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.