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On Fandom: Loving the Arrogance of the Maize and Blue

warning: sailor-speak ahead.

I like making "series" posts, so I'm going to try a new segment called "On Fandom". Who knows what it'll be like, and whether it'll be any good, but today I'm talking about Michigan arrogance from my own perspective as an arrogant fan.

I'm going to lead with something extremely relevant that Zach said in his "Back to the Future" post.

Other team's fans call us arrogant. Well, you know what? Fuck them. We are arrogant. We expect so much out of our team that we eventually canniblize the coaching staff and players and spit out the bones.

The purpose of this site, among other things, is to get a fan perspective on the world of sports. A wonderful, heartbreaking world that we construct for entertainment. Part of that is debating, and part of that is trash-talking everyone, even fellow Michigan fans, because we each think we know what's best for our team.

Zach's right. We should be arrogant. Let me put it another way: we should feel like we have a right to be better than everyone else. We still are the winningest team in college football. Thirty-plus straight bowl games until a few years ago. These facts are not up for debate. And, dammit, I'm falling back on those.

The last few years invite plenty of criticisms, sure, but hey, that's not our fault as fans, right? We expect ten-plus win seasons. We chased a perfectly good coach out of town because 9-win seasons and not beating our hated rivals wasn't enough. Whether you agree with that or not, it's what the fanbase has come to expect. And as Zach says, "fuck you" if you disagree. Feel free. But I've been really happy with my Michigan fandom and the arrogance that comes with it.

So let's talk about fandom. When I started writing at the beginning of the season, that's why I did it. I did it because I live and die with Michigan sports, most of that football. That's why all of you (and trolls are people too) post on this site and argue and bitch and moan about planes that may be flying to some unknown location and breathlessly follow talented 17-year-olds in hopes of divining their college decisions.

Arrogance doesn't just mean that I think I'm right and you're wrong. It means much more than that.

More after the jump.

About three months ago, I said this in my "Thoughts on Michigan State", and while i didn't give credit to a good MSU team for beating our asses, I stand by this statement:

Chin up, M fans. Better days are ahead. Shake it off, because, let's face it, we're Michigan and they, be they MSU or anyone else, aren't. No one else can say that. We still have the most electric player in the nation who will carry us to better days. [...] [ed note: hopefully]. Maybe it's not the greatest day in the world to be a Michigan Wolverine, but, heck, it's still great to be a Michigan Wolverine. So be haughty. Be aloof. Be everything Michigan is criticized for, because except in a few brief instances, we back it up. Be a Wolverine, because it'll get you to next Saturday when we start winning again.

Sure, I might have been a tad optimistic. The season fell apart after that. But, somewhere in my heart, i expected Michigan to pull through. I fully expect, every Saturday, for Michigan to put together a team that will come out with a win, and if they don't, I don't want to believe it was because they were outplayed or outcoached. This is my expectation. Ordinarily, through my years of fandom, that's true. I willingly concede that there are other good teams in college football - in fact, it hurts me to say that there have been many, many better teams, even during some of the good years in Michigan Football. But as a fan, as an arrogant Michigan Fan, I expect my Michigan teams to be better. That's why I "cannibalize my coaches and players" when they get outcoached and outplayed. It hurts when that happens. In my mind, it shouldn't happen. That's what my version of Michigan Fandom has taught me to expect.

This is my arrogance as a Michigan Fan. I expect to be better than every team we play. The last few years have made me look pretty stupid; because I want my team to win, it hurts when they don't. As an arrogant fan, it hurts when they're not even competitive. Is my expectation that unrealistic, though?

From 1990 to 2007, Michigan won more than 75% of their games, went to a bowl game every year, went to a New Years' Day bowl more often than not, won eight Big Ten championships and a national championship. All-Americans were expected; Heismans were a legitimate hope. Before 1990, we had Bo, my idol, who won roughly 80% of his games. Michigan has a rich tradition - and call me biased, I welcome it - and I daresay it's the richest college football tradition in the country. There are other schools with tradition - Texas, Oklahoma, Florida State, Miami, OSU, Notre Dame, and USC to name a few - that absolutely deserve to have a similar arrogance. The recent success of the SEC also gives rise to some fairly legitimate arrogance from the fanbases - the Tebow years at Florida were downright special, even if I rooted with all my heart for them to lose.

I started thinking about other sports, and tried to come up with some other franchises that have the "right" to be arrogant. In European soccer, Barcelona and Real Madrid come to mind, and they rabidly chase Spanish League cups and Euro glory like few in America can understand (and I'm not even going to mention the EPL). The Canadians have hockey, but by nature they're a very docile bunch. Hearken back to the great Russian Olympic teams for another example of bombastic arrogance. In the realm of American professional sports, a team dear to my heart has done rather well. The Red Wings have been dominant after a resurgence from their down years, but I'm not so sure I can call their fans arrogant, though I am one (maybe I'm just not rabid enough). Then I thought baseball and remembered the Yankees. The most loved and hated franchise in the world. One of my friends dabbles as a freelance Yankee beat writer, and I asked him what he thought of Yankee arrogance:

To be a Yankee Fan is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult thing in all of sports fandom. In order to understand the present, you must understand the past; there is no franchise that celebrates its heroes quite like the Yankees. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, and so on. Other franchises would be lucky to have one or two iconic figures like that; we have more than a dozen. We have retired the numbers of sixteen players, more than any other team in the MLB. All of this is to say that we have not come to expect mediocre things from our team, or even good things. we expect great things every. single. year. NYC is the biggest city in the US, and it is one of the last three cities in which baseball is still more important than football. We pay through the nose to see our team, we pay to get the team's regional sports network, and we don't complain because we know that money is going right back into the team. That's the deal we made when we signed up.

In exchange, we expect greatness, and we often get it. There are three guaranteed first ballot hall of famers on the roster. There are young players who may well be on that level someday. These are the players we can afford because the fans will pay for them. Does that make us arrogant? Probably. We are arrogant because we have the greatest and most storied history of any sports franchise, and we have ownership and fans who are willing to do what is necessary to ensure we stay that way. If we are arrogant, it is because we have earned it, and we will continue to earn it every year that we win. Some call us whiners, and enjoy seeing us lose. They know we hate to lose, and in the game of baseball, it is very hard to win every single year. No team has ever won more than 118 games out of 162. That's why it can be so hard; when a fan expects not just goodness but GREATNESS every season, anything short of that – a postseason birth, a division title, even an AL pennant – is a failure. That is life as a Yankee Fan. (ed note: emphasis added)
Love or hate the Yankees, and love or hate his statement, you can feel the arrogance. And I sure empathize with it.

I guess what I'm saying is that we as fans have a right to be arrogant. Sure, the last few years have hurt that. I've said that before. I don't know when Michigan is going to allow me to emerge from my retreat into history and haughtiness. But when that day comes, a whole lot of people will join me. One of my younger friends has only been a Michigan fan for three years - he's now a junior in the MMB, and he's pissed because he's never known glory. I feel for the guy - not just because he's never watched Michigan in the Rose Bowl or beaten Ohio State, but because he doesn't get to taste the arrogance that I cling to. Sure, he wants his team to do well, but he doesn't have the expectation. And man, do I want him to feel what that's like, because most of the time, it feels great.

Many of the commenters on this site and all over the Michigan blogosphere have had some pretty intense debates over the last few months about the situation. The activity on the site for the past two months has been off the charts. To single one instance out, one of my favorite things to do has been to haughtily disagree with Chicago_Wolverine, a commenter who's essentially gloated about the Rich Rod situation and made some pretty incendiary statements. He's arrogant, I think he's made some pretty bold statments, and I don't agree with a lot of what he says. But in a weird way, I respect his haughtiness. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it made me realize that most of us expect greatness from Michigan. That doesn't mean it's the right way to express such sentiments, (and this might be the wrong way as well) but this is what being a fan is all about.

Think back to Zach's point and the comments from my Yankee friend. These are two statements of unabashed arrogance from passionate fans who dedicate large chunks of their lives to their teams. I consider myself fortunate to be one of those fans, and if you've read this far, you're probably one of them too. Arrogance in sports is something wonderful. It feels good until you're disappointed, and then it helps you rebound.

This piece wasn't intended to be a response to the Hoke hiring or Brian's piece over at MGo, but I'd like to touch on it as well. Brian is one hell of a blogger, and we're all better off as fans because of his tireless dedication. He and I share similar opinions on Rich Rodriguez and I genuinely believe he wants what's best for the program. However, a couple of his points are extremely relevant to my ranting, and I will address them in kind:
But I think the way this (ed: hiring process) went down proves that all the things rivals say about Michigan are true. This is an unbelievably arrogant program convinced its past glories are greater and more recent than they are, certain outsiders have nothing to teach it. We will enter bowl games against opponents that say "boy, that Michigan just lines up and comes after you," and we probably won't win many of them. We never have, and trying to out-execute Alabama or Oregon seems like a tall order these days.
We are an arrogant program, and I am an arrogant fan. I don't argue with Brian's awareness of the arrogance, but I think there's more to it than that. He's right - "certain outsiders" can't really teach me, or many of us, anything. Yes, many of the things rivals say about Michigan are true. And yes, our bowl game opponents and OOC opponents will say Michigan just "lines up and comes after you" because that's what Michigan does. Sure, we haven't won a majority of those games (even in the past thirty or so years, Michigan's bowl record isn't fantastic) but the formula works. Ask Tim Tebow how eating turf courtesy of ten-plus Jamar Adams blitzes felt.

I think that the arrogance of me, the fan, is different than the arrogance of the Michigan Program. I don't necessarily agree that Michigan will simply line up and put their heads down without change every game. (One of the problems in the past, though, has been a lack of adaptability in games - this falls on the head coach.) To win in football, that has to be a part of your coaching, and Rich Rodriguez lost some games because of it. So did Carr and coaches that came before. But that's more stubbornness than arrogance. Arrogance means that Michigan will "be Michigan" and come at you with smash-mouth football with a Breaston-to-Navarre pass wrinkle thrown at you every once in a while, and believe that because we're better than you, we're going to win doing it, and it doesn't matter if you know it. (I, too, would like some adaptation though - conceding that a gameplan doesn't always work doesn't detract from the arrogance of trying it, but it sure helps overcome ignorance.)

I want my team to be as arrogant as I am as a fan. I want them to win doing it, because it means Michigan's back to their old selves. I want to love my arrogance, not have it be a source of constant disappointment. I want to expect glory and I want to believe that it will come every year. Some have said that they have lost this belief. Some have never had it. But I want it back. And I believe it will come. Again, this isn't a comment on the Hoke hiring, but more a comment on my belief in the Michigan Program. Sure, the program that I love dearly is down right now. I yearn for a time where I think we not only can but will win every game. I want my arrogance to be validated. Sure, I'll be disappointed a lot, but remember one basic thing: We're Michigan and they're not. Fuck them if they've got a problem with that.