This is the second post in a week-long series sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
For someone who graduated from Michigan in 1999 (on the 5 year plan, of course), this should be obvious. The 1997 National Championship and 1998 Rose Bowl Champion team would be the logical choice. Hutchinson. Woodson. Greise. Ray. Streets. Steele. Sword. Gold. It was one of the most vicious defenses the school has ever seen and one of the most underrated offenses ever to suit up for Michigan. They won the Big Ten outright, a share of the National Title, the Heisman Trophy, and the Rose Bowl. I even ran out onto the field when the final gun sounded on that sweet day in November when Michigan clinched its trip to Pasadena against Ohio State.
But the 1997 Rose Bowl winning Michigan team isn't my favorite. To be honest, it'd be pretty disingenuous of me to say it was. Especially when I spent more time following the hockey team in 1997-1998 than I did the football team. While I loved Michigan and followed the football team, I wasn't invested in that team the way I should've been if it was going to be my favorite team.
When you're picking a favorite, you have to dig a little deeper than just discussing trophies. There has to be something about that team that connects with you in an intangible way, such that sanity and logic are foreign notions when discussing it. For me, my all time favorite Michigan team is the 2006 Michigan Football squad.
I know it's probably strange to read that, but bare with me. The 2006 team was the first Michigan team that I was truly and fully invested in. It wasn't just passing season that bridged the gaps between Baseball's last and first pitches. It was something more. Michigan was something special that year. But they weren't perfect, and maybe that's why I love that team so much.
Heroes are a difficult thing to explain. No one ever seems to cling to the perfect hero. The man or woman without fault is rarely the object of our adulation, instead the insanely talented, charismatic person with the critical flaw seems to garner our spotlight. Why else do people prefer Batman to Superman? These imperfections make these characters interesting. More importantly, these flaws make them human and accessible to us. And so it was with the 2006 team.
It was a cast of imperfect heroes. Steve Breston. Mike Hart. Chad Henne. LaMarr Woodley. Leon Hall. Mario Manningham. Jake Long. Adrian Arrington. And so on. All of them with their faults. All of them the object of our praise and affection.
In the end I don't remember them for what wasn't accomplished. While I still retain a sense of regret that Michigan didn't find a way to beat Ohio State in one of the best college football games I've ever seen, it is not an overpowering sensation. Instead I remember the feeling of hope and excitement I felt in every game. I remember a sense of redemption, of recovery from the indignities of the year before. I remember a team that I truly cared for. This was Michigan. My Michigan.
It was a group of young men who made me believe they were capable of anything. They fought against history, against perception, and against the loss of a legend. They made me care about them. And because of that, flaws and all, the 2006 Michigan Football team is my All-Time favorite.
The floor is open in the comments below. I'd love to hear your own thoughts and memories related to the 2006 team, or feel free instead to discuss some of your other all-time favorite UM teams, and why they meant something to you as a fan.