Like Zach, went I sat down on Sunday to piece together a post about Saturday's win over Illinois, I couldn't. I was too drained to put it together. I expected that after the first truly momentus win during Rodriguez' tenure that I'd pen some sterling opus, cracking wise and ruminating on the grand scheme of football, Michigan, and the American way. But I couldn't. I was just too damn tired.
The last three seasons have been the hardest seasons of my fandom... in any sport. In many ways they've sucked the humor and the humility out of the sport. It ceased being an entertaining distraction that would amuse me for a few hours on a Satuday and became a battle over what was right, wrong and the Michigan way.
At 5-3 and looking at a team no one in their right mind thought Michigan had a prayer in hell to beat, I was fairly resigned to a 6-6 or another 5-7 season. Not because of the coaches or the players, but because that seemed to be the hand fate had dealt us. The fumbles and interceptions had returned. Missed assignments and wide open receivers resulted in easy scores for Michigan's opponents. Meanwhile, Michigan's receivers started dropping balls and our most experienced and critical defensive players started dropping like flies. In all my time watching, following, and rooting for Michigan I have never known such a run of bad luck as the one I have observed over the last three years.
So, I agreed to drive down to the Amish country with my wife this past Saturday to pick up some furniture we'd ordered and wander around Indiana's farm land before it got too cold. These sorts of things make her happy, and as I've mentioned numerous times on this site, I love my wife and things that make her happy make me happy. I set the DVR and we got in the car.
As game time drew near, she suggested we turn on the game, if we could find it. Turning the dial, we eventually found the "Illini Radio Network." So, we could listen in and since I'd DVR'd the game, I could decide at a later time when, or whether, to watch the game.
The drive was long, but the game seemed to fly by. The three quick turnovers by Michigan. The flip flopping elation matched by jaw dropping incredulity. By the end of the game I audibly begging the radio to give me good news. Just this once. We're owed some good news, aren't we? Please? Locked in my tunnel vision between roadway and radio, I can only imagine the kind of sociopath that I had to appear to be before to my wife. While I am certain that she finds my never ending mood swings entertaining at times, there are others when she must wonder who this fool is that is talking to his radio as if his words will have any impact on a game being played hundreds of miles away.
Magically, Michigan had the ball back with over aminute to go in the game and a chance to win it. Two quick first down passes and Michigan was in business. I muttered to my wife that this was too good to be true. A moment later Tate Forcier threw an ill-advised pass toward a double covered Roy Roundtree and lllinois had the ball ball yet again.* All the breath left my lungs in that type of long sigh that seems to go on forever and makes the person your with wonder if you're ever going to breath back in again.
The see-saw continued to rise and fall with the tides of momentum that made up the game. At fourth and inches I knew Illinois would score, but I hoped against logic none the less. But then something changed. In the second overtime I listened as the Illini announcers called Michigan's second overtime drive. The words came out thusly: "Forcier back to pass... IT'S BATTED IN THE AIR...(Kitner: "OH noo" /aduibly slumps in chair/)... and Hemingway grabs it out of the air for a Michigan touchdown."
At last. A break. A break that went our way. A break that wasn't an ankle, but a broken play that somehow ended up favoring Michigan. It's gotten to the point that I didn't remember what that felt like, so I simply dismissed it as another opportunity that would likely be squandered in an effort to keep myself from becoming, dare I say, hopeful.
But I couldn't help it. And it wasn't the "how-did-that-happen?" catch that made me hopeful, it was the 2-pt conversion on Michigan's 3rd OT touchdown. For some reason 2-pt conversions aren't easy. Maybe it's because 2 yards out is the perfect defensive position, there's not a lot of space to do things and it's just long enough to make a QB sneak damn near impossible. More often than not they fail. And that was the position Michigan was in. They got to defend one of the tougher distances in football and make that final stand.
And all of a sudden it was all over. Four hours of football audio suddenly silent. I turned off the radio and my wife smiled at me again. She held my hand and told me what an amazing game it was. Fortunately, because she's a football fan, I knew she was being sincere. I just listened, occassionally, I nodded and said a few words, but mostly I listened.
Finally, Michigan caught a break after four years of heartache and embarrassment. In a small way I felt vindicated for supporting Rodriguez all this time, in another I felt bad for finally losing some of that faith after the Penn State game. Michigan was really on its way back.
I thought about Coach Rodriguez and what he's been through these last few years. I thought about the stress, the expectations, the disappointment, the constant criticism he's faced and hoped, at least for a moment, that he could catch his breath. Maybe have a comfortable dinner with his family and sleep a full night's sleep. Maybe after having a bowl streak end on his watch a new one will begin. Maybe. It's a nice thought to have.
About five minutes after the adio turned off, I returned to my normal talkative self. We chatted about things other than football, because, frankly, I didn't want to talk about it. I was tired of listening and talking and analyzing every little detail. At least at that particular moment. And when Monday rolled around I found I was still a little too tired to force words together to try to describe what went on Saturday.
It seems like it's been three years since Michigan caught a break. So you'll forgive me if I might have forgot how to describe what it felt like.
*(FWIW, after wathcing the game, I think Roundtree got bumped and quit on that route. That interception was on Tree, not Tate.).