I can’t believe how Saturday ended. I can’t imagine how everyone in attendance (both Spartan and Wolverine fans) felt about a moment that immediately seared itself into their memories (for better or for worse) for the rest of their lives. In a rivalry that has been overlooked in the past, and more recently, been dominated by Michigan State, the Spartans and Wolverines played an all-timer that will be shown on the Big Ten Network from now until eternity. That play will feature in every Michigan State pre-game hype video for the rest of time. The bigger storylines from this game are not what happened during that play, but all the absurdity that happened once the clock hit zero and the Spartans began celebrating.
The Sounds of Silence
I’m not old enough to know what the atmosphere was like in 1994 when Colorado QB Kordell Stewart found WR Michael Westbrook to connect on a 64 yard Touchdown to beat Michigan as time expired. That was the last time something this excruciatingly painful happened to Michigan on the final play of the game (some might argue Appalachian State but Michigan was already down on that final play when they attempted the field goal.) Speaking of App State, feelings have not been that blue inside the Big House since that fateful day in 2007. Moments like these etch themselves into college football history, and there are always two sides of it. Much like the Kick-Six in 2013 that gave Auburn their signature win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl, this was Michigan’s Kick-Six moment, something that no fan of either team, will ever forget. Keeping with the silence theme, Michigan and Wolverine nation don’t get an immediate reset from this – the team heads into the bye with this fresh in their minds. The next time Michigan plays, they take on Minnesota on Halloween night in Minneapolis. You can bet that Jim Harbaugh’s team will be ready to put this MSU loss behind them and go back to dominating opponents as they have for much of this season.
Michigan State is Kind of Good
When wearing maize-tinted glasses, it’s very easy to forget that Michigan State has won 33 of their last 36 games. Mark Dantonio has rallied a team that has been ravaged by injuries to an undefeated record this year. The defense is not as dominant as it was under former defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi (Ranked 56th in total defense if I heard Sean McDonough correctly yesterday.) However, the “Spartans Will” mentality willed them to an improbable win against their archrivals. Despite how Michigan lost the game, and the pain that comes with losing to your in-state rival, there is no reason for the Wolverines to hang their heads losing to a team that has won the Rose Bowl and the Cotton Bowl the last two years, and could very well be headed to another New Year’s Six bowl game this year (the Michigan State vs Ohio State game could be a meeting of undefeated teams in Columbus.) The only thing I disagreed with from Michigan State were players exuding confidence during the post game press conference, acting like they knew they had the game won all along. MSU may have dominated the stat column, but the team had a 0.02 percent win probability before the ball was snapped on that final play (per ESPN Stats & Info.) Referees admitted Sunday morning that there should have been a “roughing the snapper” call but for how poorly that game was officiated on both sides of the ball, that doesn’t surprise me. Furthermore, can we end the practice of allowing officials to admit they blew a call after the final whistle? It will never change the final result, and it just angers the fans of the team that lost even more.
It’s Not Over Until it’s Over
Do you know how “over” everyone thought that game was? Michigan State equipment managers had already dropped off the Paul Bunyan Trophy in Michigan’s locker room before the final play. News reporters were practicing their standups in the North endzone, prepared to talk about Jim Harbaugh’s team overcoming Mark Dantonio’s squad in their first meeting. WZZM Grand Rapids’ sports director Jamal Spencer actually did a live report discussing Michigan’s win before the game ended on the play (which has led to the internet razzing him non-stop for the mistake unfortunately.) Now when the game did come to an end, and only those clad in green and white were cheering in the Big House, that is when the five stages of grief began to take over for Michigan fans. Police reported fist fights, broken bottles, and yes, even sofas burning in Ann Arbor in the aftermath of the game. I know that sports fans all have their own ways of coping (I ate a sixteen inch Philly Cheese Steak sandwich for dinner last night…) but violence and property destruction are not the answers. I am proud to say I am from Ann Arbor, Michigan and am a graduate of U of M, but the minute I hear about sofas burning (or from earlier in the week, statues being defaced) I immediately cringe. Whether affiliated with the university or not, people who participate in such actions give sports fans a bad name, and make the school look bad. News crews were in Ann Arbor filming people burning those couches. I understand a loss like that can ruin your night, your weekend, hell even your whole month, but just remember what sports are – they are an escape, but they also are a pretty one-sided affair – the fans watch, the players play, but the fans only get an emotional response out of the game, they don’t get their money back when the team wins or loses. Just remember what Yahoo’s Greg Wyshinski once said “Don’t wrap your identity around something you don’t have control over.” Every armchair QB can debate from now until next year when Michigan and Michigan State play about better play calls, but remember, it is just a bunch of college kids playing a game at the end of the day.
Punting isn’t Easy, but Punters are People Too
Michigan Punter Blake O’Neill doesn’t need your Twitter death threats to know what catastrophe occurred on Saturday night. The Wolverines Australian folk hero turned into a goat in ten seconds and now will forever be apart of the Michigan vs Michigan State rivalry. Initially, everyone thought it would be because of the 80 yard punt he launched in the first quarter that actually travelled 98 yards from leaving his toe to being downed at the opposite one yard line. According to Jim Harbaugh, that final snap was low, leading to O’Neill’s mishandling of it and Jalen Watts-Jackson scoring the game winning TD. Blake O’Neill is a young man from Melbourne, Australia who grew up playing not football, but Australian Rules Football. He was converted to a proper football punter before spending last season at Weber State and transferring to Michigan for his graduate year. I had a chance to interact with O’Neill briefly before the Michigan vs Northwestern game and he was a delightful individual, taking time to pose for pictures with fans in between warming up for the game and engaging reporters like myself in football chit chat. People who are threatening him with death on Twitter, or White House Petitions trying to force his transfer, FOH. You should be banned from watching college football because you clearly cannot handle that every week, one team wins, and one team loses, and sometimes, that team will be yours. The good news is, O’Neill’s punting coach says he will not be fazed by the backlash from the loss, and I hope he continues to delight Wolverine fans with his booming, rugby style punts. I still don’t know how the student section doesn’t chant “AUSSIE! AUSSIE! AUSSIE! OY! OY! OY!” on every punt, it’s a hell of a lot better than that “you suck” chant that needed to be retired about five years ago.
The Season Is Not Over
One loss does not define a season. Jim Harbaugh’s Lion King analogy makes even more sense now than it did during his press conference last week. “The past can hurt, you can either run from it, or you can learn from it.” You can bet a six figure sum that Harbaugh will make sure his team learns from this. Michigan is still WAY ahead of schedule in returning to national prominence after the darkness of 2008-2014. Combine the fact that the teams Michigan has lost to are a combined 13-0, and Michigan is still set up for greatness this year. They could very well be 9-2 headed into their home finale vs Ohio State and with a little help, they still could find their way to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game. College Football is a 12 week emotional roller coaster, and we know what happens when we strap in for that season long ride. So do what you have to in order to get past that loss Michigan fans, but remember, it still is great to be a Michigan Wolverine.