Are there any other "old folk" out there besides me who remember the opening of ABC's "Wide World of Sports," with the narrator proclaiming, "The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat" — the last three words uttered simultaneously with footage of a skier heading down a ski jump and wiping out in agonizing, clusterf*ck fashion?
Well, we Michiganders have experienced some agonizing defeat in the past week. I wrote about the Spartans' last-second loss to Iowa. And for the Michigan Wolverines, the defeats of Oct. 24 and 31 were not last-second heartbreakers, but humiliating blowouts. My sister is a University of Michigan alumna, and I've worked with some fine people who matriculated at U-M. Not all of them are arrogant or insufferable. Many are quite nice. It's just that, as any Spartan fan will attest, the Michigan fans who ARE arrogant and insufferable, are unbearably so. And many of them never went to school there (or to any other college, for that matter). So I don't particularly jump for joy when the Wolverines basketball or football teams fall upon hard times. I know there are decent people who are hurting. But when I think of the arrogant jerks with whom I've come in contact who root for the corn-n-blue, I can't help but smile. So with that being said...
THE WHEELS HAVE FALLEN OFF — The Michigan Wolverines showed signs of promise earlier this season. They defeated Top 25 Notre Dame in a last-minute thriller; they took archrival Michigan State to overtime in East Lansing after trailing by 14 points until late in the 4th quarter; and played tough against undefeated Iowa in a 30-28 loss at Iowa City on Oct. 10.
Still, even casual observers would have known there was trouble when Penn State visted the Big House in Ann Arbor on Oct. 24 and thrashed the Wolverines, 35-10. The fact that Penn State won is not shocking. But the margin and domination of the defeat are what caused jaws to drop. Then today, a week later, Michigan played at Illinois, which many regarded as the worst team in the Big Ten (or at least the most underachieving team). Big Blue was favored to win by 4 or 5 points, but what happened? The Fighting Illini, 1-6, shredded 5-3 MEEECHIGAN by a convincing score of 38-13.
The calls for head coach Rich Rodriguez's head are getting louder and more shrill. It's not just that he came in and threw out the Michigan tradition of solid defense, power running, brute force from the offensive line, and NFL-caliber wide receivers, replacing all of that with a gimmicky spread offense and undersized defensive players. It's his bold, brash demeanor, and the ethically challenged M.O. he's exhibited since Day One.
When DickRod was hired about two years ago, Michigan had to come up with money to buy out his contract with West Virginia. He has been sued for defaulting on a real estate loan, and his football program is under NCAA investigation for allegedly pressuring players to put in far more hours training and practicing per week than is permitted by NCAA rules.
On top of all that, approximately 15-20 players have said "Adios" since RichRod took over, transferring to other schools. When an NCAA scholarship athlete elects to switch schools, the rules state that he must sit out one season before being eligible to compete again. So it's a considerable sacrifice, and athletes willing to make that sacrifice must have a compelling reason to do so.
The standard line among M GO BLUE kool-aid drinkers is something like, "Oh, just wait until RichRod gets his players in place; we're gonna run the table. We'll start beating Ohio State regularly, and we'll be back on top in the state of Michigan, the way it should be."
This is downright foolish. It's becoming more evident that they're just whistling in the graveyard.
Michigan football right now reminds me of Michigan State football in the abysmal 2002 season, the final year of Bobby Williams' ill-fated tenure. Expectations were high heading into that season, but players having trouble with drugs, the law, and academics, among other things (Women? Serotonin deficiency?) caused the season to unravel hideously.
Star quarterback Jeff Smoker was suspended because of some kind of substance abuse problem that still has not come to light (Alcohol? Pot? Cocaine? Or all of the above?) ... He went through rehab and a rigorous training program to earn his way back onto the team in 2003. Starting running back Dawan Moss was arrested for drunk driving AND resisting arrest, an ugly incident in which he dragged a police officer trying to gain control of the vehicle as Moss took off rather than submit to authority. The team finished 4-8 that year, including beatdowns of 49-3 at Michigan and 61-7 at Penn State. When it rains, it pours. Bobby Williams got the ax before the season was over. Will the same fate await Rodriguez next season? It won't be this year, as the university has way too much money wrapped up in this guy, but the ax could fall a year from now.
STRANGE COINCIDENCE — A week ago tonight, the football Spartans got their hearts ripped out when the undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes scored a touchdown on the last play of the game to defeat Michigan State, 15-13. Last night, the MSU hockey team endured a last-second finish (or more accurately, a last split-second finish). The Spartans led visiting Western Michigan 2-0 for much of the game, but gave up their first goal while shorthanded following a penalty at 13:23 of the third period. In the last 72 seconds, MSU won several faceoffs, but still was not out of the woods. With just a couple seconds left, WMU's Trevor Ludwig fired from the point; the shot caromed to teammate Max Campbell, who tapped it in just as the buzzer sounded.
The referee first called it a goal, but after reviewing a replay, overruled himself and declared that time had expired just prior to the puck entering the goal. WHEW!
BAD START — My Spartans dug themselves a quick 14-0 hole at Minnesota tonight, but clawed back to make it 14-10 in the second quarter. If they're not careful, the Spartans will also suffer the agony of defeat.