Michigan is in desperate need of another QB. And while Jason Forcier is a decent option, one would think that after Chad Henne leaves, Ryan Mallett would be next in line. The stars seem to have aligned for “Mallett to Michigan,” but stranger things have happened in the wild recruiting world. This time next week, Michigan recruitniks will either be in celebration mode or panic mode.

**Update: 4/25/06 - Mallett announces for Michigan. Phew...**

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Jay Riemersma - Where is he now?

Never switched to a TE jersey numberJay Riemersma played Tight End at Michigan, after starting out as a Quarterback. As one of Michigan's primary receiving threats in 1994 and 1995, Riemersma was tough to tackle and had great hands (for a converted QB, at least). Unfortunately for me, my "top" Riemersma memory comes from a failed fake field goal in a 28-25 loss to MSU in 1995. I gotta feel bad for Jay, as the prime of his Michigan career came during one of the worst short streches of Michigan Football in recent times.

However, Riemersma was talented enough to make it to the NFL, being drafted by Buffalo in the 7th Round of the 1996 Draft. He played for the Bills from 1996-2002, then for the Pittsburgh Steelers (2003-2004) before being set back by an Achilles tendon injury. His NFL career stats weren't too shabby, either.Proper TE jersey number now

Last year, Riemersma was named Interim Head Football Coach at Zeeland East High School, in Jay's hometown of Zeeland, Michigan. Despite posting an 0-9 record, it appears that Jay is being considered as the permanent hire. With Jay's desire to be a coach, and his experience at Tight End, there was some buzz this offseason about whether Michigan would bring him on as TE Coach (to replace the departed Terry Malone) or (more realistically) enroll him as a Graduate Assistant. In reality, Jay is still very inexperienced as a coach. But based on his production at Michigan, I wouldn't mind seeing him back in Ann Arbor sooner or later.

Other Random Goods: Jay is/was pretty smart, and pretty religious.
Here's what Lloyd told me...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Some Factoids

Random, Depressing Michigan Trivia

Prior to 2005, the last time we lost to both Minnesota and Wisconsin in the same season: 1962.

Prior to 2004-2005, the last time we lost two games to end the season in two consecutive seasons: 1935-36 (no Bowls for us in those years). Which means…

Prior to 2004-2005, Michigan had never lost to OSU and in its Bowl game in back-to-back seasons. As they say, all good things must come to an end.

Random, Uplifting Michigan Trivia

The last time Michigan had as bad of a season as 2005 was back in 1984, when we went 6-6. However, the next season, 1985, Michigan finished 10-1-1, with a final ranking of #2 in both major polls, and victories over Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Nebraska (in the Fiesta Bowl). Keep hope alive!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Off-Topic Tuesday: Steak sauce in fancy restaurants

So, the other week I was watching this show "Top Chef" on Bravo. In "Survivor"-like fashion, the contestants had a challenge where they had to cook for kids. Then the kids picked the winner. Long story short, a woman on the losing team didn't like the challenge because she didn't think the kids had a "mature palette" or something like that. She thought kids just voted for the junk food stuff, which they probably did. Anyway, one judge told her that as a chef, her only responsibility was to please the customer, even if she disagreed with their food preferences. Make the customer happy - that's all.

So that made me think about fancy restaurants. I think the people running these places are a bunch of hypocrites. I'm sure that in their tiny little brains, they think they are all about the customer, and that they pride themselves in "taking care of" their clientele. But in reality, they couldn't care less about us. Why? Because they won't give us steak sauce.

See, at fancy restaurants, you aren't supposed to need steak sauce. Why? Because the steak is seasoned and cooked so perfectly, that nobody in their right mind would want steak sauce! Ummm, what?... I think I'm smart enough to decide when I want steak sauce. And guess what? I want it every time I eat a steak! Even if it is seasoned and cooked to perfection, and even if the snobby waiters don't want to give it to me.

It is ridiculous that, somehow, it has become "tacky" to ask for steak sauce at a fancy restaurant. Would they scoff at me if I asked for butter? What about some cream with my coffee? Or what if I ordered the "wrong wine" (Red vs. White) to complement my meal? Would they not let me have it? I bet they would, and that is why they should let me have steak sauce! Because I want it, because I am the customer, and because I am paying hundreds of dollars for the meal. The end.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Spring Practice linkfest

The longest 4 months of the year have officially begun. Spring Practice is over. Links here:

Detroit News recap
Henne article
More Mike Hart love
Ann Arbor News recap
Fluff piece on Lloyd Carr

Friday, April 14, 2006

Big Ten Football TV talks

Big Ten's new home?
The next few weeks could bring some significant changes to the way we watch Michigan Football (on TV, that is). Rumors have been circulating for the past few months, and have now found their way into the mainstream media. What rumors? Primarily that Big Ten Football could end up on Fox (and possibly their various sister stations) after years with ABC/ESPN [ link (scroll towards bottom) ; Chicago Trib (reg. required)]. The Big Ten is allegedly very interested in some sort of “exclusivity,” whereby they would have a “whole station” to themselves, possibly with their own pre-game show and all the trimmings. Having to currently share ABC coverage with the Big 12, Pac-10, Big East, and the newly-expanded ACC, having its own network might appeal to the Big Ten powers that be.

So what could this mean to the average fan? First, remember that this is not a done deal. ABC/ESPN has the big bucks, and won’t go down without a fight. But, if this does go through, here are some potential ramifications (along with some wild guesses) as I see it:

1 – Out-of-area Big Ten fans could really get screwed, especially if Fox were to show one or two “big games” nationally, while putting the others on their regional Fox Sports Net stations. If this type of setup happened, DirecTV users would be fine (thanks to DirecTV’s Sports Pack, but cable subscribers likely would not. Most of us currently rely on ESPN Gameplan to watch at least half of Michigan’s games in any given season. ESPN Gameplan does not broadcast games shown on Fox Sports Net (currently Big 12 and Pac-10 games). That could change, but only if (1) Fox is willing to partner up with ABC/ESPN (its sworn enemy), and (2) ABC/ESPN is willing to fork over some major dough so it can say “we have a few Big Ten games on our PPV package each week.” Uhhh… I’m not so sure that would happen. A glimmer of hope for out-of-area cable subscribers might be the 3 Fox College Sports stations. If Fox used these 3 channels (along with its national Network TV station) for Big Ten games, then some of us would be OK. Unfortunately, many cable subscribers do not have access to the Fox College Sports stations, even in a Sports Tier or on Digital Cable.

2 – The BCS TV contracts will be shuffled around as soon as possible. Right now, ABC has the Rose Bowl, while Fox has all other BCS Bowls (including the National Championship game, played on January 8th). This arrangement starts this season, but could be changed if Fox gets exclusive rights to Big Ten games in the coming years.

3 – What will ESPN do if they have zero Big Ten games? Will they fill up their Noon time slot with more ACC and Big East games (likely)? Will there be an “anti-Big Ten bias” on ESPN channels? One will certainly be alleged. SEC fans claim ESPN bias all the time, and ESPN shows one or two SEC games each week (night games). What will the conspiracy theorists say if/when ESPN has no financial stake in Big Ten Football?

Again, this is all very speculative at this point, but it could be the beginning of something really bad (or good) for Big Ten Football. We will find out in the coming weeks…

Annual rite of spring

Spring practice officially ends on Saturday, with the annual “Spring Game” (which is usually a practice, not a scrimmage) at Michigan Stadium at 1 p.m. While this spring has been fairly injury-free (with the notable exception of Antonio Bass), I still expect Lloyd to use the “injury excuse” if there is no scrimmage to be had.

If you plan on going to the Spring Game, these other events might be worth checking out.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

1997: #5 Michigan 28, #15 Iowa 24

One of the most overlooked games in recent Michigan Football history has to be the 1997 game against Iowa. While wins over Penn State, Ohio State, and Washington State (in the Rose Bowl) were “bigger,” the victory over Iowa made those games so important. Down 21-7 at halftime, Michigan finally woke up in the 2nd half and pulled out a 28-24 victory. Many Michigan fans claim that the Big House was at its loudest during MSU 2004 or PSU 2002, but I honestly have never heard it any louder than when Sam Sword made the game-ending interception with 31 seconds left, as Iowa was driving for a potential game-winning TD. Let’s take a look back…

October 18th, 1997 – 12:30 Eastern – Nationally televised on ESPN

Michigan entered the game undefeated (5-0) and ranked 5th in both major polls, while Iowa was 4-1 and ranked 15th in both major polls, coming off of a loss at Ohio State. After playing many long stretches of dominant football, it seemed as if Iowa would provide the Michigan Defense with its first real test of the season. However, it would turn out to be the Iowa Defense and Special Teams that provided the most problems for the Wolverines.

The scoreless 1st quarter was fairly uneventful, with neither offense able to get into a groove. The key play early on came when Michigan Safety Marcus Ray intercepted a Matt Sherman pass at Michigan’s 1-yard line. I could've been somebody!Holding Iowa without points on this Red Zone possession would prove to be critical. Things picked up in the 2nd quarter, with Iowa RB Tavian Banks starting the scoring on a 53-yard TD run with 13:29 left in the quarter. It should be noted that if Iowa had won this game, Banks might have been a legitimate Heisman candidate, as he went over 1,000 yards on just his 125th carry of the season (an NCAA record for “fewest carries to break 1,000 yards”). Michigan was finally able to get on track with just under 5 minutes left in the half, as Brian Griese hit Tai Streets for a 15-yard TD. With the game tied at 7, things proceeded to get crazy.

Michigan’s attempt at a semi-hurry-up Offense failed miserably when Iowa’s Ed Gibson intercepted a Brian Griese pass and returned it 64 yards to the Michigan 1-yard line. Iowa scored on a Fullback dive the next play, taking a 13-7 lead after James Hall blocked the extra point. I'm fast!Then, after Iowa forced a Michigan punt on the last play of the half, speedster Tim Dwight took the return 61 yards virtually untouched for a TD. A 2-point conversion pass made the Iowa lead 21-7 at halftime.

Michigan exited the playing field to a fairly loud (for the Big House, at least) chorus of boos, but returned showing some signs of life. Michigan quickly took the ball down the field after halftime, scoring on a 10-yard TD pass from Griese to WR Russell Shaw. The score was 21-14 with 12:06 left in the 3rd. Meanwhile, the Michigan Defense was playing great, but still needed one big play from the Offense to get the game tied up. Like the visor?That play came when Anthony Thomas took a handoff 58 yards to the Iowa 4-yard line. The big gain was almost all for naught, as Michigan failed to punch it into the endzone on the next 3 plays. On 4th-and-goal from the 1, Brian Griese scored on a QB sneak to knot the game at 21. 3:11 remained in the 3rd quarter.

With all of the momentum on their side, Michigan’s Special Teams really let the air out of the building when Tim Dwight took the ensuing kickoff all the way back to the Michigan 26-yard line. It was as if Dwight was single-handedly beating the Wolverines. Despite having only two catches for 13 yards as a receiver (or one catch for 7 yards, depending on which Box Score you believe), Tim Dwight accounted for four plays of more than 50 yards. Not a bad day. Fortunately for Michigan fans, the Michigan Defense didn’t have a bad day, either. With time winding down in the 3rd quarter, they held Iowa to a 38-yard field goal, making the score 24-21, Iowa, heading into the 4th.

In the first 7 minutes of the 4th quarter, I clearly remember thinking that the entire Michigan team looked nervous. In the 1st half, Michigan looked bad, but now they looked a bit tentative. The same could be said for Iowa, as neither team seemed willing or able to make “the play” to win the game. It didn’t help Michigan’s cause that Iowa’s defense was playing just as well as their own, sacking Griese 5 times. But, with less than 7 minutes left, and facing a 3rd-and-16 deep in its own territory, Iowa made a big mistake. A pass interference call gave Michigan some breathing room, and a key first down. Griese then connected with super-clutch TE Jerame Tuman twice in a row, moving the ball to Iowa’s 30-yard line. Michigan then chewed up some clock, with 4 straight Anthony Thomas runs for a total of 20 yards. Another stupid personal foul penalty against Iowa put the ball on the 2-yard line.

Again, Michigan struggled to put the ball in the endzone. Keep in mind that 1996 was the first year with Overtime in the college game, and Michigan had never played an Overtime game. If Michigan had failed to score a TD here, it would have been hoping for a successful FG to tie the game at 24 with less than 3 minutes left, and Iowa having possession. I could only imagine the thoughts that were running through Lloyd Carr’s head. I had convinced myself that he was going to play for Overtime, and potentially call up the NCAA Rules Committee to see if the game could be declared a tie, just for old time’s sake.

All your corn are belong to us!So, in my mind, the entire season came down to that 3rd-and-goal play. It seemed to last forever. The first thing I remember after the snap is being relieved that it was a passing play. But then I was confused, because it didn’t look well designed. It was not a quick-hitter, and Griese looked flustered. As Griese rolled right, I was locked on Tuman the whole way. I noticed what seemed like 11 Iowa defenders round him, but it was more like 3 or 4. Nevertheless, Griese was able to fit the pass into the right spot, and Michigan took the lead. Kraig Baker made the all-important extra point, to give Michigan a 28-24 advantage with 2:55 remaining.

The game was far from over, though, as Iowa quickly drove down the field to the Michigan 26-yard line. “Here we go again” must have been what most Michigan fans were thinking. With 31 seconds left in the game, they were able to breathe a sigh of relief. Under significant pressure, Iowa QB Matt Sherman threw an ill-advised pass towards Michigan LB Sam Sword. The endInterception. Game over. Pandemonium. As mentioned earlier, I contend that this was the loudest single moment in the Big House. It was created by the following factors: (1) Many Michigan fans were expecting Michigan to lose, (2) (related to (1)) Iowa had just driven down the field on us like we were nothing, (3) the game was an emotional come-from-behind rally, and (4) Michigan was undefeated, and fans entered the Iowa game hoping for (expecting?) something magical that season. Put that all together, and it was an explosion. One of my fondest memories in the Big House. Michigan 28, Iowa 24.

Random Stuff:

- Michigan’s Total Defense: 52 plays, 187 yards. Subtract one 53-yard TD run by Tavian Banks, and you have 51 plays for 134 yards. That is approximately 2.63 yards per play, which is what we came to expect from the ’97 Defense.

- Charles Woodson’s punt return TD against Ohio State is more celebrated, but Woodson actually had more punt return yards in this game – 97, his high for the season.

- This game went a long way in solidifying Anthony Thomas’ playing time at RB, as he carried 20 times for 129 yards, a season high for him. Thomas’ 58-yard run was the longest play of the season, to that point.

- We hadn’t played Iowa in 1996 or 1995. In 1994, Michigan won, 29-14, at Iowa.

- The 1997 Michigan Defense continued its 2nd half dominance in this game, holding its 6th straight opponent without a touchdown in the 2nd half, and without a point in the 4th quarter.

- Stifling Pass Defense: Iowa’s Matt Sherman – 8 of 21 for 86 yards, 3 INTs, and no TDs.

- Defensive standouts: Marcus Ray – 2 INTs. Dhani Jones – 9 tackles, 1 sack. Sam Sword – 6 tackles, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery.

- Offensive standouts: Jerame Tuman – 7 receptions for 85 yards, 1 TD. Brian Griese 15 of 26 for 165 yards and 3 TDs (but also 3 INTs).

- Michigan was 4 for 4 in the Red Zone, with 4 TDs. Iowa was only 1 for 2, with a TD and a turnover.

- Weather was Sunny, with in-game temperatures ranging between 52 and 57 degrees.

- Attendance: 106,505


Official Post-Game Press Release #1

Official Post-Game Press Release #2

Game Notes

Box Score

CNN/SI post-game article

Pre-game Press Release (PDF)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Off-Topic Tuesday: DBP and RHCP

I can swim, too!Do you remember that Time Life commercial for the animal videos, with the Duck-billed Platypus? That thing ran for about 9 years. I know, because I watched TV for 9 years straight during that time period - ask my parents. That commercial was on at least twice an hour during the afternoons. They were targeting all markets, as well, with commercials running during cartoons, sports, the Phil Donahue show, and everything in-between. Long live the Duck-billed Platypus!

2 parts hilarious, 1 part creepyDo you remember the video for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “My Friends?” The one where they are in the small boat? I was fortunate enough to catch it on my DVR the other day, while watching VH1 Classic. I would post it if I knew how to do that stuff. Needless to say, if you ever saw the video, then you don’t need me to post it, because it was the most craze thing you’ve ever seen. Those images are burned into my brain. I hope you were fortunate enough to have them burned into yours, circa 1994. Even better than the picture posted to the right, which is hard to believe…

Monday, April 10, 2006

Luxury Box debate goes national

I don't have much time to post today, but I wanted to touch on this quickly...

In case you missed it, Brian from mgoblog dropped some logic (is that a phrase? It is now!) about the Luxury Box issue, stemming from this weekend's New York Times article on the matter. Don't get distracted by Brian's Michigamua reference, my politically-charged friends. Focus on the facts:

1 - Luxury boxes will give Michigan Athletics financial security for decades (decades!) to come.

2 - Older people don't like the idea, younger people do.

Do I really need to say any more? Probably not, but I will one day. Until then, I will reiterate that I'm all for luxury boxes in Michigan Stadium, for all of the reasons that Brian lists (and then some)...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Dark Ages

When the college football season starts (can I hibernate through the summer?) I will be attempting to post some sort of “TV Guide” telling you where and when to find the best games of each weekend.Newfangled Technology To think that only a few decades ago, there were hardly any college football games on TV makes me understand why plenty of old men can be classified as “crotchety.” Forget the internet. Forget ESPN Gameplan. Forget cable TV, as well. Try living with 1 or 2 games on TV… per year?! Unthinkable.

For some background on how college football went from “big games and bowl games only” to “every game and the BCS,” check out this article. If you’re really interested in this stuff, read the book mentioned: The Fifty Year Seduction, by Keith Dunnavant.

Considering that Michigan is the most televised program in college football history, and has had its last 131 games televised, I can’t begin to imagine what it felt like to be an “out of town fan” back before the Wolverines started racking up the TV appearances. So this October, when you’re mildly upset that the “currently undefeated mid-major team du jour” isn’t on TV, count your blessings. Then log on to’s game tracker.

Friday, April 07, 2006

2005: Random Highlights and Lowlights

Some random thoughts about last year...

What went wrong (in no particular order):

1 – The “bend but don’t break” Defense seemed to “bend” a bit too far at all the wrong times. In some cases, it flat-out broke. For instance:

- Notre Dame’s game-opening drive for a TD – putting Michigan down 7-0 and taking the crowd out of the game for a significant stretch.

- Ohio State’s last 2 TD drives. Sitting on a 9-point lead with less than 8 minutes left in the game, Michigan’s Defense promptly surrendered a TD to OSU in just 1 minute, 9 seconds to give OSU new life. On OSU’s last drive, Michigan seemed content to let OSU “dink and dunk” all the way to a game-winning TD, which they did. That drive took 3:54, and left Michigan with only 24 seconds on the game clock.

- The 61 yard run on 3rd-and-long by Minnesota’s Gary Russell, putting the Gophers on Michigan’s 13-yard line and setting up the game-winning FG with just one second left.

2 – Chad Henne’s Sophomore slump. Henne’s struggles are probably very closely related to points 3, 4, and 5 below, but it was clear that Henne bears some of the responsibility. His mechanics regressed to an even lower release point, coupled with “over-striding,” leading to more batted balls and passes that floated on him. These types of problems are common in QBs with strong arms (throwing harder is not always better), but that is no excuse.

3 – Injuries on the OL. With potential All-American Jake Long sidelined for more then half of the season, the OL struggled to find cohesion. At one point or another, every key player on the OL had some sort of injury, although some were able to play through it. No Whammies!

4 – Mike Hart’s nagging injury. While many were worried that this was an Achille’s injury, it became apparent that it was only (only?!) a high ankle sprain. Hart showed flashes of his Freshman-year dominance against MSU and PSU, but was very ineffective in most other games, and was forced to sit out a few games throughout the year.

5 – Lack of a true deep threat WR. We clearly missed Braylon more than many were anticipating. Two things became apparent: (1) Steve Breaston is not a true WR. He is a special talent, but he isn’t going to catch many “jump balls” 40 yards downfield. (2) Mario Manningham will be very good, but he wasn’t ready to fill anybody’s shoes yet. Manningham’s flashes of brilliance (discussed below) were coupled with his struggles to beat zone coverages deep.

What went right (in no particular order):

1 – The “bend but don’t break” Defense didn’t break, but as noted above, it “bent” far too often in late game situations. Considering that our schedule turned out to be more difficult than expected (we faced some pretty good Offenses), the Defense wasn't as bad as it might have seemed. In hindsight, our Defense really kept us in many games, but our lack of production on Offense and late-game defensive collapses resulted in 5 losses.

2 – The Secondary was a pleasant surprise. Coming into the year, many people were worried about losing Marlin Jackson and Ernest Shazor in the defensive backfield. While it would have been nice to have had them, various players filled various roles admirably. Yes, there were still bad angles and poor tackling at times, but it could have been a lot worse, in my opinion.

3 – We were 7th nationally in punt return yardage defense and 1st in the Big Ten in kickoff return yardage.

4 – A few newcomers showed flashes of brilliance:

- LB John Thompson vs. Iowa – Made a few hard hits / good tackles against the run, leading many to question why he didn’t play more. The conventional wisdom was that he is good against the run, but is still learning to defend the pass.

- Safety Brandon Harrison vs. Northwestern – Unless I missed something, Harrison didn’t make any big mistakes against a spread offense that can be confusing for a True Freshman to defend against. Actually, I take that back… after making a nice interception, he fumbled the ball on the return. Still, he showed some good speed and (more importantly?) good smarts in this game.Down Goes PSU

- WR Mario Manningham – Caught 2 TD passes, including the game-winner as time expired against PSU. Also had nice TDs against MSU and Nebraska (Alamo Bowl). Could be in line for the #1 jersey if he breaks out this year, and (corrected from earlier) has said that he does want it. [ free link, $ link]

- Kicker/Punter Ross Ryan – Not really a newcomer, as a Redshirt Junior, but a new face on the field. Ryan was a weapon, driving a high percentage of his kickoffs into (or through) the endzone. He should also get some credit for our good "punt return yardage" statistic from above, because although he didn't punt very long, he was good at punting high (insert stoner joke here). Having him return for a 5th and final year is big, in my opinion.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

2001: The Weirdest Season Ever?!

While the 1997 season stands out in many Michigan fans’ minds, the most vivid memories that I have of any football season come from 2001. Why? Because so much bizarre stuff happened, that’s why. As a nation, we didn’t need any additional stress after what happened on September 11th. I’m sure the roller-coaster of craziness that was the 2001 season didn’t do much to help the emotional state of the average Michigan fan. Let’s take a look back, from my point-of-view…

The Season’s Over Before it’s Started?A Swing and a Miss!

The bad news started in late March, when QB Drew Henson decided to forego his Senior season at Michigan to sign a 6-year, $17-million contract with the New York Yankees. With virtually no experience at Quarterback, Michigan was forced to pin its hopes on Sophomore John Navarre (a player that originally started out at Northwestern as a Defensive End). I should have given up hope right then and there, but as a “true blue” Michigan fan, I chose to endure the pain. Coupled with the losses of RB Anthony Thomas, WR David Terrell, four starters on the OL (Mo Williams, Dave Brandt, Jeff Backus and future NFL All-Pro Steve Hutchinson(!)), the Offense had “uh oh” written all over it.

It's Late August! Optimism Rules!

Ranked preseason #12 by the AP and #10 by the Coaches (including one mystery first place vote!), it didn’t take long to realize that Michigan was a bit overrated. In its season opener, Michigan had a ho-hum, closer-than-the-score-indicates 31-13 home win over Miami (Ohio) (and future NFL QB Ben Roethlisberger). There wasn’t much to take away from that game, except that Michigan didn’t seem prepared for their next game – at #15 Washington. I wasn’t expecting a win, not by any stretch of the imagination. But when Michigan took a 12-6 lead into the 4th Quarter, and appeared to be driving for another score, I let it happen… I got optimistic. I started thinking about National Championship possibilities. I started thinking, “we’ve got OSU at home this year… we can make a run.”

Then, I Stopped Thinking...Ouch

I’ll let the official press release handle the details: “Michigan looked to increase its [12-6] lead with a 33-yard field goal by [Hayden] Epstein, but Washington… blocked the attempted kick and cornerback Roc Alexander returned it 77 yards for the touchdown and 13-12 lead. Two plays into the Wolverines' next series, [Omare] Lowe intercepted a Navarre pass off sophomore tailback Chris Perry’s hands and took it 21 yards for a touchdown and 20-12 Washington lead with 8:20 remaining in the fourth quarter.” It was all over but the crying. In a span of seconds (seconds!) we had gone from up 6 points, and looking to go up 9, to down 8! It was one of the strangest sequences I have ever seen. Final score: Washington 23, Michigan 18 – in a game in which our defense did not give up a touchdown.

September 11th and "The Funk"

The events of September 11th put most rational Americans into a serious funk, and it was the right call to postpone all college football games for one week. It was nice to see Michigan’s players come out ready to play against Western Michigan, and they were much more effective on offense. If only they could have saved some of that passion for the next week, against Illinois. Playing a potential Big Ten Title contender at home early in the season, with one loss already under your belt, is usually a must-win scenario for a team like Michigan. But they sure didn’t act like it. You know it was bad when the official press release says “Michigan's offense emerged from an early slumber.” I would argue that the “offense” didn’t emerge, but the trick play did. After 4 straight “3 and out” drives to start the game, Michigan used both the “throwback pass” and the “halfback toss” to take a 7-3 lead. Various reverses were also run, including one by Calvin Bell for a 28-yard TD. That put Michigan up 28-10 at halftime, and they never looked back.

Playing "Michigan Football"

Though I was too young to fully remember (and/or appreciate) many of Bo Schembechler’s days as Michigan’s coach, I would bet that he thoroughly enjoyed the next two games.Drinks on me! Traveling to Penn State and coming out with a 20-0 victory is very respectable, even when PSU is having a down year. Then, coming home and handling a previously-unbeaten Purdue team, 24-10, might be enough to put a smile on the old coach’s face. It definitely made me happy. So happy, in fact, that I did it again… I got optimistic. I started thinking about getting back into the BCS Title chase. Hey, I wasn’t the only one – check out Brent Musburger’s take [note to self: if you ever find yourself agreeing with Brent Musburger’s opinion(s) again, take a step back, and change your opinion(s)].

Don't Believe the Hype (or the Clock)

Quite possibly the craziest two Saturdays of my life took place in the same bar: Poli-Tiki (a.k.a. The Pour House) in Washington, DC. The saddest part of this story is that I didn’t consume one drop of alcohol on these days. No, my friend, I simply watched two of the most insane Michigan Football games ever. The first was October 27, at Iowa. There were too many ridiculous plays to mention, so I’ll stick with the scoring: We fell down 10-0, then blocked a punt (a Michigan rarity) for a TD. We fell down 20-7, then stormed back for a 21-20 lead. Then down, 26-21. Then up, 32-26, with 3:57 remaining in the 4th Quarter. Here’s where things got crazy (for the Poli-Tiki patrons, at least). A rain storm had moved into the DC area, and began to wreak havoc on the bar’s DirecTV satellite. It got so bad that (1) as the screen would freeze up, we would analyze it for open receivers, potential tacklers, etc. (2) numerous fans ran between floors, trying to find a TV that was working, and (3) one nice guy was actually smart enough (Michigan education, no doubt) and calm enough to call his parents back in Michigan and kindly give the other 60 of us a play-by-play call via his cell phone conversation. We sat in silence, with bated breath, as Iowa’s last gasp fell incomplete on a 4th-and-1. Crisis averted. Game over. Michigan wins, 32-26. Years taken off of my life expectancy: Approximately 2.74. Michigan had climbed back up to #6 in both polls. The promised land was in sight…

The next Saturday will live in infamy as “Clockgate” or “the Spartan Bob game” to most, if not all, Michigan and Michigan State fans. Time Is (Not) On My Side Still hurting from a 1999 loss at MSU, I was hungry for some revenge in East Lansing, and so were the Poli-Tiki Michigan faithful. No need to go over the details, because we all know what happened. A few things of note, though: (1) We counted down (6, 5, 4…), and everybody had the same reaction. When we all yelled “Zero!,” we also all noticed the little “0:01” on the screen. Cussing ensued. (2) There were a few MSU fans there. As they replayed MSU’s “game-winning” TD, everybody noticed that Michigan DL Shantee Orr was being held. I looked over at one MSU fan, made the “holding” gesture, and pointed. He replied, “what do you want me to do?” He was right – there was nothing to be done. (3) Of course the crowd at the game in East Lansing was going nuts. But seeing the faces of the MSU fans at Poli-Tiki, I could tell that they were not excited. Nobody wants to win like that, and it was evident. I guess years later, that is enough for me. Michigan didn’t “deserve” to win that game, but guess what? Neither did MSU. Another frustrating game, and another workout for my pulmonary system.

2 More Before OSU

Similar to the post-September 11th happenings, Michigan played well (especially in the 2nd Half) against Minnesota the next week, winning 31-10. But at Wisconsin the next week, a zombie-like effort led to a low-scoring sloppy game, tied near the end of regulation. Then, perhaps as some sort of karma-ish reward, Michigan actually got a break:

“In the bizarre ending, the Wolverines moved the ball to midfield following a missed field goal by the Badgers that kept the game tied 17-17 with 1:26 to play.Luck be a Lady Tonight Forced to punt with under 30 seconds remaining, [Hayden] Epstein hit the ball 40 yards where it bounced sideways and hit the back of Wisconsin's Brett Bell on the 13-yard line. Junior cornerback Brandon Williams noticed the touch and ran the football into the end zone. The ball was placed at the 13-yard line because a player cannot advance a punt, and Epstein kicked the game-winning field goal on the ensuing play.”

Everything was not lost. A win against one of the worst OSU teams in recent memory, and we would be headed to a BCS Bowl Game, with a Sophomore John Navarre as our QB, no less. It was all I could really ask for, given everything (and I mean everything) that had happened.

The Wheels Come Off

Despite the madness that had ensued (both on and off the field) in the previous months, I was excited to head back to Ann Arbor for the OSU game. Needless to say, I was less excited when Michigan essentially spotted OSU a 23-0 halftime lead. Ridiculous. Our second-half comeback was admirable, but wasn’t enough. Sure-handed WR Marquise Walker tied his single-game record with 15 receptions, but dropped a sure touchdown that arguably cost Michigan the game. OSU gave us every chance to win the game in the 2nd half, but we had already given it away in the 1st. Final score: OSU 26, Michigan 20.

A chance at (some) redemption came when Tennessee played itself out of the BCS Title game and into the Citrus Bowl vs. Michigan with a loss to LSU in the SEC Championship game. This being the first ever meeting between the two storied programs, I was at least hoping for a good game.Smarter than L.C.! There’s that feeling again – “hope”… “optimism.” It seemed clear to me that Michigan had given up hope in John Navarre when they opened the game with 3 straight runs into middle of Tennessee’s NFL-caliber defensive line. Obviously, no first down was to be found. While I was never the biggest John Navarre fan, I would have rather *actually tried* to win the game with him at QB than basically given up. After falling down 17-0, Michigan never recovered, losing 45-17. Some fans questioned whether the team had “given up on the coaches,” and they might have had a point. But after re-watching the game several times over the past few years, I question whether the coaches gave up on the players. Michigan played into Tennessee’s strengths, and seemed to be surprised that Tennessee tried to exploit Michigan’s weaknesses. Tennessee was the better team, no doubt, but being out-coached by Phil Fulmer still makes me ill.

Closing Up Shop

What a long, strange trip 2001 was. From Henson to Navarre… From BCS hopes to Citrus Bowl flops… While I don’t necessarily remember that season with fondness, I guess I will always have a few good stories to tell. I hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

Final record: 8-4 (6-2 Big Ten, 2nd place)

Statistical Leaders – 2001 Michigan Football Team

Rushing: B.J. Askew
Passing: John Navarre
Receiving: Marquise Walker
Scoring: Hayden Epstein
Interceptions: Marlin Jackson
Tackles: Larry Foote
Tackles for Loss: Larry Foote
Sacks: Dan Rumishek (seriously)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Off-Topic Tuesday: The NCAA Tourney and Cabbies

*While I would like to keep all of my posts under the umbrella of Michigan Football, various other things deserve attention once in a while. Hence, Off-Topic Tuesday.*

The NCAA Tournament

After watching nearly every game of the NCAA Tournament this year, I give it a grade of C+. Take away George Mason's Final Four run, and what are you left with? A dud of a Final Four, some decent first round upsets (but certainly no more than in recent years), and very few "marquee" teams making runs (sorry UCLA - East Coast Bias here).

Early defections to the NBA are hurting College Basketball. There is little, if any, star power, and the impact players in the NCAA Tourney are now more likely to be "I'd never heard of him before" type of guys (Joakim Noah) than established stars (Glen Rice). Both can be fun to watch, but the latter usually have more long-term NBA success. I guess that is one of the many reasons I prefer College Football to College Basketball. Future NFL stars almost have to play 3 years (or more) in college. Future NBA stars need only play 1 (or play in Europe, or chill out for a year), under the new rules. Lack of continuity makes it harder for the vast majority of fans to follow, and, as a result, care about their favorite teams.

Cab DriversCabs for Smurfs

After taking a cab to the airport last night, I give my cabbie a grade of D-. Here's the short version: He picks me and my girlfriend up, knowing that we need to go to the airport (we had made an appointment with Yellow Cab). As soon as we step out the door, he starts telling us that there "could be a problem." I'm thinking that he is referring to the amount of luggage we have. But, he starts talking about how he has a bad back/hip, and just came from the doctor... blah, blah, blah. I stopped paying attention, because I noticed that the luggage WAS a problem, since his trunk was full of his own clothes and other random junk. He insists that we STUFF the big suitcase into his trunk, on top of his junk. I did so (remember - I had to do this, since he had a bad back/hip), with complete disregard for his belongings, because at this point, I was pretty P.O.'d.

Meanwhile, I start listening to him again, and realize that he is talking about how he doesn't think he can take us to the airport (due to back/hip concerns), but that he will take us to a cab stand nearby so we can get another ride. UM, HELLO?! Don't take the call from Yellow Cab if you can't take us to our destination! Also, don't have a bunch of crap in your trunk when you know you are taking people to the airport (or even to another cab stand)! I gave him the "death glance," and I think he got the message, because he said he would "do some stretches" and take us all the way there. But to top it all off, he had to stop for gas (out of the way) before we got going, and he only drove 45 on the highway (who drives 45?!). I am getting all frustrated again just thinking about it.

Thankfully, we had given ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport, so things ended well, I guess. It was just one of those situations where at the end of the ride, I was expecting to have to sign a release form to appear on "Punk'd" or "Candid Camera." Two thumbs down to you, Mr. Cabbie - you know who you are. The only reason you don't get an "F" is because you got us to the airport before the flight took off. Yay.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Luxury Boxes and NIT Repercussions

I'm sure that I will want to comment on this "Luxury Boxes in the Big House" thing more in the future, but for now, I think this article by Jim Carty of the Ann Arbor News sums up my general feelings.

Meanwhile, Michigan SuperFan (yes, the Batman-lookin' dude) is a bit frustrated with Michigan Athletics - primarily Michigan Basketball under Tommy Amaker. While I might not agree with everything in his impassioned vent, I am 100% behind this quote:

"What do you demand Michigan fans? What do you expect from the great University of Michigan!? Do you expect to continue a century-long tradition of being the Leaders and Best... or are you complacent enough to let it slip away one year at a time as Alamo Bowls, Citrus Bowls, NIT bids, losses to Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Michigan State continue to pile up like debris on a beach after a hurricane."

I think it is safe to say that 2006 will be a very important year for many Michigan programs. I'm hoping for the best, but I'm not holding my breath...

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Andre Weathers - Where is he now?

Pick-SixAccording to this, “After winning the National Championship with Michigan in 1997, Weathers pusued a career in the NFL with the New York Giants. After a devastating Super Bowl loss and a severe knee injury, Weathers decided to call it quits. He is now on the coaching staff for the football team at Flint Central High School.”

Despite being an All-Big Ten Cornerback, Andre Weathers was never a star at Michigan, and my friends and I were surprised to see him get drafted in 1999. And while he was prone to give up a big play or three, Weathers made one of the most surprising and important plays of the 1997 season, which, in hindsight, possibly saved Michigan’s National Championship hopes. As Ohio State QB Stanley Jackson was being pressured, he franticly threw a short pass directly at Weathers. Weathers caught the ball and returned it for a 43-yard touchdown.

After collecting an interception of his own during the game, eventual Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson said “Stanley Jackson threw me a great pass.”

The way I saw it, the “pass” to Andre Weathers was even better, and arguably more important. It seems that Weathers has settled back into “normal” life at home in Flint, in which he is certainly able to keep an eye on the local talent in that area, and do a little recruiting for the Maize and Blue.

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