To preface this entire piece, this isn't the players fault.
The pressure placed squarely on the 115 student-athlete's shoulders simply because he plays for Michigan is never ending, they live it every single day. The tradition of excellence and the demand for victories that the students, alums, fan base, coaching staff and everyone else in between that gets beaten into every player's skull -- All-American or walk-on -- during every waking second is also never ending.
It also doesn't help for a select few, the selected leaders of the team, to have just that little bit extra pressure to perform placed on them by the coaching staff.
The team isn't represented by the number or name on the back, it's what's on front of the jersey and the name of your school. But, at a place like Michigan, people never forget those who made history wearing a certain number.
When history is made, the man wearing the jersey usually gets rewarded when all is said and done by having the team take that number out of circulation. To remember the last person who wore that jersey and for all he did for the team. It also prevents the next person who wears it avoid becoming unfairly judged by the "weight" a simple number carries.
At Michigan as of late, that changed.
During a night game last season against Notre Dame, the last straw was pulled as an iconic number was taken out of retirement and placed back into circulation. "Ol' 98" was unleashed back on to the football field, a number once proudly worn by a man named Tom Harmon.
Harmon wasn't an ordinary man, nor was he an ordinary football player. At a place like Michigan, the name Harmon meant something to the legacy at Michigan, the number 98 should be forever enshrined at Schembechler Hall. A man who played almost every single position during his time at Michigan, a man so talented that even the Ohio State crowd once saw him off the field with a standing ovation in 1940 -- a feat that will never be accomplished again. After winning the Heisman later that year, Harmon would eventually go on to war during World War II and become a hero. Harmon isn't just a local name.
The first Heisman winner at Michigan meant something and it should always be kept as such. But the coaching staff had different plans.
Naturally, the quarterback Devin Gardner saw the honor of receiving the 98 jersey. This argument has nothing to do with Gardner as a player or person, or any player that has received the legacy jerseys during their time at Michigan for that matter, this isn't his fault. The coaching staff put the exorbitant honor and the weight that accompanies it straight on his shoulders.
Even before Gardner, the legacy jersey was handed out to someone who worked his was from a tryout walk-on to starting safety and team captain. Although he was incredibly deserving of the Wistert brothers honoring of the number 11 jersey, Jordan Kovacs did enough to have his number 32 remembered by those who were familiar with Kovacs meteoric rise. To see his number change so late in the season, on November 11 to be exact, takes away from the original point of honoring a player.
Devin Funchess is another player who has been honored twice. Although the number one jersey isn't recognized as a legend jersey dedicated to any specific player, Funchess has changed numbers three times during the course of his Michigan career. As number 19, Funchess had a chance to make his mark at Michigan on his own terms, the freakishly athletic tight end (later converting to receiver) had all the tools to be great. Now, he is overshadowed by comparisons to Ron Kramer, Derrick Alexander and Braylon Edward's (to name a few) career and why he wears the number one jersey.
Not to mention, Brandon Moore was the original recipient of the Ron Kramer jersey in 2012. He only participated in three games and did not record any statistics.
It means more to the players that actually put the work in to entertain us fans and fuel the columns and speculation, but the players also deserve a chance to be the captain of their own destinies.
Although the current Michigan team has not lived up to expectations while the jerseys have been in circulation, and arguably even before that, it's time for the student-athletes to pave their own way. To forge their own legacy during their time at Michigan. Others did and that's why their numbers are honored with a patch. But now a player will be unfairly clumped together with a Michigan legend and won't be able to make a career his own way.
Next season, no matter who is coaching Michigan, that needs to change.
The number 21's, 47's, 48's and many others got their start somewhere. Each player was a lowly freshman who worked his way to greatness once upon a time. Every player who steps onto the turf of Michigan Stadium and puts in the time at Schembechler Hall deserves that chance on their own terms.
Granted, the coaching staff are honoring mainly upperclassmen, these players are still trying to learn and create their own identity. Upholding the legacy of someone who has since left Michigan is too much.
The fact that the number 98 distinction is now considered "dumb", "stupid" and often regarded "why on earth would they give that number to a quarterback?" defeats the purpose of the distinction and Harmon's legacy he left at Michigan. Not every fan base should know Michigan football history, for that in itself is silly, but the fan base should be aware and doesn't need to see the number out there again to be reminded of past greatness. Retired numbers should be celebrated and looked upon in glass display cases, not seeing them trying to be recreated on the football field in modern-day football.
Although the experiment of the legacy numbers -- and it appears to be just that -- allows the fans to go out and purchase a jersey from the local Michigan-licensed store, it takes away from the hard work and dedication the player puts into the team. After all, like Bo Schembechler once said, no man is more important than the team.
For a program that is void of wins right now, how can it hand out legacy numbers of past triumphs when it can't even live up to its own legacy of being winners?
It's time for Michigan to shift focus on different pressing areas of need, getting back to its winning ways is a good start.