You may or may not know that the Wolverine Liberation Army is attempting to recap several seasons of Michigan football and place them in some sort of database that is most assuredly going to destroy us all. Skynet will be involved. At any rate, I figured if you can't beat the machines, you might as well be on their good side once they attack. Welcome to 2006. Enjoy the show.
I don't know why, but it seems like a long time ago. Such. Such a long time ago that I would go into a season of Michigan football and think, legitimately in most cases, "yeah, I think we could win all of these." The change came swiftly, Carr was out, Rodriguez was in, and everything we knew was at an end. Now I don't know what to expect, which I suppose is what 3-9 does to you. Can we win 6 games next season? I don't know.
This, of course, isn't meant to be a look at last season, or a look at the upcoming season. Rather, it is meant to be a retrospective on 2006 to which I tongue-cheekingly referred to as the last time I had fun watching football. Back in 2006, fans were fighting a different battle of expectations. Yes, we all expected Michigan to at least be in position to win every single game, and yes, we had all come to expect that Michigan would inexplicably lose at out of conference game, duley killing any National Championship hopes before the season really started. It was like clockwork. Here, look:
That makes me sad, man. Every single one of those years a young Beauford Bixel sat in front of his TV with the unbridled expectations of naivety and said "yep, this is the year!"
I think that's why I've always hated Notre Dame more than Ohio State. At least by the time Ohio State rolled around, Michigan had shot themselves in the foot with sufficient oomph so that Ohio State wouldn't ruin the season. But that Notre Dame loss early in the year...well...it's kind of like when you wake up to an alarm clock every day so that you instinctively cringe when you hear a similar sound no matter the circumstances. Just say "Notre Dame." I dare you not to cringe.
So we entered 2006 with what we knew would be a pretty good team. We also knew we had Notre Dame and Ohio State on the road, and that Henne, Hart, Long, et. al. were Juniors. Sure, we'd be good, but 2007 would be the year that everything locked into place (holy hell were we wrong). We also entered 2006 saddled with the expectation of losing that first big OOC test because, hey, it had happened for nearly a decade prior.
The season started, Lloyd walked around the sideline with his hands in his back pockets, and everyone in Michigan stadium waited for the inevitable; the inexplicable loss. And we crushed Vanderbilt 27-7. Then Central 41-17. Still, everything was on schedule as Michigan cruised into South Bend to play then #2 Brady Quinn led Notre Dame.
Keep in mind the differences between then and now. Coach Frontbutt was at the height of his powers having parlayed a loss to USC into a return to glory, and Quinn was, by all rights, a very good college quarterback. The stars were beginning to align themselves in a very special formation they reserve only for screwing up Michigan's season. Then they stopped and got distracted by a tsunami they had to cook up or something, because Michigan won 47-21 in a game that wasn't even close. It also gave us this picture which has entered the "iconic" phase of its internet life:
Michigan had just escaped their opening-season OOC schedule undefeated for the first time since 1998. Somewhere, a dog barked.
I picture the 2006 Michigan team in an epic battle, and after taking 3 shots to the armor they figure out they're not hurt, and hell, this is kind of fun. Then they start killing everyone in their path. Below are the games that are included in the rampage, along with some info:
Wisconsin: David Harris switches to "all-small child" diet
Minnesota: Henne slaughters a gopher; drinks blood out of jug.
Michigan State: "300" dubbed most homo movie ever. NTTAWWT.
Iowa: Kill, Kill, Kill
Northwestern: The term BCS Championship enters Wolverine's vocabulary
Michigan held the #2 rank in all the land, 2nd only to the hated Buckeyes, and could put it on cruise control to the game of the decade/century/epoch/millennium depending on the degree of hyperbole that suits you. Only Ball State and Indiana lay in the way, and judging by the trail of bodies that lay strewn behind them, we could safely pin the #2 Wolverines vs. #1 Buckeyes in late November, as God intended it.
The demons of the out of conference schedule, however, were not content to go down without taking a few heart-stopping swings. Ball State came into the Big House and gave us everything we wanted. The whole stadium watched in a state of shock and disbelief. It surely wasn't just going to end like this...was it?
It didn't. Wasn't. Michigan escaped with a 34-26 win in an all too close game. They rolled through Indiana, and the table was set: #2 Michigan vs. #1 Ohio State.
Then Bo Died.
And I can't figure out what to write. The reaction from the major sports outlets, I remember, was...well...more than I expected. There were tribute pieces run, former players talking about the old man. Ohio State fans, the crudest, dirtiest, nastiest, trashiest people you'd ever seen, were writing things on message boards (the crudest, dirtiest, nastiest, trashiest of places on the internet) like "I don't like Michigan, but God Bless Bo." The man who used to call Bob Knight's office at odd hours and yell into the handset "it's a hell of a thing when your best friend in this conference is a g--d basketball coach!" and hang up was gone right before a defining game in the rivalry that defined the coach. Lloyd Carr:
Lloyd was later asked a question, and I'm doing this from memory so grant me some leeway, if Bo's death would have any impact on the team as they prepared to face Ohio State. Lloyd looked straight ahead and kind of shrugged, and managed a "we're not going to use this as any kind of motivational thing...we just...he wouldn't have wanted it that way."
There was a moment of silence in Ohio Stadium - of all places - for the coach, and it was touching. Never have two teams hated each other more, and yet, here at the enemy's house they're holding an observed moment of silence for the fallen hero on the other side. And I sat on my couch and watched, thinking to myself that if there is any justice in this world for Michigan fans, we'd win this game. We just had to.
As it turns out, there is no justice in this world, at least not for Michigan fans. We lost, and Crable late hit bler bler, we still lost. Ohio State went on to get murdered by Florida, and we went on to get massacred by USC. The two teams didn't need a bowl game. The national championship had already been played for. Florida got a nice football from Waterford, or wherever, but Ohio State had somehow won the game of the earth-age despite our patron saint's ascension.
I was, am, crushed by this.
I refered to the 2006 season as the last time I had fun watching football which is, of course, untrue. But losses to Appalachian State and Ohio State and 3-9 don't make things any easier. 2006 changed a lot of things, and when we start winning again (when!) it won't be the same. This isn't a bad thing, but the memories of Lloyd and Bo and that era of Michigan football are cherished, and 2006 was a lot of fun.