When Lloyd Carr announced Michigan's tri-captains for the 2007 season, I knew immediately who was going to be left off the list. It wasn't a surprise, really. Somehow I knew Chad wouldn't be a captain this year. It's not his style, it's not his history, it's not his lot in this portion of his life. Henne has always been the guy manning the grill, seemingly always outside during the party he was throwing.
Over the past few weeks there was speculation whether Lloyd would expand the captaincy of the Michigan football team to four people. The conversation always involved five players: Long, Hart, Henne, Crable and Adams. All five have been named to a plethora of preseason award "watch lists." They are the most talented, driven people on a team made up of high school All Americans and former captains. They are the ones both players and fans will look to this year for guidance through the 5 month rollercoaster we call college football. It was pretty much acknowledged that the defense would only get one representative based on the losses the unit suffered, and everyone seemed cool with that.
The conversation quickly boiled down to whether Chad Henne would be named a captain. It is a strange question to ask when you consider all that Henne has done. Nearly every passing record at Michigan will be his when he graduates. He's argued with his head coach and won. He's shown a fire in his eyes against Michigan's toughest foes and always tendered an effort above and beyond anyone else on the field during those contests. He seems to embody the humble, successful "Michigan Man" we always talk about. Yet, we were questioning whether he would be named a captain of a team he had guided for three years.
Of course, it didn't happen. Last year's returning captain Jake Long was named, as was team mouthpiece and aorta Mike Hart, along with the soul of the defense, Shawn Crable. All three are deserving men and excellent choices to lead this year's team.
Still, I can't help but wonder.
I know this doesn't bother Henne. If it does, he's too good a man to admit it. For almost four years he's been the "other guy" in the Michigan offense. Braylon sat center stage in 2004. In 2005 Avant keyed the offense while Mannigham stole Penn State's season. Last year Hart reclaimed his form and Steve Breaston bid us adieu. Henne has always sat outside that spotlight. Detached in some way that let him walk comfortably away in the shadows while the camera`s lights gleamed off Hart's million dollar smile. He's the guy everyone likes, but you're not sure what table to sit him at during your wedding. Almost too mature to sit with your frat buddies but too young to sit with your family's friends.
He's the architect. The director. The boss. The guy that knows everyone's job better than they do and knows how to do it better too. He drifts between groups seamlessly. He'll say a kind word or witty comment of little consequence so that you remember him favorably, yet never really know him. When he leaves a room, the air seems a little thinner. Maybe that's because you realize later he was the one directing the conversation without ever making himself the subject or emphasis of it. He's the part of the equation that allows you to find X.
Henne has never warmed to the spotlight. His interviews are cold, calculated and boring as toast. Even during the games you only seem to notice him when something goes wrong. His laser guided bombs drift so effortlessly into Manningham's arms you don't realize Mannigham never broke stride when he caught it. His dink and dunk passes are eclipsed by Hart's 3 yard loss turned 5 yard gain type runs. His steady consistency lauded quietly while we cackle over the spectacular results of his teammates.
After today's announcement, he sits in the background, again. Shouldered with the expectations of delivering a perfect season for his team, yet, officially, not its public face. It is a strange conundrum. To be the leader of your team without being its leader. He is the sergeant improvising on the General's orders. Without Henne's leadership under center, the season's outcome is anyone's guess. In some ways he's almost another coach rather than a captain. He will be calling the coverages, the audibles, directing the offense. Its success or failure is entirely dependent upon him.
And he will succeed. I guarantee you. We'll be so mesmerized by the double move Mario put on the defensive back we'll forget how beautiful the pass was. We'll slap each other on the back so hard about Hart's dive into the endzone that the precise 5-6 yard passes to the tight ends will be called "dump offs." Chad will make those throws, call those audibles, and make the decisions that result in Michigan victories.
After every touchdown pass or touchdown run that Chad helped set up, you'll see him run up to the pile. He'll always be the last guy to the party. He'll get there when the pile is at its apex. You'll see him with his hands on the shoulders of the bigger linemen, waiting to congratulate Adrian, Mario or Mike. Like he's stretching to see the parade over his big brother's shoulders. When they emerge, a quick hug and back to the sideline. No jumping. No celebration. Just acknowledgement of a job well done and more work to do.
Maybe in some sense that is why Henne wasn't named a captain. He's not the vocal leader or the rock that supports the team or the soul that binds. His responsibilities exceed what can be labeled. He doesn't offer leadership in a sense, he offers direction. Where he goes, Michigan has no choice but to follow. In a sense he is Michigan's rudder and map for this season. Quietly, he will tell us where we are going.
Captaincy or not, I'm comfortable knowing that.