Oh how I hate Ohio State!
My parents used to joke that my first words were not “mommy” or “daddy,” but “Go Blue!” I am a born and bred Michigan Wolverine who grew up in Michigan and then went on to attend The University of Michigan. Maize and blue courses in my veins. Michigan football is a religion in my family, so much so that Phil and I had to plan our October wedding on a bye weekend or we figured no one on my side of the family would attend (myself included!).
Watching Michigan’s stature as the winningest team in college football fall brick by brick into a pile of rubble these past few years has not been easy. I know I am spoiled. Last year was Michigan’s first losing season in my lifetime. A heartbreaking loss used to mean losing a hard-fought battle at the Rose Bowl or in the Big House against OSU when both teams were undefeated. It did not mean losing to a Division I-AA opponent like Appalachian State IN ANN ARBOR to open the season. Nor losing to a whole slew of unranked teams in the Big Ten, already much maligned as a conference that’s lost its luster (no kidding!). A heartbreaking season used to mean losing the chance to play in the National Championship, or losing the Big Ten Champion title to Ohio State in the final game of the season or getting our butts kicked in a BCS bowl. It did not mean losing nearly every single conference game and hoping to scrape our way into a mid-December bowl. A downright shameful season was one that resulted in going to one of those December bowls. Never did it mean ending a second season in a row without going to a bowl altogether, coupled with yet another loss to OSU.
Sure, I’ve suffered plenty of heartbreak in my lifetime of fanship. Michigan has lost many big games and at least one legendary coach. This is how I found out that Bo Schembechler was retiring: I was in my bathrobe in my freshman dorm (which also housed most of the football players), when I practically ran into a reporter with a microphone who asked for my reaction to the news that Bo was retiring. I had no idea he was retiring and said so. Then I went back to my room and cried. HOW COULD THIS BE??? I’d waited my whole life to go to Michigan to watch Bo and his Wolverines and now he was LEAVING??? The HORROR!
Never, though, has there been so much heartbreak than in the last three years. In November 2006, Bo passed away on the eve of the most highly anticipated Michigan-OSU matchups in its 103 year history. Ohio State was ranked #1 and Michigan #2. After a grueling, smacking, dirt-kicking, fingernail scraping fight, Michigan fell 39-42. Even after the loss they retained their #2 ranking until the coaches voted the Florida Gators into that spot after they won the SEC Championship a week later. Michigan lost the chance for a re-match against OSU in the National title game and went on to suffer a brutal loss at the hands of USC at the Rose Bowl. Woe was us!
The 2007 season opened with what my dad referred to as the Appalachian State FI-ASS-CO, bookended by another shattering loss at the hands of OSU. In between, I lost my father suddenly and unexpectedly to a ruptured aortic aneurysm — a literal heartbreak. The last pictures we have of him were taken at the Michigan-Notre Dame game that year (which, thankfully, we won). How can you talk about the loss of a parent and college football in the same breath? It’s just a game, right? Well for us it wasn’t. It was (and is) a way of life.
When I was 7, dad sat me down with a drawing of a football field and explained the concept of first downs, touchdowns and field goals. Then we graduated to off-sides, holding, and roughing the passer. And so on. He took me to my first game when I was 9. Both during and after college we talked every weekend and dissected the game – sometimes even play-by-play. Dad and football are forever woven together. So much so that I couldn’t even watch football last year. It was just too painful. That turned out to be just fine since it was one of the worst seasons in Michigan history, ending with no bowl bid for the first time in 33 years.
This year I came back to Michigan football, prepared for anything (or so I thought). I couldn’t stay away for long, and I have to pass the tradition on to my children – a task I take very seriously. The season started out promising enough with four straight wins (including the glorious one against Notre Dame) and Wonderboy quarterback Tate Forcier showing so much promise. Perhaps that is why what happened the rest of the season was so hard to take. Our expectations, pretty much minimal at the start of the season, were lofted to places they never should have gone after last year’s performance. Those expectations were crushed by loss upon loss upon loss. Yet, there is always fresh hope at the kickoff of the Michigan-OSU game when all that is old can be made new again. A win against the Buckeyes redeems almost anything.
Alas, redemption would not show its face in the Big House today. I made myself a screwdriver after Tate Forcier’s fumble in the end zone that enabled the Buckeyes to score in the first minutes of the game. I figured if this was the way the game was going to go, I was going to need a drink. I was thus somewhat fortified for the following four turnovers. Hello Heartbreak.
Will I come back next season for more? Of course! I’m already counting the days ’til next season. What choice do I have? I am a part of Michigan’s history and it is a part of mine. I have just two words for the Buckeyes for next year’s game at the ‘Shoe:
Bring it!Categories: College Football, Family · Tags: Bo Schembechler, College Football, Michigan Football, Michigan-Ohio State Rivalry, University of Michigan