Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Daylight Savings Time

(Sorry Jeff and I have been absent the past few weeks. He has been knee deep in a job search/move and I have been busy with work. I am sure everyone missed my weekly picks. )

As we turn into another Ohio State week I can't help but think back to one year ago at this time. Not to bring up to gloomy of memories but from what I remember of last years game that Saturday went something like this...

I woke up, like I always do, at 6 am like a ten year old on Christmas. I had barely slept and I tried as had as I could to dream up some thought of an upset so that Michigan could finally beat OSU. I was back home in Pittsburgh at the time and my family and I were scheduled to drive up to Toledo that morning to watch the game with my Mom's family and to celebrate my Grandmother's 80th Birthday. I made my sisters hop in the car with me super early and drive up so we didn't miss any of the game. My parents left a bit behind me, not sharing my short term optimism for what might happen. (I must admit, the OSU game is the one game I can't look at objectively the week of the game. For the past few years in the months leading up to the game I would mention how daunting it would be to beat them and then the week of I would talk myself into absurd reason we would win like Nick Sheridan will get a jet pack or something. It was bad.)

So we got there to my aunt's house and I sat myself on the couch next to my cousin who is the only OSU fan of the family. (Until my sister just got engaged to a Buckeye but that is another story.) He is a respectful fan but he is trying to talk to me about Rich Rod and his job status and I just want to focus on the game. The game went as it went and luckily for me I brought a case of Yuengling along for the ride to comfort me as the beat down took place once again.

More and more family showed up as the score just got worse and worse. Everyone else was just going about their day and catching up as most family occasions go. I am not only having a miserable time watching the game but I forgot that my aunt has two cats and I am horribly allergic to those creatures and I didn't bring any medicine. So not only is Michigan getting dismantled but I am sneezing like crazy as I continue to pound down the Yeunglings.

Finally the game ends and the girls of the family have already long stopped caring as we men gather around the food and chat about Rich Rod and other such nonsense. I am just sitting there, God knows how many deep, just a sad panda. Finally my parents suggest we go check into the hotel and take a nap before the birthday dinner. The ride from the party to the hotel was one of the more silent car rides I have had in a long time. It was my Mom, Dad and myself and my Mom tried to keep the discussion positive as both my Dad and I just grunted everything off because there was nothing to say.

We check into the hotel and I plop myself down on the bed, half drunk and still sneezing. My phone is blowing up with more and more garble about Michigan and I just ignore it. I lie there just staring at the ceiling not knowing what to think. I try not to think to short term because I know it will be bad. I try not to think about the long term because all I can think about is Tressel and his vest and wondering if I am going to be 30 the next time I see Michigan beat OSU. Thinking about that long term scared me more than anything. Think back to just after that game, didn't you just ask yourself, "how in the hell are we every going to beat these guys? When will Michigan be back to what we, as fans, expect?" These are dark questions that every fan, no matter the team, never wants to be uttered because there is no instant answer. Instead, we shower up, head back out there and hunker down for the long haul...

That seems like a long time ago doesn't it? Like longer than a year ago.

2011 has been a transition year not only for Michigan football but for college football as well.

We all know how 2011 has changed those feeling about Michigan football and the rivalry towards OSU. From more feeling of disappointment in the "process" of actually hiring Hoke, everything from that point on has taken one step in the positive direction. From the moment Hoke said, "This is Michigan" one positive thing happened after another. At first it just started as a joke. Denard decided to stay, Michigan swept MSU in hoops, Michigan Hockey went to the Title game and it all built steam into what we now call "Hokemania." My friends and I joked as other positive things happened in our day to day lives. Michigan gets a four star recruit, it has to be the work of Hokeamania. Someone we know gets engaged, chalk it up to Hokeamania. You get that promotion at work, it has to be the Hokemania, right?

Then the big one hit, Tressel resigned. The best Memorial Day present any of us have ever received. I can still taste the champagne. The OSU folks stood proud with their guy and still claimed their dominance over Michigan. We had nothing to say back, we just whispered to ourselves, Hokeamania. It started to feel real. (Like some sort of weird religious experience.)

Now I don't think that Hoke has any magical powers but I am a believer that in sports moments and momentum matter. I haven't been able to get through all of Three and Out but my biggest takeaway so far is how important it is to have a figurehead within an athletic department to be the voice when things are going tough. In terms of Michigan, ours was obviously Bo. As Bacon pointed out, his influence might have helped the situation in ways we may never know.

Now I bring that up but to rather to bring up the point that figureheads are important and almost necessary for any successful athletic organization both college and pro. For my fan hood, guys like Mario Lemieux and Dan Rooney set the tone for their respective organizations while the Pirates flounder around hoping Andrew McCutchen or some other prospect will take on the face of the organization. (The 35 year plan feels like it is working out though.) Other Big Ten schools have their guy, MSU has Izzo, Nebraska has Osborne and Wisconsin has Alvarez.

The only problem with those figureheads, as shown in college football, is that sometimes they become elevated to an unhealthy status. Tressel was brought down for lying and Joe Pa has been ousted for something much more serious than anything any of us can imagine. (That is for a whole other discussion.)

The point of these figure heads is to steer not only the team and the department but the fan base throughout both the good and bad times. When Michigan lost Bo, Michigan clearly lost its way. As Hoke has come in this past year and done things we clearly have enjoyed watching we are starting to see him become that face of Michigan. He isn't there yet but you can tell that shortly, when people think Michigan football, they will start to think of Brady Hoke.

I am kind of losing my way here but I want to end on two things the long and short term versus Ohio State. Starting with the long term, when the Tressel resigned the Buckeyes lost their leader. This past year has been dreadful for them on their field and what they expect their football team to look like on Saturdays. It looks like they are going to pony up and pay Urban Meyer to come in and be that instant figure head that only a few coaches can bring. This makes sense for the reasons outlined above. He will come in with no questions asked and steer the program through its sanctions and have it up and running in no time. Well worth the investment. (I can't believe I am typing this but USC is their outline for how to get it done. Nice work Kiffin.)

This has some Michigan fans worried that Urban will come in and there will be a dark cloud once again. I am not worried about that at all. In fact, I am excited by Urban to come in. Since I have watched this rivalry it has either been Michigan dominating in the 90s or OSU dominating this past decade. There has been no balance. That "Ten Year War" everyone talks about has been gone for a long time. I think it is about time we brought that back. I take one look at the Saban and Les rivalry down South and I am jealous. I want that here, in the Big Ten. Now maybe I am wishing it to happen but anyone who thinks Hoke is going to fall over at the sight of Urban and his 0-1 record against Michigan is fooling themselves. Two prominent figureheads, going toe to toe for next decade. Sounds too good to be true.

I am getting to far ahead of myself though. There is still a game to be played this week and by all accounts Hokeamania has continued its magic. Thinking back to that day last November as I sat there on the bed the most amazing thing Hoke has done is almost moved time forward. (Or backward, I can't figure it out.)

The fact that Michigan can beat Ohio State this week and go to a BCS bowl is something I thought I would be typing two years from now at the earliest (Or 30 years from now where we all just type into the air and then go fight teradactyls.)

To me, the unfloudering belief that Michigan should and will meet expectations has been the most impressive thing Hoke has accomplished. He has come in from day one and said that beating Ohio and winning the Big Ten is the standard we will see from him and his teams. While winning the Big Ten can't happen, a win over OSU Saturday and everyone starts taking Hoke and his Hokespeake a little more seriously. Especially those down in Columbus.

Go Blue. Give them Hell this Saturday.