Part three of our series about getting to know the writers here a little bit better.
Today we move over to the best that ever played, or in some cases just that one Michigan athlete that you always loved watching play. The answers understandably vary --- and some names (ahem, Charles Woodson) appear more often than others --- but that is the great thing about Michigan: there are so many stories and moments that resonate with fans that we all have something unique to hold on to.
Who is your favorite Michigan athlete of all time? Let us know in the comment section.
Who is your favorite Michigan athlete of all time?
Dave Ryan - Charles Woodson, without question. I was only 12-years-old during the '97-98 championship season, but Woodson was my favorite Michigan player at an age where calling somebody your 'favorite' bordered on an unhealthy sports card and memorabilia obsession. Woodson was cocky, insanely talented, and such an unmistakable playmaker from day one that even a dumb kid like myself could pick up on it. Two amazing scenes are imprinted forever in my memory bank: 1.) Woodson coming out of nowhere for his patented one-handed toe-tap sideline interception against Michigan State, and 2.) The Heisman Trophy winner himself clamping down a rose in celebration of UM's Rose Bowl victory and undefeated national championship season. When I think of Michigan football as I know it, I immediately transition back to those images of Woodson.
Alex Cook - I'll probably go with Zack Novak. I've always been a huge football fan and have had my share of favorites over the years, but I hadn't been as big of a basketball fan back when Amaker's teams were routinely letting us down on Selection Sunday. Part of my basketball fandom comes from the advent of the Big Ten Network (which lets us see every game, I remember listening to a UM-MSU basketball game on the radio once because we didn't get it on TV) but part of it has to do with John Beilein's coaching. I've seen all but a few games of his tenure, and Novak has been the fan favorite for obvious reasons for most of his tenure. He and Stu Douglass made me into a hardcore basketball fan along with Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims, but I'll always think of Novak as my favorite Michigan basketball player of all time.
Maize in Spartyland - My favorite Michigan athlete, for basketball, probably had to be Graham Brown. Brown ended his career at Michigan just as I was making my way onto campus. Although Brown on on some pretty mediocre Michigan teams, his style of play - the toughness and physicality he played with - was something I always admired. When other players seemed to be lacking energy, Brown was a rallying point who attempted to carry his team. As for football, I'll go with Charles Woodson, not because there haven't been greats before him, but he is probably one of the first players I had a chance to see from start to finish in the winged helmet. Woodson's electric punt return for a touchdown against Ohio was certainly a memorable moment, as was the image with a single rose between his teeth.
DGDestroys - I think the easy pick here is Charles Woodson-and he's definitely up there. But for me, I really loved watching Tim Biakabutuka play, especially his outburst in '95 against OSU. His name has also been a running joke with my wife for years, which keeps him on my mind. Throughout the season, she'll see a big run and ask, was that Biakabutuka? She cracked up the first time she heard the name.
Holdin the Rope - This is another question that is almost unfair to ask, and I think it's largely dependent on how old you are. Given that I'm a youngish guy, I will have to say Woodson based on his 1997 season alone. If I had been old enough to really appreciate his career as a whole then it wouldn't even be close, but Mike Hart and Denard don't lag far behind. Hart essentially was Michigan football during my high school years and Denard became that near the end of my undergraduate career in Ann Arbor. However, the fact that Woodson is still an effective player today--much to the chagrin of Tennessee fans everywhere--is a testament to the talent that he is. His interception against Michigan State might have been the first time that I let out an uninhibited "WOW" while watching a football game. The punt return against the Buckeyes, the rose in the mouth, the Heisman, and the Rose Bowl victory were simply icing on the cake, if that can be believed. I'm not sure that we will see a player that good don a winged helmet ever again.
Zach Travis - There are three answers, really (and I know this ivalidates the question, whateva, I do what I want). Charles Woodson was the only other football player of my childhood that I regarded to be on the same level with Barry Sanders. They were god-like in my eyes. Woodson was the defensive and special teams equivalent of Sanders. Anything could happen when he took the field. Woodson was the embodiment of my still childlike astonishment at the remarkable and unimagineable things the athletes I saw on TV could do (like the MSU interception, which I still don't think is physically possible). Denard Robinson holds much the same place in my heart, but for a different reason. I'm older and immersed in the sport, and this leads me to appreciate what he does in so many different ways. He is brilliance and excitement and bliss all wrapped up in a dreadlocked ball. During the week I obsessively break down his game and try to make sense of what I am seeing, try to put it in logical terms and make sense of it all. However, for twelve fall Saturdays a year I get to spend three and a half hours as my adolecent self, captivated at the thought that at any time he might do something that leaves me for a short time speechless. I'm really going to miss Denard.
Finally, there is Mike Hart. My freshman roomate was from Syracuse, NY and went to a rival high school of Hart's --- who was a senior at the time we were freshmen at UofM --- and because of this I heard the ridiculous stat lines and stories long before he ever stepped on campus. I felt like I was in on Mike Hart long before anyone else. Through the years there were various run ins with Hart. My sophomore year he lived a floor above me in West Quad, we had a sports management class together, I saw him returning a keg late one Saturday night at Strickland's --- the empty drum slung over his shoulder as he walked into the liquor store. I feel a connection to Woodson and Denard, but it doesn't feel as tangible as the connection I feel with Mike Hart. We may have been just two people in an otherwise crowded university of thousands of people, but we were still in some sense classmates for a few short years. Contemporaries in about as many ways as I can ever hope to be with a wildly successful athlete --- a short list indeed. Mike Hart is nostalgia for me. A mention of his individual feats always just leads me on some long Proustian monologue about my own time at Michigan; there is no separating Mike Hart and my college experience.