You know how sometimes in sports you just know something's gonna happen?
Sometimes, a player or a team is so good - or so bad - you just know something is inevitable. It's your gut talking. Your brain says "ok maybe it won't happen" but your brain is stupid and your gut's been the beneficiary of all those beers I told you to drink, and it's almost always right. But there's a special case here.
Most times, it's the overwhelming favorite blowing away the underdog. But that isn't what really hits you. Yes, Alabama will beat Alcorn State by a lot. But that doesn't grab you with the gut-clench reaction I'm talking about. No, I'm talking about those things in sports when it might not happen, but you know it will, and it just does. I can't explain it any more clearly than that. It's times like last night.
There's an easy case to make that Peyton Manning is the greatest regular-season quarterback of all time. The arguments to his greatness take a hit with postseason performance - even his little brother has more Super Bowl wins, and a certain Michigan man with four rings has a pretty good resume himself. But no one can deny what Peyton has done in the regular season. Man just lights it up. He's been down for a few games recently, and cold weather games seem to ding him a little bit, but after the Chiefs scored that late touchdown to go up 7 before the two-minute warning, the Broncos had to feel at least pretty good about their chances.
Peyton maneuvered them down the field easily, setting up a first down at around the 25 with a minute to go. That's when I looked at my Broncos fan friend and we just knew Manning would punch it in. Even against a decent Chiefs defense that was getting good pressure on the Broncos' terrible O-line. Even when everyone in the stadium knew he'd probably look for Demariyus Thomas or that gorgeous little shoulder fade pass he's made so famous. And sure enough, he delivered. An easy strike to Sanders to tie the game. Inevitability. Alex Smith knew it, too, and he'd go on to make the face that so many of us have over the years on the other side of inevitability:
Prime Tiger was like this. In the '06 US Open, he and Luke Donald were tied going into Sunday, and you just knew Donald would collapse and Tiger would win. Tiger won by five shots. That chip at the Masters so long ago was damn near expected. Prime Federer was like this. Nadal on clay. Serena almost did it, but then she didn't. Robert Horry hit a lot of three-pointers you knew would go in. Ray Allen's second-chance shot in the playoffs last year was another good one. I felt that way about Percy Harvin in college. He was just so much better and so much faster than everyone on the field, even in the SEC. And for Michigan fans, you felt that way every time the ball left Nik Stauskas' hands. Sometimes, you just feel it. Maybe a good way to describe it would be a heat check. Something difficult that you know you can do because you're just on. Is it "clutch?" Not quite. But it's close.
As Al Pacino would tell you in that great scene in Heat, there's another side to that coin. You've got your heroes and your world-beaters but you've also got those guys you just know are going to screw up. They're elite athletes that for some reason are just a half-synapse away from what they should accomplish. They're teams that just have the stank circling around them. Cleveland and the Jets in the NFL. The Orioles and Nationals used to be like this. Really, really bad. I remember turning to my dad at a game in 2010 - where we got box seats for like $10 because the teams sucked - and saying "The best part of these games is you just know something dumb is going to happen every time they play." And sure enough, this happened, courtesy of T-Plush, not two pitches later:
For Michigan football fans, the past decade has been a masterclass in inevitable fallability. You knew Toussaint was gonna get stuffed on third and short, even if he didn't. You knew an option QB would shred the RichRod defenses. And you shook your head and wondered why it still happened. You knew they'd make Matt McGloin a folk hero in Happy Valley. I'm not talking about knowing they'd probably lose to Ohio State. I'm talking about knowing the inexplicable was coming, and then watching it happen.
I've gone back and forth with many of you this offseason about what's new, what's different about the Michigan team this year and beyond under Jim Harbaugh, and what I'm most looking forward to. My answer then, and my answer now, is a return to inevitability. Doing the things they should do, and not letting the things that shouldn't happen, well, happen. The best-coached teams do it. They might not win every single game, but they won't lose to Toledo or App State or a freshman walk-on quarterback.
Maybe my expectations are so toilet-bowl low that this seems silly. But there's a comforting inevitability to sports, even reduced to its most basic level. That's what I want, and that's what I think will happen under Harbaugh sooner rather than later. One step at a time, Michigan will return to that level. You'll know their backs will break that first tackle. You'll know that stupid pass by the opposing QB will be picked off rather than float over a defender's head. You'll go to games and stop shaking your head. And deep in your gut, you'll know Michigan is back. That's how I'll know, anyway. Less taking, more booze.
Your Beer of the Week: Mountain Top Trainwreck Ale
Everywhere in life, you deal with assholes. Sometimes it's the blogger trying to tell you how to be. Sometimes it's your boss or your ex or your sibling or sports fans. But sometimes it's your erstwhile friend and co-editor at Maize n Brew. And you're like, hey, man, I thought we were chill. It's the subtle knives that get you.
Like last night when Broome texted me asking if I'd had Trainwreck Ale, and proceeded to tell me he could procure it mere minutes from his apartment. There's your proof, folks. I'm not the only d-bag on this masthead. Broome can acquire a fine, fine local amber ale with an 8% alcohol content like it's nothing. And I'm sitting around far away trying to play it cool. But it got to me. Because this beer is delicious and perfect. BTW, Mt. Pleasant has an amazing craft beer scene and it's going to keep getting better.
I'm not the biggest amber guy. It's good. It's a versatile ale. I've mentioned it before. But Trainwreck hits all the right notes. It's not too hoppy, it's not too sweet despite being brewed with maple syrup, and you could drink it when it's hot out, cool out, or anywhere in between. I still think stouts are the way to go when it's really cold, but to each their own. The best part about Trainwreck? It clocks in at 8% but somehow tastes so much more subtle. It's really, really good. Be careful tailgating this guy, though. It'll getcha. Oh, Hobo's Breath is my favorite from Mountain Top (an excellent brown) but check out their Amber, too.
Until next week, Cheers, Michigan Faithful!