Friday, November 27, 2015

The Game: A Battle Between The Team and the I's and Me's of OSU

Yes, it's been awhile. Three weeks to be precise. My last post, written before the Rutgers game, was a silly piece fueled by an respiratory virus, strong coffee, and maple-glazed donuts, sponsored, in large part, by Mucinex. All that time and a bottle of Flonase later, a lot has happened. It’s all been pretty good if you consider the Wolverine’s successes, which weren’t always pretty, but always ended well. The only bad part was that one of the few times in my life I’ve actually cheered for the Buckeyes, they added “didn’t come to play football” to the list of other things they don’t do, such as “play school” or respect their coaches. It's okay, though. We don't respect their coaches, either. Watching OSU implode last week after losing just one of their last 24 games was compensation enough for me. Amazingly, even after MSU's win, there's still a shred of hope for an interesting post-season for Michigan. A top bowl game? A B1G championship? The CFP? It's all still on the table, however crazy it seems, until this evening.

Today is the pivotal day where our destiny becomes clearer and unfortunately, it's not entirely ours to determine. We need to win. Sparty needs to lose. Simple as that. I've heard so many of their fans talk about their undeniable lock on a CFP playoff berth that I wonder if MSU's team isn't looking too far ahead, as well. One can only hope. They forget how close they flirted with disaster at the end of most their games. Yes, they should beat Penn State. Like they were supposed to beat Nebraska, too. Anything could happen. I'm hoping this is the day their Last Minute Luck (translated by Spartans as "Skill") runs out.

The Wolverines are first up tomorrow and need to knock out the Buckeyes to do their part. I hate to be overconfident and jinx things, but I feel good about this game. First, I think there's some ugliness going on in the OSU locker room and their prima donna players who aren't getting the "me" time they think they deserve are calling out their coaches and questioning their decisions. Urban Meyer shrugs it off as the reaction of frustrated 20-year olds to losing, but he's no stranger to mutinous behavior. His I'm quitting/I'm staying/I'm quitting stunt at Florida left a bad taste down there and it looks like he could someday be heading for the same in Columbus. Lose another game and he'll be clutching his chest and considering a health-related resignation again. Fingers crossed, trouble in Columbus is good for Michigan tomorrow and in the future. 

I also think Jim Harbaugh has been saving up for this game since he took the job. He may even have been thinking about "If I was Michigan's head coach..." versus OSU scenarios for years while guzzling whole milk, eating steak, and saving programs elsewhere. All games are important but this one must feel very personal for him and for every player on the field. They need this win in their souls and the Buckeye's are ripe for the picking. At home in the Big House, riding on the high of a surprisingly good season -- this task is so very doable. If the Wolverines do win, and I believe they will, it will all harken back to Schembechler's The Team speech. It's worth remembering here and now. It's worth comparing to the behavior of the Buckeyes after their loss last week:

“We want the Big Ten championship and we’re gonna win it as a Team. They can throw out all those great backs, and great quarterbacks, and great defensive players, throughout the country and in this conference, but there’s gonna be one Team that’s gonna play solely as a Team. No man is more important than The Team. No coach is more important than The Team. The Team, The Team, The Team, and if we think that way, all of us, everything that you do, you take into consideration what effect does it have on my Team? Because you can go into professional football, you can go anywhere you want to play after you leave here. You will never play for a Team again. You’ll play for a contract. You’ll play for this. You’ll play for that. You’ll play for everything except the team, and think what a great thing it is to be a part of something that is, The Team. We’re gonna win it. We’re gonna win the championship again because we’re gonna play as team, better than anybody else in this conference, we’re gonna play together as a team. We’re gonna believe in each other, we’re not gonna criticize each other, we’re not gonna talk about each other, we’re gonna encourage each other. And when we play as a team, when the old season is over, you and I know, it’s gonna be Michigan again, Michigan.”

Jim Harbaugh's Wolverines, with every game, become more and more a living example of this old and timeless speech. It's how you can take essentially the same hapless team Brady Hoke fielded last year and forge it into a force to be reckoned with now. When Bo said "We’re gonna believe in each other, we’re not gonna criticize each other, we’re not gonna talk about each other, we’re gonna encourage each other," he could have been speaking of the current day Michigan and OSU teams directly - one exemplifying "The Team"; the other exemplifying the ills of men and coaches who are more important than the team.

It's too bad that Ezekiel Elliott, Cardale Jones, and other Buckeyes will never understand this concept. They have the comfort of a ring, but 20 years from now, will they still have their team? They may have a few million in the bank. But will they be part of a brotherhood that runs true for all time? Not likely (and they probably won't care.) It is what this Michigan team will have. Each other. And the support of every living member of every Michigan team that came down that tunnel before them, whether they won or lost on the field.

I’m putting my money on THE TEAM this weekend and will do so every weekend Jim Harbaugh is standing on the sidelines in maize and blue and khaki. Anything is possible now. OSU “can throw out all those great backs, and great quarterbacks, and great defensive players” but it’s hard for individual competitors to beat The Team. 

I think we have this one. And it's gonna be Michigan again, Michigan.

May there be a multitude of new reasons to be thankful this weekend! 

Go Blue! Beat OSU! And for good measure, Go Penn State! You have one job. Do it!

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