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Reflections On Michigan's Capital One Bowl Victory

Superstition is a strange thing. As a God fearing man, I long ago renounced the notion that God plays favorites in sporting events. Frankly, I think he or she has better things to do with eternity than power a particular college football team to victory or hold another back just enough for the loss. Further, as a practicing Catholic, I gave up on the notion that voodoo or extrasensory incantations play any role in anything.

Yet, there I was. Clinching my fists in my pockets, leaning back and forth from left leg to right, and standing on the edge of my rug where I'd stood since Henne connected with Arrington on what would be the game winning touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. In some strange quarter of my mind I'd concocted the idea, nay, fact, that if I moved or did anything differently Michigan would somehow relinquish its lead and all that hypertension, vulgar swearing at the TV, and awe that Michigan did not in fact, suck, would be for naught.

On fourth and 10 with under two minutes in the game I stood there. Trying not to do anything differently than I had for the past twenty minutes, leaning side to side, fists clinched, metering my breathing, and slowly muttering "Please, God, don't let them [screw] this up" under my breath.

That Michigan was even in this position was a shock to me. On paper, the game shouldn't have been close. Michigan's rush defense in three of its four losses had been atrocious. The offense made Marilyn Mason look well adjusted. Everyone was or had been hurt for large chunks of the season. All the coaches were either being fired or retiring. But there they were. Beating the defending national champions at their own game in their home state.

On Michigan's first possession the offense looked unstoppable and like nothing Michigan fans have seen since last year's Notre Dame game. Four or five wide. Empty backfields. Shotgun reads. The spread. What the hell was going on? I looked at my buddies, my brother and my wife for answers and they stared back with equally blank expressions. We sat there staring at the screen until my brother blurted out "Where the [hell] has this been all year?"

The honest answer is two fold. First, it's been locked away in DeBord's head. Why he waited until the bowl game to install the high octane offense his personnel were tailor made for is known only to him, and is one of the many reasons he will no longer participate in Michigan football games as a paid adviser. Second, it's been in the infirmary all year. Hart. Henne. The offensive line. At some point this season, every major contributor on offense has missed time. Hart and his ankle. Henne and his shoulder, which we learned over the new year got worse with a botched cortisone injection. A rotating offensive line that was never healthy, save Jake Long.

Healthy for the first time all season and playing with a chip on their shoulder, Michigan pushed into Florida territory. Seemingly poised to score, Henne was sacked and flagged for intentional grounding on the same play. Whether you want to admit it or not, you probably thought the drive was dead.

Then it happened. Henne's right arm, the arm that had disappeared after being separated and betrayed him against OSU, came back to life. Firing a laser to Mario Manningham on a post route, Henne threaded the proverbial needle between corner and safety for a 7-0 lead. High fives, hoots, hollers and all that fun stuff echoed through the house. More importantly, hope peaked its head around the corner to see what was going on, plopped itself down on my couch, and chipped in for the pizza.

The next three and a half hours were a fidgety blur. Having plied myself with enough caffeine to kill a bull elephant, I paced the area behind my couch until I'd worn a groove in to the hardwood flooring. I really couldn't believe what I was seeing. Michigan's defense was playing aggressive. Tebow was getting smacked on nearly every touch of the football. The offense was running all kinds of trick plays. Strike that. The offense was working. Bullet passes into the free space underneath the zone. Manningham dragging people for extra yards. Arrington proving he's a No. 1 receiver. Bombs. Screens. Jake Long on a pass pattern?

And it wasn't as though everything was going perfectly. Michigan turned the ball over four bleeping times, including two Mike Hart fumbles inside the 5. Two. Goddammit!! From nearly being up 14 points to being tied in a minute 1:16. How my head didn't explode is an issue worthy of a Discovery channel special. I must have shifted positions and viewing locations inside my home 160 times, searching for that perfect location that would somehow prevent Michigan from losing a game played 1,000 miles away.

Oddly, when Florida went up 35-31 with 7 minutes to play, I felt some relief. It wasn't Michigan's game to lose anymore. It was Florida's. They were seemingly in control, and now it was Michigan's turn to play spoiler. Henne quickly atoned for his screen pass interception. Henne rifled the ball to Arrington on a fly route down the center of Florida's defense to retake the lead.

After a turnover on downs and another Lopata field goal (God does, however, love fat kickers), Michigan kicked off again to Florida. And for once, Michigan's kick coverage was good, pinning Florida at its own 23. Determined to prevent Tebow from ruining their day, the defense poured the pressure on the Florida QB. Not only collapsing his pocket, but containing him within it and forcing three tough throws (one of which was brilliantly defended by Stevie Brown).

And that brought us to that final play. Tebow rolling left with Jamison and Taylor in hot pursuit. As Tebow heaved that pass toward midfield you could actually hear everyone's heart stop beating and watch their jaws swing open in nervous anticipation. As the ball crept down from its apex, Tebow's target was finally apparent and there wasn't anyone around him. Save for 5'9" Brandon Harrison. It was a jump ball.  

Harrison, covering ten yards in about half of a second simply out leapt the 6'3" Florida receiver, knocking the ball harmlessly to the turf. Michigan took over and our collective hearts began beating again.

Michigan won. Carr went out a winner. And a senior class that has meant so much to so many of us left with a final victory.

I many not be a superstitious man, but next year, if you're looking for me during a game, I'll be standing on that exact corner of my carpet.