Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Saturday, September 01, 2007

If This is the New World Order, I Want the Old World Back

Is there any chance the entire Michigan football season can be moved over to Big Ten Network? Because I'm not sure I want to watch this anymore.

With Comcast not carrying BTN (Dear Comcast, I no longer want it), I tuned in and out of the game on the radio. Why wasn't I planted in a chair, as I would've been had the game been on TV? Well, I don't think my brain would've been able to handle the lack of visual stimulation. Why didn't I try to watch at a local sports bar? 1) I thought I'd have to shoehorn myself in, and 2) Um... I really didn't think it'd be a big deal if I missed this game. (I don't think I was the only one.)

Anyway, when I got back in the car after lunch and drove to my next stop on the errand run, I thought I heard Frank Beckmann say the score was "Appalachian State 28, Michigan 14." And if you were behind a green Honda Civic going north on Carpenter Rd. around 1:30 p.m., I apologize if I nearly caused you to get into an accident.

I stuck pretty close to the radio after that. And Michigan began chipping away at that lead, apparently remembering that football also requires you to play defense, while asserting some authority with the running game. Eventually, this rift in the space-time continuum would correct itself and order would be restored. Right?

When Mike Hart ran down, then across the field for a 54-yard touchdown (reminiscent of his famous high school run), I - and I'm sure most other Michigan football fans - figured the nightmare was over, and the Wolverines would pull out the win we all expected. Sure, we'd vent our outrage on sports talk radio, the blogosphere, and anyone within the sound of our voices for the next couple of days, while catching $#!+ from fans around the country, but we'd take it like men and shake it off. But then Michigan failed to convert a two-point conversion, which was a reminder that nothing was going right today. (Penalties, fumbles, interceptions, not enough men on the field, etc. And can we now agree that you should never go for two until you absolutely have to?)

Still, Michigan had the lead - albeit one as thin as rice paper - and I stretched out on the sofa, intending to take a nap. I had to save my strength for all the post-game agonizing on WTKA later on. Just as I began to fall into that sweet slumber, my cell phone jolted me awake. It was my buddy, Eric.

"Your dad is turning over in his grave right now, wouldn't he?"

Say what? I actually slept through the Mountaineers regaining the lead at 34-32 with a field goal. Just as I shook the cobwebs out and began to think clearly again, I heard Beckmann's call of Jason Gingell's field goal attempt being blocked, followed by his declaration that ArmageddonAppalachian State had just pulled off the biggest upset in the history of Michigan football.

I have to be honest. I really wasn't sure if I was awake or not when I heard that final score. I've had these sorts of nightmares while falling asleep during an early season snoozer against a non-conference opponent. I can only imagine what a slurring mess I sounded like on the phone.

(And while I'm being honest, I had to look up the name of Michigan's place-kicker before typing it out in the previous paragraph, because I had no idea who their kicker was until his field goal was blocked. Sorry - Being nose-deep in baseball blogging for the past five months has me behind on my football stuff.)

Right now, I'm kind of wishing I'd stayed asleep. Because every highlight and mention of this humiliation feels like a body blow. Of course, it should be mentioned over and over, because this sort of thing isn't supposed to happen. And if it happened to any other college football program in this country, I'd be delighting in the fall of a titan and figuratively hoisting Appalachian State on my shoulders. And I wasn't even pronouncing "Appalachian" correctly until my sister - who will soon move to nearby Asheville, NC - straightened me out this morning.

Obviously, applause is due to the Mountaineers. Throughout the winter, spring, and summer, this game was derisively mocked by Michigan fans as an embarrassment of scheduling. And a Big Ten team really shouldn't be playing a Division I-AA school. But as the defending two-time I-AA national champions, Appalachian St. shouldn't have been considered a pushover. Before the game was even played, they were probably a better opponent than, say, Eastern Michigan.

But this is what it is. For years, even when Michigan posted 8-4 seasons, there was consolation in the Wolverines never suffering a humbling fall from grace that other acclaimed programs such as Oklahoma, Notre Dame, USC, Penn State, and Miami (FL) had. But that vicious cycle appears to have finally turned on Michigan.

It's easy to say now, in lieu of a mortifying upset loss, and after I hadn't posted anything on this 2007 team leading up to this season opener, but I felt like Michigan was being overrated in pre-season polls. When talking college football with my sister's future father-in-law - a Tennessee Volunteers fan - a couple of weeks ago, I told him that I couldn't believe the Wolverines were being ranked #5. What were they seeing that I wasn't? Granted, I hadn't been paying close attention, but didn't this team lose a bunch of defense to graduation? And that was woefully apparent today.

This is the kind of loss that has to make Michigan re-evaluate the way its football program is run. I've always been a defender of Lloyd Carr, but the Rose Bowl debacle against USC planted a seed of doubt for the first time. That, of course, followed a hugely disappointing loss to Ohio State. And now this. Three straight losses isn't just a slump. There's no such thing in college football. Not for an elite program. This is a trend, a pattern of being horribly unprepared for games, with an increasingly obvious refusal to adjust offensive and defensive philosophies toward what the opponent requires.

Something has to change. And not just for this season. Just one game in, there's plenty of time to straighten things out for this particular team. But the long-term interests of the Michigan football program might require a fundamental overhaul.