Here are my observations from our brief opportunity (20 minutes) to view Michigan football practice.
Brady Hoke is definitely a hands-on coach. He spent time running drills and working with defensive lineman on techniques and was quick with instruction, criticism, and occasional praise.
He also spent time working with lineman to refine blocking technique during punting. During spring practice, I asked special teams coordinator Dan Ferrigno how he would motivate players to players to do the many thankless jobs critical to successful special teams play. He said that with a head coach like Brady who understood how important these aspects of the game are that wouldn’t be a problem. Seeing Hoke instructing the finer points of blocking for the interior lineman on the punt team reinforced this.
Change is inevitable and change is coming.
The annual fracas with the Ohio State Buckeyes is on deck again, and this year the contest has the irrefutable distinction of being a game where nobody and his brother or sister gives the struggling Wolverines any chance in the hot place of whipping the Buck?s Terrelle Pryor led offense, and their big, mean, physical, and effective defense.
This year THE GAME as some style it, has no national championship implications for the Wolverines or even perhaps the Bucks, as some games in each team?s not too distant past have had. Both have squandered opportunities for any rock and roll type prominence on the national scene. The Bucks obviously haven?t squandered as seriously as the Wolverines, and have secured a Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl date in Pasadena. Only the Bucks have any shot at making the cover of Sports Illustrated for their accomplishments this year.
The Wolverines are firmly at the bottom of the Big Ten standings so any recognition they get on the cover of Sports Illustrated would only happen if they can sneak up on the marvelous Muckeyes (sorry I really was trying to type Buckeyes), in a surprise attack on offense, defense, and special teams, and if they can play mistake free and effective football for an entire game. Based on recent history, it seems I am more likely to win the Mega Millions prize. But if its any consolation, it is absolutely certain that neither will make the cover of the Rolling Stone, even if some kind of miracle lifts either to super heights of hype Saturday.
This season is almost universally regarded as a down year for the Big Ten, and at the bottom of that league, sits the Michigan 2009 football team. OSU will be pumped because of the fact it is Michigan and vice versa. This is the Wolverines last shot at bowl eligibility this year, and fifteen extra practices, and the last opportunity to salvage a very disappointing Big Ten season. It also provides the opportunity for the Wolverine to take the thorn from its wounded paw and stick it in the Buckeye?s ample nether reaches.
Because many Michigan fans are realists and have been watching closely, there is an unusual degree of trepidation and pessimism in the air this time around, an uncharacteristic dread that the Buckeyes will thrash our inexperienced and limping Wolverines.
Not the least cause of this is the instant recall of Michigan?s defenses against mobile quarterbacks under its two most recent coaching regimes, and the continuing inability of the Wolverines to post a win against any Big Ten opponent, but lowly Indiana this season. This is aggravated because of the team?s demonstrated inability to play at top effectiveness for a whole game on either defense or offense. Then there are injuries, the superior OSU talent and experience, and so on and so on. You know the drill, you saw what happened recently at Wisconsin as the cheese heads reigned supreme.
I am getting quite experienced as a Michigan fan. In fact at my age, I am experienced at all my avocations. I am so old I feel Pre-Owned. I have been trekking to Michigan Stadium annually for most of the past sixty years or so, and nothing in those years quite prepared me for the frustration of the last two years. The Wolverines are 8 and 15 over that span. Wow! Couldn?t imagine that would ever happen. Didn?t think that would ever happen, but it a fact and there is nowhere but up to go.
I have had a great time over the years following the Wolverines, but they were not without tribulation. Much of the fifties and early sixties were hard to take. Michigan Football had not quite moved into the modern age. Bo Schembechler did that. But not without some kicking and screaming.
Thomas Jefferson was right on in 1804, when he said that history is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn?t want to live there. That was certainly true during the 1950s/60s era. There was Spartan domination of much of that era. Ohio State also dominated Michigan then. But the teams tried hard and sometimes prevailed. Watching the great Ron Kramer put his Wolverines on his back and carry them was a privilege in the 1950?s. Wins then were appreciated, but not necessarily expected by Michigan fans.
Then suddenly one of Bump?s teams put together a Big Ten Championship. This was completely unexpected to me, as was their victory in the 1965 Rose Bowl. To get to that Rose Bowl they had to beat the Scarlet and Grey, and did 10 to zip at home, to seal a completely unexpected Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl trip. I walked out of M Stadium a very happy man that day.
No whipping of OSU is a downer and this one came out of the blue, and was therefore stunning. It showed Bump had finally achieved something. That remains an accomplishment that couldn?t be taken away from him or the team over time. An 8-1 regular season was in the books. The sole glitch was against Purdue?s Spoilermakers. DL Bill Yearby, QB Bob Thornbladh, Left Half Jim Detwiler, Right Half Carl Ward, and DB Rich Volk, were favorite players.
Mel Anthony was the full back whose long TD run won the Rose Bowl. This win earned the Wolverines a ranking of #4 in the nation. Rick Volk was a very good DB, and would start on today?s team and improve it. You may not recognize those names but those of us that saw them will never forget them, and what they did for Michigan.
Michigan was a team that had more or less struggled since the late forties, so the 1965 Rose Bowl was indeed manna from heaven.
To make most Michigan minutes memorable over the years, a season needs to be capped with a victory over OSU. Bo Shembechler?s teams provided many of those memories in his 10-year conflict with Woodrow Wilson Hayes. The first one in 1969 was no exception and is among Michigan?s all time most memorable football moments.
The five years between Bump?s Rose Bowl victory to Bo?s first season seemed like an eon, as the Michigan Football program needed a real metamorphosis, and that?s when Glenn E. ?Bo? Schembechler landed in Ann Arbor. Sometimes the fan base was kicking and screaming regarding changes, and values as Bo dragged the program into the modern football world.
And he did it his way, which appeared rougher in some cases than it had been in the past. There were defections, everybody did not like Bo?s tough persona as a Coach, and there were parallels in that first year to the difficulties of the current coaching program shapers.
The wily MSU mentor, Duffy Daughtery caught Bo flat footed by drastically altering his offensive scheme. Bo lost and the fans were livid. Almost like they are now. It was thought he had not taken the Spartans seriously enough. Fans piled on regarding that loss.
But there were a couple of tremendous differences. In the last game of the 1969 season, Bo managed that most memorable beating of Woody Hayes and his so-called team of the century, in his first year, and he never looked back. Bo had his signature win, and he immediately became a galvanized Michigan man, even if his football origins and loyalties had been born and bred in Ohio, at OSU (student and coach), and Miami of Ohio (coach).
The other difference was that Bo inherited a talented team for the style he would play.
Now lets fast-forward from 1964/1965 to that 1969 Ohio State game, perhaps the most infamous and satisfying of all the Michigan upsets of Ohio State. Led by the great Woody Hayes, the Bucks came into Ann Arbor hyped as the best team of the century, pushing their wheel-barrows of ego before them. Some calculated they could beat many pro teams, especially the Buckeye fans.
They were very good, but unexpectedly, on that day, the Wolverines were better. As they say paybacks are hell. Woody had enraged Michigan players and fans by going for two late in the 1968 14-50 drubbing at the horseshoe, just because he could. Michigan fans were enraged beyond belief, and apparently it was not lost on the players either. This would top my list of memorable games I had seen, if I had only been able to be there.
It is on this list anyway, because I did get to listen to it via the talents of broadcaster Bob Eufer. Eufer rose to the occasion that day and ended the broadcast with his ?They put on the gloves of gray? recitation. I always thought it was Bob?s best effort, and possibly the best radio broadcast of a Michigan Football game I have ever audited. This stunning Michigan victory and broadcast was completely unexpected.
Probably the most famous player on the team in later years was TV football broadcaster /analyst Dan Dierdorf, but the star of that game was little Barry Pierson who made effective returns, and timely interceptions. Also, it is said Tight End Jim Mandich demolished the locker room door on the way to the field. They were ready.
Reggie McKenzie, who later blocked in the pros for OJ Simpson, and All American DB Thom Dardin were on that team. McKenzie would have done well with today’s OL scheme. The toughest man on any team with his was on that team. The uniquely named Garvey Craw. He is said to have gone out of his way once to run through the MSU sideline group from end to end. Short yardage and toughness was his game.
Next it was the antics of the great Woody Hayes on the sideline in 1971. The always volatile and aggressive Hayes, aggravated by an interception he incorrectly perceived to be an infraction, and correctly perceived was a game changer, systematically attacked the yard markers to prove his point that he was dissatisfied with the call. As I recall Billy Taylor made a great burst to the endzone to finish the suspense, for a 10 to 7 win.
I have never, ever been so entertained by a Coach (ours or theirs), at a football game. The crowd loved it and as a result we were totally fired up. It was more fun to watch a victory against Hayes than against any other coach. Michigan manufactured an 11-1 record that year, but lost a tough one to Stanford in the Rose Bowl, 12 to13.
Since this is not a book, and we are only talking about unexpected Michigan victories against the Scarlet and Gray, the last one I will talk about in this article is the Michigan Stadium trouncing led by Tim Biakabutuka.
In front of us sat four well-dressed Buckeyes, two couples, well on their way to being thoroughly soused.
I didn?t mind, that was up to them, but were they vociferous regarding their total distain and disrespect for all things Maize and Blue. They proclaimed their superiority in no uncertain terms and in language well understood. Thinking that OSU might have the best of it, the M fans in the section held their tongues early.
That is, until Biakabutuka saddled up for his 313-yard performance. Run after run after run, the kid piled up yards, and the Michigan fans were fueled by a contagion of delight. Finally at the half, one of the Bucks turned to me and said,? You are incredibly noisy and loud for such an old goat!? I thanked him for the compliment and continued the noise. They stood up at the half, filed up the stairs, and never returned. Mission accomplished.
The unexpected happens. As you have probably realized by now this was and attempt to point out games where Michigan faced Ohio State and secured wins, the point being teams win when they should sometimes, and don?t when should some times. That unpredictability makes the game.
I realize that I have not covered the John Kolesar game, the 10-10 tie, the Desmond Howard game, the Charles Woodson game, and many other M/OSU games that were remarkable in results, and many other M/OSU games have been remarkable.
Michigan has a chance Saturday. Not a good one. A very slim one indeed, but there is a chance. Upsets do happen, and there have been unexpected results in the past.
If you saw the Wisconsin game Saturday, you know the probabilities are not on the Wolverine side. True underdogs, this time, are the Wolverines. Lets hope they play like wolves and not like Bowser.
As always, thanks for looking in and ..