Thursday, January 5, 2017

Playoff Fever

The major question for me leading up to this weekend is whether or not I'm going to allow myself to feel. Do I go all in and open myself up for yet another Lions playoff disappointment, knowing full well that the odds of getting hurt again are enormously high? I obviously already know the answer, but pretending that it's even a choice to begin with--and that I might have the sufficient willpower to watch a Lions game without the unhealthy side effect of getting emotionally sucked in--is a fun little exercise to help pass the time between now and Saturday night.

I saw a refrigerator magnet once that had a bunch of 'carpe diem' type motivational slogans on it, and one of them was to "love like you've never been hurt".  Maybe there actually are some situations in life where that's a good idea, but I feel like a much more useful refrigerator magnet for me right now would read, "Love like you haven't won a road playoff game in 60 years; use your best judgment and try to chill out a little bit."

I'd love to use my best judgment and be able to tune in on Saturday night for enjoyment only and with a little bit of perspective. Can't I just enjoy the fact that the Lions somehow scraped a playoff spot out of what probably should have been a 3-13 season? That Matthew Stafford turned into John Elway for about three months back there? That even a 3 game losing streak to finish the regular season didn't wreck their playoff hopes? That I've never seen the Lions win a single playoff game, and have still managed to make it to being a functioning and reasonably well adjusted quasi-adult?

Me and Pops went to the home finale against the Packers the other night. A little over a month ago, all the stars were aligning and I really thought that this could finally be the moment. After 23 years of being terrorized by the Packers, a perfect chance to turn the tables. Finally a chance at winning a division title, and I was back in Michigan, and in the building for the biggest game in Ford Field's short history--it's not much of a stretch to suggest that it probably would have been one of the top 5 experiences of my life to this point had the Lions pulled it off. Despite how gutting it was to see if all fall apart in the second half last week, sneaking into the playoffs still gives one more chance this week to have what has so far been a zero-in-a-lifetime Lions moment. A chance at one more piece of Stafford magic in a season where there has been plenty.

Thinking logically, what reason should I have to believe there's a true upset chance at Seattle? I haven't yet heard a single person predict a Lions win, all of the local coverage has been either pessimistic or blatant mocking (From the Free Press: the last time the Lions won a road playoff game…gas was 24 cents a gallon…the Mackinac Bridge was one month old). An overachieving team on the way down against an underachieving team that's also on the way down, but in a stadium where they're nearly unbeatable, especially in playoff games. For another 44 hours or so, thinking about this game logically will still be an option.

After that, I know the routine. Playoff fever kicks in, and time to love like I've never been hurt.

Seahawks 18

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Michigan-MSU Postgame Thoughts

Great performance by Michigan in the first half, wow though, other than the W-L columns, it's hard to come away from that one all that satisfied. Sort of reminds me of a time that I spent all day working on a model rocket (building, painting, taping a Lego guy to it, building a separate Lego vehicle to get him to the launch site, coming up with a full backstory of the expedition, including fake media coverage, even my brother was intrigued enough after awhile to come check it out) and then the dumb thing wouldn't even launch. I guess it was still kind of cool in its own way, but man after all that buildup and expectation for a cathartic explosion...

Of course, this was a game that was supposed to be defined by a controversial and pointless decision to go for two, right? Only the way it played out in my mind, it would be Harbaugh making the call, and it would be to run up the score and make it an even 50 (or 60, or 70) in Sparty's backyard and put all that "the ball is free" crap to bed once and for all. Then the dudes at the Freep could spend the next week dissecting whether or not it was a classless move, and Harbaugh would probably laugh about it, and Dantonio could use it to get the chips back on the shoulders and all that crap.  As it happened in real life though...well I'll just say they could have converted it and it still would have been a stupid enough decision. My only thoughts on what Dantonio could have been thinking:
1. If it's 30-24 and we happen to get this on-side kick/hail mary, I don't want to take my chances on an extra point at 30-30. Just in case it gets blocked and Peppers takes it back the other way.
2. Maybe this idiotic call will help them forget all of the idiotic calls I've made today leading up to this.

How do on-side kicks work? I can't find a definitive answer and don't feel like calling Mike Perreira tonight (or ever). If Michigan touches it first, can State advance it? If State catches it cleanly, is there still a second on the clock? Can they try to knock it around but not actually possess it until it's in the end zone?  This is the sort of obscure rule that is usually explained to me in the form of the Lions somehow losing because of it; it seems pretty out of character for Dantonio to not even bother testing the interpretation of whatever the rule is.

I can't decide whether this was a game that was "not as close as the final score indicates" or just the opposite, "closer than the score indicates". Or maybe the final score is an accurate depiction of how close the game was. All I know is that for the first 50 minutes, it didn't cross my mind that Michigan could possibly lose, but when State made it 30-17, there was still over 7 minutes left and the "the oh crap" feeling steadily increased with each sequence of plays right up until Dantonio lined up to go for two.  You can say that Michigan got a big lead and called it an early day. You can also say that State left plenty of chances for easy points out there and would have been in a position to win if not for such desperate coaching earlier (the missed 4th downs in the red zone, the INT at the end of the first half). Heck, they were very nearly in a position to win even with all that. 

With that said, great season for Michigan so far, and great to get the State monkey off the backs for the time being, regardless of how shaky they made things in the last few minutes. Only one more game left that matters to me.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Michigan QBs in my lifetime, #6 through 10

Alright, so a couple people have expressed some skepticism of how clear my memories of watching Elvis Grbac could possibly be. I'll go right out and say it, I have very few memories of him at all. I willingly concede that the highly simplified and unsophisticated snippets of memory that I have of guys like Elvis and Todd Collins don't give me anywhere near the full picture of their careers. However, I'll argue that this in no way invalidates my feelings and perceptions of them as a child, just starting to get exposed to sports and to my future college choice--both of which have heavily affected the direction of my life to this point. Anyway, I'm veering a little too close to sentimentality and philosophy here, so I'll cut myself off and just give my write-ups for Michigan Qbs number 10 through 6 on my list.

10. Tate Forcier (2009-10)

Shining moments: 
- We'll always have '09 Notre Dame
- That wonderful/awful 67-65 Illinois game in 2010

What I thought when I was 22:
I wanted Denard. I was blown away by Tate's incredible clutch play during the Notre Dame/Indiana/MSU stretch, but I'll freely admit now that I was secretly (not always secretly) rooting for Tate to fail so Denard could take over. Once that magical September run ended, fail is exactly what he did. First mildly (@Iowa), then spectacularly (OSU), then hilariously (actually getting the wings removed from his helmet by Rich Rod), then embarrassingly (crying by himself on the sideline as Denard demolishes UCONN), and finally kind of sadly (flunking out of UofM, transferring to 3 more schools and never playing a single down for any of them). Such a fast rise and such a steep fall, but one thing I'll say for Tate was that he was exciting to watch on the field and played with a certain pre-Manziel flair. And that Notre Dame game lives on.

9. Todd Collins (1993-94)

Shining moment:
- '94 @ Notre Dame, final drive to set up the Remy Hamilton game-winner,
Bowl Games: Hall of Fame (W), Holiday (W)

What I thought when I was  7:
I barely remember Todd Collins at all, even less than Elvis Grbac. That Notre Dame drive, listening to the '94 Hall of Fame Bowl, and watching the 95' Holiday Bowl are really my only specific memories of him. I got a little more excited about the Holiday Bowl game than I should have, thinking that knocking off 10-1 Colorado State was some big upset (I didn't really understand mid-majors at that point), and that it somewhat made up for the Hail Mary game against Colorado earlier in that season (you know, because they were from the same state).

In hindsight:
Collins seems to have had a very solid, but unspectacular 2 years as the starter. This was in the era where 4 losses was a major disappointment for Michigan, so two consecutive 8-4 seasons with him at the helm probably didn't sit well with a lot of people. I wonder now whether he got the same type of John Navarre-like abuse from the fan base at the time, and I just wasn't aware of it. Even so, he was still a big enough talent to get picked in the 2nd round of the NFL draft and had a long career, so he must have been pretty good overall at UofM.

8. Scott Dreisbach (1995-98)

Shining moment:
- '95 Virginia, pass to Mercury Hayes on the final play; and the way Brent Musburger says, "ssScotty, Dreis-bach!" right after.

What I thought when I was in elementary school:
I was far more in awe of Mercury Hayes and Amani Toomer at the time, so I wasn't necessarily paying that much attention to Dreisbach. I didn't really trust Griese after the Outback Bowl on New Year's '97, when his unbelievably stupid pick-6 cost them the Alabama game and caused Pops to whip a big roll of masking tape across his classroom and nearly put a hole through the opposite wall. With that in mind, I would have preferred that Dreisbach retain the starting job for the '97 season, but that season's result suggests that they had the right guy under center. I felt kind of sorry for Dreisbach, because it seemed like it was injuries more than anything else that put a halt to a promising career.

In hindsight:
Dreisbach to Mercury Hayes was the exact moment when my Michigan football fandom went to a new level, for many reasons. First, when I was in 2nd grade was the point where I could really start to sit through a full game by myself and either watch or listen to the entire thing from start to finish. This was also when I started reading the newspaper, so in the Detroit News/Free Press double Sunday edition, I was starting to check box scores, game recaps, and Wojo/Mitch Albom analysis the day after in edition to following most games on Saturday. Up until then, my only vivid Michigan memories are of bowl games and Desmond Howard, but by 1995 I was starting to know the names and numbers of a lot of different players. Finally, Michigan football took on an increased importance in our household in 1995, since this was the year that my cousin Tate walked onto the team, making the Virginia game his first time in a Michigan uniform. Unfortunately, Dreisbach dealt with a lot of injuries, and Michigan was stacked at the QB position in a way that I couldn't possibly comprehend back then (Griese, Brady, and Henson are a pretty tough trio to compete with, especially coming back from injury), so he really fell off the radar even by the end of that first season and never did much else from then on.

7. John Navarre (2000-03)

Shining moments:
- '03 @Minnesota, the epic 4th quarter comeback that probably saved him from getting lynched by an angry mob upon returning to town. He also had an awesome trick play receiving TD in that game.
- '03 Ohio State, his finest hour.
Bowl Games: Citrus (L), Outback (W), Rose (L)

What I thought when I was going through puberty:
John Navarre was the first Michigan player that I ever disliked. Maybe this is just because of the sturm and drang of adolescence, but it also might have had something to do with the inordinate number of passes that John Navarre got knocked down at the line of scrimmage. Or how he never once eluded a pass rusher in 4 years. Nor showed the faintest trace of emotion after crushing my hopes for another dream season, with 1997 fresh in my mind and an insanely talented supporting cast for 3 of those years.  Whatever the case, I didn't not care for the football stylings of John Navarre for about 3 1/2 seasons, and came to a grudging respect for the guy when he finally put it together a little bit a the end of his senior year. Michigan had all the pieces for undefeated regular seasons in 2000, 2001, and 2003, and my teenage self put the blame squarely on Navarre that all of those years ended with 3 or more losses.

In hindsight: 
The last half of his last season did a lot to make up for his previous shortcomings, and he did leave Michigan with a ton of passing records, and was named the 1st team All-Big 10 quarterback in 2003. He got an unbelievable amount of criticism from his own fans, and handled it with class, so I guess I have to respect that. At the same time though, I'll always associate Navarre with 1st and 3rd down passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage, and he is the poster child for an era of near-misses and unfulfilled expectations for Michigan football.

6. Brian Griese (1995-97)

Shining moments:
- '97 @Penn State, unbelievably scrambling 40 yards. Hitting Woodson across the middle to cap off the drive
- '95 @OSU, the quick slant across the middle to Tai Streets.
Bowl Games: 
'95 Alamo (L), '97 Outback (L), '98 Rose (W)

What I thought when I was in elementary school:
I was aware that his own dad, "Bob Grease" had been also been a famous quarterback. I was also aware that Brian Griese had gotten drunk and made an idiot of himself in the offseason. I knew that with Dreisbach in '95, Michigan was undefeated; with Brian Griese in '95, Michigan was not undefeated. Remember that roll of tape that Pops sent flying across his classroom? Brian Griese's fault. I thought that Michigan still could have won the Rose Bowl with Scott Dreisbach in '97.

In hindsight:
Griese was the consummate game manager during the National Championship season, and he quarterbacked three huge upsets over undefeated teams late in the season (two on the road, two against OSU), but for a guy with so few tangible iconic moments, statistics, or spectacular plays, I just can't put him any higher on the list. For what it's worth, Griese might be one of the all-time 'slightly above average' quarterbacks in Big 10 history. I also don't really understand why he was the one who got lifted up on his teammates' shoulders after the Ohio State game in '97 and not Woodson.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ranking all the Michigan QBs of my lifetime

Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins, Scott Dreisbach, Brian Griese, Tom Brady, Drew Henson, John Navarre, Chad Henne, Ryan Mallett, Nick Sheridan, Steven Threet, Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson, Devin Gardner, Shane Morris.

Those are all of the Michigan quarterbacks that I remember in my lifetime (being born in 1987), and as I love to rank things, I figured that putting all of them in order based on their contributions to Michigan football as I've grown up would be an amusing way to spend the evening. There are 15 of them in all.

Since age and context play such an important role in memory, I've tried to do as little research as I can possibly get away with, while still having a somewhat objective list. As much as possible, my criteria stays away from stats (freshman starters and passing offenses make it pretty much worthless to make comparisons in this way), and instead focus on memorable moments, individual performances, and famous wins. The other aspect here is how I personally related to each of these players at different ages and awareness levels throughout my life, seeing these guys first as superheroes, later as famous classmates and peers, and now as 'kids', and fluctuating between naivety and cynicism at every stage.

That's probably all the pretext that's necessary, so without further ado, here is my ranking of every starting Michigan QB that I've ever watched, as well as my clearest memories of them. I'll start with just numbers 15 through 11 tonight.

15. Shane Morris (2013-current)

Shining moment: 
-Getting that concussion against Minnesota, ultimately sealing Brady Hoke's and Dave Brandon's collective fate.

What I think:
Shane still has 2 years or so to potentially rise on the list, but as it stands, the guy has unfortunately done zilch as a UofM QB. No wins, no great plays, not even a single touchdown pass yet.

14. Nick Sheridan/13. Steven Threet (2008)

Shining moments:
-  (Sheridan) Leading a touchdown drive on the first possession of the Rich Rod era.
- (Sheridan) @Minnesota '08, a surprisingly competent showing in a 29-6 win.
- (Threet) '08 Wisconsin second half comeback

What I thought when I was 21:
Sheridan simply isn't talented enough to be playing Division 1 football, let alone starting in the Big 10 (back when it was the Big 11). Threet actually has some skills and decent composure, but is in the worst possible offensive system for his relative strengths.

In hindsight: 
Sheridan and Threet. As the Michigan stadium PA guy says about 'Temptation' and 'Hawaiian War Chant', "because you can't have one without the other". They'll be forever linked as far as Michigan football goes for their role during the Rich Rod disaster. Sheridan was the opening day starter, but I still think Threet was better and certainly a different caliber of player than Sheridan, which people don't always seem to realize. Threet, after all, did go on to become Arizona State's starting QB after leaving the Rich Rod regime.

12. Devin Gardner (2010-14)

Shining moments:
-'13 Notre Dame 'Under the Lights 2'®
-'13 The 42-41 Ohio State game
-'13 Back to back 4th quarter comebacks against Akron and UCONN (sorry, that was mean)

What I thought 2 years ago:
While less exciting than the incomparable Denard, "New 98" was poised to become a more consistent dual threat QB, ending the era where every run was an adventure, and every deep pass was a different type of adventure.

In hindsight:
I feel bad for talking shit about Devin, but the hard truth is that his most productive and mistake-free football for the Wolverines came when he was playing receiver, and his best quarterback play happened when he was the most out of practice (switching back from receiver in the middle of 2012). The near-upset of OSU notwithstanding, his remaining two years was a long and maddening downfall where potential and talent slowly become irreconcilable with reality and results. Due to how much worse his backups were, Devin was still basically unbenchable even after his confidence was completely shattered. Maybe that was some sort of justice from the football gods for getting a phony medical redshirt and essentially playing 5 years.

11. Ryan Mallett (2007)

Shining moments:
- 07' Notre Dame shellacking
- 07' win over Top 10 Penn State
- 07' Randomly sitting at my breakfast table in West Quad, allowing me to eavesdrop on him bragging to his buddy about partying in Canada the previous weekend (this was in-season, the week before the Ohio State game, if memory serves)

What I thought when I was 20:
Mallett was the first Michigan quarterback to be younger than me, and arriving in Ann Arbor right around the same time as I did, he was the first player on this list who I looked at as an actual person, rather than the larger than life heroes or bums that I only saw on TV previously (even being just 2 years older than me, Henne fell into the latter category in my mind). Mallett was also the first one that I would 'hear stories' about, from people who had some sort of interaction with them around campus. I can't say for certain whether any of the following stories are actually true, but as they say, perception is reality.

Here is a pretty good cross-section of my perception of Ryan Mallett as a person at that time:
- One of the frat boys from Beta who was on my freshman hall partied with Mallett a few times when he early-enrolled, and 'loved him', despite the majority of everyone else seeming to find him a pretty arrogant and unlikable guy. Beta got kicked off of campus that Spring, by the way.
- Occasionally tried to pick up girls at the Steve and Barry's by lurking near a crate of foam footballs and throwing the footballs at the girls to get their attention.
- Lloyd Carr once called him into the coaches office and told Mallett, "I don't like anything about you".

In hindsight: 
The guy had a howitzer for an arm, won some games in his few starts, hard to blame him for ditching Rich Rod, ended up having a great career at Arkansas. I still don't really like anything about him though.

I'll try to have the Top 10 done sometime before Saturday.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Under the Golden Dome

By Sunday evening, the Lions could have the best record in the NFL.

I had to go back and check the standings a few times just to make sure that was right. The last time writing a sentence like that in November would have even seemed plausible was before I knew how to write, so the very idea will take some getting used to. If sudden superstar Golden Tate and finally healthy Calvin Johnson can get the best of the Arizona's vaunted secondary, despite my justified skepticism, I might even have to admit that the DTLs have finally become valid contenders in the NFC.

I'm still not convinced in the slightest that this run is going to hold up, but the past month has definitely been fun. Stafford, while putting up some of the lowest numbers of his career for about the first 3 1/2 quarters of games, continues to build upon a growing collection of thrilling comeback victories, while the best Lions defense of any of our lifetimes keeps the team in games long enough for Staff and the offense to finally wake up in crunch time. With the return of Calvin last week, one can make a strong case that Bromo now has the best receiving combo in the league, as Golden creates big play after big play. I can't understand how the offense continues to struggle so much for the majority of games; the irony of the Jim Caldwell hire is that the offensive-minded coach can't get more output out of his star-studded offense, while the defense has soared to heights far beyond anything they ever did under the defensive-minded Schwartz. Then again, 7-2 isn't the time to complain or to wax paradoxical.

Welcoming Back an Old Friend

Almost as unlikely as the significance of the match-up against the 8-1 Cardinals is the quarterback who Dom and Co. will be lining up against; with Carson Palmer's ACL tear late in last week's game, Drew Stanton will be thrust into the starting spot for Arizona.

While Stanton never got any higher than third on the Lions' QB depth chart, I've always been impressed with his gamer mentality at MSU (there's no way Michigan wins the famous Braylon Edwards game in 2004 without Stanton getting injured), and his steady play for the games in 2010 when he was forced into action. Despite limited traditional quarterbacking skills, Stanton is truly a gamer, and has already gone 2-1 starting in place of Palmer earlier this year. I don't think Palmer's absence will make this one any easier.

Stanton may or may not have history on his side in coming back to face the Lions for the first time since leaving the team. The much-maligned John Kitna, Joey Harrington, and Rodney Peete all came back to embarrass the Lions in this situation (Joey had probably the best game of his career for Miami on Thanksgiving, Rodney put up 51 points on the DTLs in less than 3 quarters in a playoff game). Then again, Stanton wasn't very maligned while in Detroit, and neither was Erik Kramer, who lost his first 6 games to the Lions as a member of the Chicago Bears.

I Like Notre Dame.

I know this isn't exactly befitting of 'Michigan Men', and my friend H is going to skewer me for this. However, with the recent play of Golden Tate and Theo Riddick, now seems as good of a time as any for this admission. I like Notre Dame, and have since about 2002. The history, the mystique, the mythology, the life and lies of Knute Rockne, the fight song, the occasional green jerseys, the Navy rivalry, the exclusive contract with NBC, the awesome players that they're suddenly giving to the DTLs. It's fun when they win big games, and it's even more fun when they lose big games. I've seen Rudy about 20 times. I find it awesome that Joe Montana seems to be jealous that a movie was made about his shitty walk-on teammate instead of him. I've watched them rip MSU's heart out plenty of memorable times. Denard Robinson had 950 yards and 8 touchdowns in two games against them.

As long as they're not playing against Michigan, I generally root for Notre Dame about 75% percent of the time. As long as Golden and Theo keep saving the day for the Lions, that number might rise.

I was recently reading Murray Sperber's Shake Down the Thunder, a book that chronicles the early years of Notre Dame football, and was struck by just how similar college football still is today as in the 1920s: Recruiting violations, NCAA reform, innovative offenses that open up the field for smaller and quicker players, lucrative neutral site games, conference realignment, oversigning, early season cupcake games, coaches making more money than university presidents, right down to the crappy Grantland articles every week. I highly recommend the book for anyone looking for some perspective to the current changes in the college football landscape.

On the Horizon 

The Lions potentially have 2 consecutive road games that could be battles for the best record in the NFL; first against the Cardinals, then coming out to my stomping grounds in Boston next week against the Pats. That weekend I'll be going to the Harvard-Yale game instead, but like last year I've already booked a flight back to Michigan for the final home game against the Vikings.

There are still 4 remaining games on the schedule that are automatic losses in most years (8-1 Cards, 7-2 Pats, late season game at Chicago, Packers at Lambeau), so any talk about home field advantage or even a playoff spot is still preposterously premature. Regardless, this has all the makings of a very exciting remainder of the season, and I can't wait to head back to Ford Field in a month, either to watch a 10-3 squad wrap up a division title, or a 7-6 team hanging on for dear life.

Find @HBromo1 on Twitter starting at 4:25 tomorrow for commentary on the Lions' first clash for NFC supremacy in over 20 years.

Forward down the field...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

5 Burning Questions After Week 5

After serving a league-mandated five week suspension, first for calling Roger Goodell a liar, and then for viciously beating myself with a switch rather than watch the Lions attempt a field goal, Bromothymol is back!

To shake off the rust, I'm going to handle this post in the style of the first verse of Craig David's "7 Days",  in which the moderately underrated singer asks himself a bunch of questions, then answers them and expresses contempt for himself for having the audacity to ask them in the first place.

In the first verse of "7 Days", when listening to his own story about successfully asking somebody out, Craig David not only assumes the worst (Did she decline?…No), second guesses his own tact and forwardness (Didn't she mind?…I don't think so), questions the story's authenticity (Was it for real?…Damn sure), and needs more details before taking the boast at face value (What was the deal? A pretty girl, age twenty-four). 

That's pretty much how I feel five games into the Jim Caldwell era. I've seen plenty of reasons to start getting optimistic again, but then there's always that nagging Craig David in the back of my head that's going to need to hear a bit more of this story to see if if all checks out.

With that said, here are the 5 burning questions that I'm asking myself about Lions football, with 5 answers that are equally burning.

1. Is the new offense any better than the last one?
I tried typing this one into Multivac, but all it spit out was: INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.

Maybe it's just the injuries, but it doesn't really look like. Stafford's decision making has mostly been better, he's spreading the ball around more, and Golden Tate has been awesome…so why aren't they moving the ball better? 7 points against the Panthers, 19 against the Pack, and they didn't come anywhere close to scoring in the second half last Sunday against the Bills (seeing as field goal range equates to 'not anywhere close' these days).  Calvin Johnson's injury and the fact that they're now down to the 4th string running back hopeful have something to do with that, but even at full strength, or as close to full strength as any NFL team can hope to be, the output has still been inconsistent. One minute, you've got Golden Tate stepping up in the slot for a huge catch and run, the next you're trying to throw 40 yard bombs to Jed Collins. Don't tell me that's part of the new 'system', and that it's just a matter of time before Jed starts reeling those in on a regular basis.

2. Can the Lions win the NFC North, or is another collapse during the second half of the season inevitable?

We know what we're dealing with here; being who they are, a second half collapse is always a distinct possibility. However, I really do think this time around, the train wreck is at least evitable. One thing I've noticed since Caldwell took over is that the team as a whole at least gives off the aura of being even-keeled, whereas even in the best of times with Schwartz the atmosphere was as volatile as can be. With Caldwell, there have still been a lot of penalties, but none of the insanely stupid variety yet. There are still some turnovers at bad times, but not the constant tension and panic yet. The fans are still booing, but at least it's just at the kicker and not at everyone else yet (the opposite of what we saw in the days of 'The Best in the Business').

Just like in 2013, the NFC North seems to be there for taking for Bromo. But honestly, if they couldn't do it last year, with literally every single variable falling in the Lions' favor (Easiest schedule I've ever seen them have, plenty of home games down the stretch, lengthy injuries to the QBs of other contenders, division rivals having terrible seasons, 4th quarter leads in every single game), it's really hard for me to sit here and say that they have a good chance this year, even after another decent start. 

I still haven't gotten over last year. I mean, if they couldn't win it last year…it's like a line that Pops once asked me, when I chastised him for suggesting that the only job opportunities for midgets are either as actors or circus performers.

"Well what else is there??"

3. Is this finally the year that the Lions win more games than Michigan football?

Now the sad part about this question is that they might have already done so. Lions up 3 to 2 right now, and after watching Michigan play the first half of their season, what game left on the schedule looks winnable? I mean, if you struggle with Miami of Ohio, can't beat Rutgers, and can't even compete with Utah or Minnesota…(see: Pops, Midgets)

The last time Bromo has won more games than Michigan was back in 1995 (Lions 10-6, Michigan 8-4), and the late season free-fall by both teams last year ended in a 7-7 tie. When people are without irony recalling the glory days of Rich Rodriguez (if you hear my friend H tell it, you would think they won at least 3 Rose Bowls w/ RichRod), it can't possibly bode well for the current regime. I wrote a post a few months ago semi-defending athletic director Dave Brandon, and fully defending the decision to wear blue pants for the Penn State night game. That blue pants game is finally coming up this weekend and those pants are literally the least of anyone connected to Michigan football's worries, but Dave Brandon and everyone he's ever hired are looking more and more indefensible with each passing day. 

The Lions might not have a great season, but they will definitely win more games than Michigan this year. 

4. Hey, could some of you guys carry me off the field if we win on Sunday?

Any lingering doubt as to whether the Lions made the right move in firing Jim Schwartz was put to bed immediately following the Bills game. Is it even worth it to stick it to your old employers if you can't help but make a complete ass of yourself gloating about it afterwards?

Who gets carried off the field following an early regular season game? Who ASKS their players to carry them off the field? Since when is it the defensive coordinator rather than the head coach that gets carried off the field? Actually, I don't know how I even remember this, but Jerry Sandusky did, and that's worked out pretty well for him.

I see your Schwartz is as big as mine.

5. Why isn't H-Bromo on Twitter yet?

Oh wait, it is! I don't exactly know how to use Twitter yet, but follow @HBromo1 starting NOW for live commentary on game days, as well as any other rants that I can keep to 140 characters or less. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ain't Gonna Be No Rematch.

At this point, the Rocky movies have been sequeled, parodied, and copied so many times that the entire franchise has been reduced to a running joke in many people's eyes. This is really too bad, because at its original core, the first Rocky movie is an enthralling story of the ultimate underdog, given the opportunity of a lifetime, going the distance. By the end of the final round, even with the result of the fight still in doubt, an injured and embarrassed Apollo tells Rocky, "Ain't gonna be no rematch", before being declared the winner in a split decision a few seconds later. "Don't want one", said Rocky.

Appalachian State, 2007. I had that exact thought after watching Brandent Engelmon intercept an errant Armanti Edwards pass late in the 4th quarter, one play after Michigan had finally taken a 32-31 lead. Michigan had trailed for the entire second half against an opponent that few people in the stadium had even heard of before, in a game that should have never been played to begin with. The heavyweight Wolverines were wholly under-prepared and equally unmotivated to play that afternoon, taking punch after punch from the surprising Mountaineers before finally countering with a haymaker of their own, a 54 yard Mike Hart touchdown run, followed by Engelmon's interception on the following play. App State had gone the distance, but Michigan was going to survive. Ain't gonna be no rematch, I thought. Go back to wherever in Appalachia that you're from, and please don't ever come back.

This was my sophomore year of college at UofM. If you'd told me that final exams were going to be cancelled, with an end-of-semester kegger at Mary Sue Coleman's house instead, I'd have said the odds of that happening were considerably higher than Appalachian State hanging around with the Wolverines in the football opener.

Around the second week of August, as I slept back in northern Michigan, I had a dream about the game. My only memory of the dream is sitting in the student section at the Big House, with a vivid image of the scoreboard on the opposite end of the stadium:
Appalachian State 30    Michigan 29
I woke up a little bit shaken, but calmed down quickly enough that I could chuckle about it as I ate my breakfast that morning. There was no premonition shit going on, just a stupid dream. I was heading back to Ann Arbor in a few weeks, and everything was going to be good. 30-29, ha. There was a better chance of Welcome Week running out of beer.

The night before the game, we were partying at our friend Z's house on West Stadium, right in the shadow of the Big House. Someone would try to mention the game every once in a while, but no one was very interested. My friend Hunter yelled out, "Fuck the Mountaineers!!" once or twice, but only got a few polite laughs out of it. Yeah right. No one cares about the Mountaineers. To be quite honest, I didn't even know they were called the Mountaineers until he said that. We tried to figure out exactly how much Michigan was favored by. Vegas didn't even offer a point spread. My brother tried to convince a crowd of people that Appalachian State might not be that awful. "They've won two consecutive national championships", he said. Ha. The wheelchair division doesn't count, big bro. "People need to take this team seriously," he said. "If we can just win by two touchdowns tomorrow, that's fine with me". He was absolutely lying. Anything less than a 40 point win would be a University-wide embarrassment. Someone spilled beer on my Jordans and I struck out with a girl I'd been flirting with. I figured that was going to be the worst part of my weekend.

By the time noon rolled around on Saturday, the indifference towards the football game had worn off, at least inside the Big House. When Michael Hart led the team out of the tunnel and under the Go Blue banner, the student section absolutely exploded. They were one touchdown away from making the National Championship game the year before, and almost the entire offense was coming back. We were in for a special season, even if it was just Appalachian State for now. 109,000+ people in that stadium were fully convinced that the team running out onto the field was about to make a serious run at the National Championship. Michigan took the opening kickoff, ran the offense as if it were a team scrimmage against the third-stringers, and Hart easily scored a touchdown about 3 minutes into the game. It got a little bit weird after that.

Every one of App State's playmakers had a goofy name. Armanti Edwards at QB. Dexter Jackson at WR, but not the Dexter Jackson that was in the NFL, the one that couldn't get a scholarship to a real school. There was CoCo Hilary, cuckoo for his first chance to play in front of more than 300 people. Hans Batichon. Watching The Mighty Ducks had left me pretty confident that a black guy couldn't be named Hans. Jim-Bob Norman at the other receiver slot. Come on. Yet on third-and-long on their opening drive, Edwards threw a quick slant to Dexter Jackson, Johnny Sears had his first of about 9 missed tackles on the day, and 75 yards later, the score was tied. The App State sideline was going nuts. They could have lost 52-7, and on the bus ride back, all they'd be talking about was when Dexter got loose in the first quarter.

It wasn't until halftime that I first thought, "there is a legitimate chance that we might lose this game". The sorority girls had seen enough by that point, most of them sitting down for good and unsuccessfully trying to text each other even as the third quarter started back up. Appalachian State was up 28-17 and getting the ball.

There were all kinds of theories and unsubstantiated rumors going around about how Michigan could have possibly played so poorly against such an obviously inferior opponent. Did Lloyd Carr even show them any film on this team? Did they even know that App State ran a spread offense? Was any time spent in practice preparing for this game, or were they using this tune-up game as a chance to get some extra work in for Oregon and Notre Dame? I watched Johnny Sears play so terribly and show up so out of position throughout the entire game that I thought to myself, "is this guy on drugs or something?" Before the final kickoff, he was so shook that he started running to the wrong side of the field before catching himself and following the rest of the team to the correct spot. He was supposed to be the kick returner. The Mountaineers had two separate possessions with a 31-20 lead, but made their own mistakes to keep Michigan in it.

The one positive takeaway from that game was the determination of Mike Hart. 188 yards and 3 touchdowns, including an impassioned 54 yard run to finally steal the lead back late in the 4th. The scream from the crowd as Hart passed the final defender sounded different than any crowd noise I've heard before or after. It was a scream of pure relief, a joyless, chilling, and nearly hysterical 'THANK YOU' to the savior of the season. Then Engelmon's interception. Then the unthinkable.

People remember the blocked field goal on the final play of the game, but almost forgotten is the series of bizarre instances during the final 4 minutes of that game. Michigan's offense stalled on that next possession, barely ticking down any of the clock, and then getting a first field goal blocked. App State marched down the field, getting a first down inside the 5 yard line with 30 seconds. Their coach then made a horrendous coaching decision that very nearly cost them the greatest upset in college football history; instead of letting the clock wind down to 1 second, he decided to kick a field goal on first down, giving App State the 34-32 lead, but also giving Michigan one more chance. With that chance, Chad Henne found Mario Manningham deep down the sideline to get Michigan back into field goal range for one final opportunity to avert disaster.

I was watching the game standing next to a friend who was pretty new to football. While Michigan set up for the final kick, he asked, "if he misses the kick, do you think there will still be enough time left to try another one?" The polite answer was a simple 'no'. I'm pretty sure I didn't use the polite answer.

The kick got blocked. Ain't gonna be no rematch.

Some of the things I vividly remember about walking back to South Quad after the game:
-20,000 students, including me, were badly sunburned to go along with their sudden depression. College kids don't wear sunscreen, and under any other circumstances, it would have been pretty comical to see that many burned faces all at the same time.
- The guy on the bongos. Anyone who's walked down Hoover Street to get to a game knows who I'm talking about, the bongo guy busking near the IM building who makes up rhymes about the game and the people walking by. He rapped out, "Don't feel bad 'bout the Mountaineers/they're all still a bunch of hill-billy queers." People wanted to laugh at his rhyme, but there was no mirth to be had.
- That was one of the few times that I've wanted to disassociate myself from the University of Michigan. All over a stupid game, sure, but we all know it's bigger than that.

Michigan football has not been the same since.

As with Rocky and Apollo, whether they wanted it or not, a rematch was inevitable. 7 years later, the psyche of Michigan football is still deeply haunted by that day, don't let anyone convince you otherwise. I'm a firm believer in the power of symbolism, and Saturday's game is symbolic.In order to meet their demons head on, Michigan-Appalachian State II needed to happen. And while the first time around was pure opportunity for the darlings from rural North Carolina, now there's at least a seedling of opportunity for the once-mighty Wolverines: while they can never undo what happened the first time these two teams met, a victory (any victory) on Saturday will be a small step towards atonement and escaping a few of those ghosts of 2007.

Take nothing for granted. Go the distance.

Happy college football season.