Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Quality Day in the Universe

Yesterday could have gone all wrong. It was a day chock full of sports I care about a lot. It also involved plenty of teams and coaches I either love, like, or loathe.  I began tempering my expectations days before, preparing for a laundry list of emotions by Saturday night, expecting disappointment. It's my M.O. -- expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised -- and for the first time in a while, I got to enjoy the surprise.

From the moment I woke until I collapsed into bed 18 hours later, it was a rare day of sports in which every outcome I hoped to see actually materialized. It started when I walked out the door into a brisk, sunny maize and blue day and ended with visions of Kentucky-- the entire state -- crying in the bitter pain of loss and the caustic fumes of burning jerseys. Here's how the day broke down for me:

The Michigan Spring Game: Fans Waking Up with Collective Amnesia

I arrived in Ann Arbor, with my MGoMan (nameless to protect his called-in-sick-to-work identity), at about 9:30 a.m. and was granted by the parking gods, a size-challenged space 100 yards from the north gate. After surgically inserting my SUV into said space, we proceeded to break out our mini-tailgate fare and watched as thousands descended on the Big House. It felt like a real game day except for our 40 yard line seats on the press box side, a view I never see on game day. I was even giddy about my Alumni Association swag - a #4 drawstring backpack which was an odd gift that totally violates the uber-restrictive Big House "bag rules," but was certainly useful and fun Saturday.

The atmosphere was lively and celebratory as 60,000 fans awoke, with collective amnesia, from seven years shrouded in darkness and dearth of hope. All due to the khaki'd man on the field, the miracle that happened. Harbaugh and AD Jim Hackett made all the right moves with this game. I've been to plenty of spring games in my life, from Bo's Blue and White scrimmages to Hoke's first (and last) hopeful effort. This was bigger, livelier, and nearly better-attended than some actual games last fall. Our national anthem was well-belted. The band played the traditional game day opening sequence. I half expected a fighter squadron to fly over. We even got a few Norfleet Atomic Dog dance moves in. The balance between piped in "Michigan-made" music and band was perfect. And there were referees. Referees! If I doubted the seriousness of this "game," I did no longer.

I won't bore you with my detailed assessment of the action. A hundred people better-qualified to judge that and report it to you already have. I will just say this: our man has his work cut out for him. While I saw many things I liked, including a defense that is finally coming into its own, the offense didn't give me a feeling of confidence going into this season. Though Jim named Shane Morris the QB winner of the day, time will tell if he wins the permanent spot at #1. I hope getting Rudock from Iowa this summer works as well as we all pray it will. We now have a stable of young, theoretically talented QBs, but they need a lot more time on the field under the tutelage of the new staff before I'll be able to watch an offensive series without an anticipatory cringe.

The high point of the event for me was just being part of a Michigan crowd enjoying the ray of hope Harbaugh brings of restoring the program to its rightful place in the scheme of things. To bring back the pride...and the quality experience...of Michigan football. In that respect, this was a perfect game.

Michigan State vs. Duke: The Battle of Two Evils

I will get a boatload of crap from my Spartan friends reading this, but that game tickled every nerve, every fancy in my Wolverine body and soul. With no apology. I almost overcame my Scandinavian sense of rhythm and danced Atomic Dog! It's not that I like Duke. Really, who does outside of maybe 30% of the Research Triangle? But I don't live around and work with (and for) dozens of irritating Duke fans. Not so with the Spartans. Did they have a good run? Yes. Do I love their 20 point arse-whoopin'? Only with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind! Especially when the slappies started blaming the officials. It was pathetic officiating, but not 20 points worth. They simply got spanked by a better team. It ended even better than I hoped. With a bus load of Spartans on a slow, sad ride up I-69 two days before the finals.

Kentucky vs. Wisconsin: Making the World a Better Place

Unless you were still clinging to the hope of winning a few bucks from your bracket, it's hard to imagine not reveling in this classic triumph of good over evil. This was right up there with Skywalker versus Vader and Frodo versus the One Ring. It was a team that stands for everything we hate, led by Calipari -- who seems qualified to star in any future Godfather film -- versus Bo Ryan and his clean cut, stay in school, dairy advertisement-ready Badgers. I kept waiting for Wisconsin to falter, but they proved you don't need an arsenal of one and dones to excel in this arena. It was beautiful and forces me now to recant the following tweet I made while at the Spring game:

Wisconsin deserves the spotlight for the biggest game in the B1G on Saturday and my hat's off to them. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I heartily support their success in this tournament because a) Michigan isn't playing, b) their success is much less a threat to Michigan recruiting than MSU's, and c) I can't even identify a Badger I dislike. Their fans' response to this game juxtaposed to the response of losing Kentucky and MSU fans says it all. 

In Lexington:

In East Lansing:

Badgers in Indianapolis...

and in Madison:

The Badgers were models of behavior and kept their cool, no doubt enjoying some Kentucky-fried Calipari Rings. Lemons thrown in by the Spartans.

Frosting on the Cake

The Red Wings snagged a much-needed 2 points with a shootout win over the Wild and the Tigers got a win over Tampa Bay as Spring Training winds down toward Opening Day on Monday. This leaves a glimmer of hope for more hockey and well, who knows what, for baseball this summer. It is what it is.

I won't worry about that now, though. For today, it's enough to wallow in the perfection of yesterday. When the sporting universe doled out a rare, but succulent taste of justice and hope.

Happy Sunday and #OnWisconsin.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Case for Supporting MSU's Title Bid

Excellent! Now that you're reading this and thinking either a) MGoGirl is a kind, big-hearted citizen of the B1G conference -- or more likely b) what's a self-respecting Michigan blogger thinking to offer up support for MSU, I can tell you this in explaining the title topic:

There is no case. You have come to the wrong blog if you want to see me enumerate even one reason for supporting the Spartans in the upcoming Final Four this weekend. I am a kind, big-hearted person, but my Michigan blood runs thicker. As P.C. as some seem to think it is to express even mild support for MSU and Izzo as they fight for a national title, I intend to give them the same loving support they've given us over the years. I've heard all the reasons I should support them and the taunts about my decision not to. Here are just a few:  

"It's good for the Big 10."
Yes, it's wonderful for the B1G as a conference. Everyone thought this was a down year for B1G hoops and look - here they are making up 50% of the Final Four. Is that which is good for the whole equally fabulous for the 14 individuals? Not necessarily. In addition to the conference, it's perfect for MSU and Wisconsin - a boon to their recruiting, especially any kids wavering in their choice. It doesn't help the Wolverines and Beilein, though. They already have to fight Izzo for top talent both in-state and out. I'm not worried about Michigan recruiting at all right now, but to think an MSU championship is "good for us" is crazy talk. Like OSU's national title in football is good for us. Only when we beat them.

"We [the Spartans] would support you [Michigan] in the same situation."
With the exception of State friends I can count on 1 or 2 fingers, no, you would not. I've been in plenty of places both public and private when Michigan was playing a big game, sometimes to advance in or win a tournament. Those one or two Spartyfriends may wish us well, but for the most part, Sparties want us to fail in epic fashion on a national stage as much as we wish the same for them. And this is one of those times.

"But you have to admit Izzo's a great coach. You have to respect him. You'd take him in Ann Arbor in a split second if he was available."
I'll split this issue. I think he is a great coach. He did a lot with an average team this season and he's not done yet. Do I have to respect him, though? I don't disrespect him. He's 10x more likable than Dantonio, but I'm not going into paroxysms of loving praise for him, either. There's plenty of that in the media right now. I'm perfectly happy with John Beilein in Ann Arbor and don't think we need an Izzo to make another run. It was a tough year for the Wolverines, but I didn't expect greatness this time around. Sparty can keep Izzo. We'll be fine in short order.

"What an amazing tournament record!"
Yes, yes. Usually coming out of the easiest region. With the MSU AD on the tournament selection committee. His teams play well in the post-season, but it's often on the path of least resistance. Or so it seems to my highly objective (?) Wolverine eyes. 

"Yeah, well that's the kind of attitude we expect from Walmart Wolverines."
Stop with the Walmart thing and maybe I won't go on about Sam's Club Spartans. Want to remove all the Spartan fans that didn't graduate from MSU from the Spartan cash flow? You know, those ones who fit your Walmart definition? Yeah, I didn't think so. So leave our fans, however they became fans, alone.

"Michigan can't handle that MSU is elite in basketball and elite in football."
To this I say, the truly elite don't have to argue in support of their elite status with every single breath to anyone who'll listen. Elite status isn't conferred internally. It's recognized by others. If you want respect, don't keep begging for it so damn hard. Stop whining when the love doesn't come. When you call yourself elite and you need to sheepishly look to others to validate it, are you truly elite?

"So I guess you won't support Wisconsin either."
Where did you get that idea? Of course I'll support Wisconsin. The Badgers, as a whole, are pretty cool people. They don't struggle internally with an inferiority/superiority complex when comparing themselves with other B1G rivals. They aren't as big of a direct threat to our recruiting as MSU. Most Badgers I know support Michigan and frankly, everyone else in the Big 10 when those teams have a chance to do well and it's not directly impacting their own success. They're fun, happy people who can drink prodigious amounts of beer and worship cheese, both of which they gladly share. In short, they aren't small-minded mean little people who need validation. 

"All the Wolverines wish us bad luck."
In the end, everyone has their own opinion in the case for supporting the Spartans this weekend. I don't care if other Wolverines have a soft spot for overall Big Ten success. By all means, wish the Spartans well if you feel the urge. I'm just not wired for it. I'll congratulate my "normal" Spartyfriends if the situation calls for it. I would acknowledge their happiness as they would mine if the situation was reversed. Hopefully it won't come to that. This is what I foresee (although by the shattered state of my brackets, my gifts for prediction are suspect):

Finals Predictions:

My heart - Wisconsin over Duke
My brain - Kentucky over Duke 

Go Blue! And this weekend: Go Badgers!