Monday, November 19
Streets like a jungle, so call the police . . .
Me and Honolulu homeboy Mark Niesse at Michigan Stadium, November 17, 2007.
It's a cliche that numerous people have used in the past -- perhaps even Wolverine fans themselves at times -- but to walk into Michigan Stadium is to walk back into the past, back before "Soulja Boy" on the Jumbotron, back before luxury skyboxes, back even before lights. I think it was a few minutes into the fourth quarter when I looked up, turned to Kristen, and said, "You know what? This place doesn't have any lights," and we looked around and sure enough, there were only two banks of lights, both on the Main Street side of the stadium, both apparently trucked in on rented cranes. Which goes a ways toward explaining the noon kickoff, a time slot the SEC normally reserves for who-gives-a-shit OOC appointments with the D-IAAs and UL-Monroes of the world. (OK, bad example.)
So the stadium was a big part of the reason why our football weekend in Annerber was kind of like the gameday equivalent of going to Canada: Everything looks familiar enough that you're not completely lost, but it's all just a little bit . . . off. From the outside, Michigan Stadium is no more gigantic or imposing than any county-fair arena where you've gone to see a rodeo, primarily because it's one of those old-school sunk-into-the-ground bowl stadiums as opposed to a holy temple like Bryant-Denny or Death Valley; once you walk inside, the place is a little more impressive, but it still doesn't strike you as the kind of place that should be able to hold 107,000 people on a regular basis. It's like one of those funhouse rooms that looks normal when you first walk into it, but the ceilings and walls and the checkerboard pattern on the floor have all been slanted and carefully messed-with to disguise the bizarre proportions. The backs of the end zones seem to be right up against the front row of bleachers, which makes the sidelines seem small as well, but then you look down and the entire Ohio State marching band has managed to fit in there, so . . . what the hell's going on here?
Michigan Stadium before the game started . . .
I don't want our Michigan hosts to think I'm being snooty or condescending here; it wasn't bad, just different. The only thing I'm going to be audacious enough to take major issue with is the restroom situation; for reals, y'all need to figure that shit out. One bank of restrooms on each of the stadium's four sides might have cut it back in '27, when most Americans probably would've been grateful for any kind of indoor plumbing at all, but 80 years later, a hundred-man line at the restroom door just isn't acceptable, no matter how quickly and steadily they're conveyor-belting through the place. Do something about this, Michiganders, plzkthxbai; the bladders you save may be your own.
. . . and a slightly more obstructed view during the second half of play.
The Russian-bread-line restroom protocol, however, did give me a chance to observe the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry at its most basic and visceral level. As they stood five-deep at the urinals, trying so hard not to wet themselves that they were quivering, the various Michigan and tOSU fans still had enough energy to curse a blue streak at each other about whose state was full of rednecks, whose team had managed to lose to App State, on and on and on. I've been to plenty of football games in my time, many of them between teams that qualified as hated rivals, but I don't think I've ever seen that hatred expressed as casually (or as frequently) as it was between the Michigan and tOSU faithful. Even on Tennessee or Georgia Tech weekend, even in the Georgia student section, a shouted F-bomb is a rare enough occurrence that you remember a specific instance later on, but on Saturday, from the streets to the stands to the very restrooms, it was as common as the word "the."
Put a Tennessee fan and a Georgia fan in adjacent urinals and there'll be some jawing back and forth about which state has the bigger rednecks or which team has the more extensive rap sheet, but profanity will be rare; not so between the Wolverines and Buckeyes. Yet at times there was a wink-wink feeling to it, too, as if the respective partisans knew the whole thing was ridiculous and were just going along with it to try and tally up more curse words over the course of the weekend than their opponents, just like they'd tried to donate more pints of blood to the Red Cross over the previous week.
Ohio State, incidentally, won that one by a mere four pints out of well over 6,500 donated; the actual game was substantially less close, and at times may have been even less interesting to watch. That, just so you know, is not my judgment but Brian's; he's got a greater familiarity with the people and plays involved than I do, so I'll leave any in-depth recapping to him. I'll simply say that from what I could see from high above the north end zone, exactly two players distinguished themselves: Ohio State RB Chris Wells, who ran for 222 yards and both tOSU TDs, and Michigan's punter, Zoltan Mesko, whose repeated attempts to flip the field-position equation in the Wolverines' favor were as heroic as they were wasted. It would be difficult to overstate just how painful it was to watch Michigan's offense on Saturday; quarterback Chad Henne, a senior, finished 11-of-34 for 68 yards and looked like he had never actually met any of his receivers in person, while RB Mike Hart (18 rushes for 44 yards) appeared lucky just to make it back to the line of scrimmage on many of his runs. Once Ohio State pushed their lead to 11 on Wells's 62-yard touchdown rumble to open the second half, Jim Tressel quickly sussed out that the Michigan offense was in no position to make up two scores and contented himself with simply throwing Wells or his backup, Brandon Saine, at the Michigan line over and over and over again. As we were leaving the stadium, I remember saying "I don't think Todd Boeckman threw more than two passes the entire second half," and Brian confirmed that with his post Monday; both passes, in case you were wondering, were incomplete, but it hardly mattered.
This is a comment on the outcome, by the way, not on the game itself.
There was a light-to-moderate rain nearly the entire game, and the temperature stayed just warm enough to ensure that it never became snow, but that we still froze our Bulldog asses off. I don't know how Mark, who came all the way from Honolulu to experience Michigan-tOSU for the first time, survived, but he did. Maybe it helped that we were huddled for warmth by default, crammed into the bleachers so tight that I thought for sure there had to be some section of the stadium that was being held completely empty. But there wasn't.
If the game was a bit of a letdown, however, the Annerber experience was not. Friday night we ate dinner at The Arena, where each booth had its own 13-inch LCD television screen, most of which were inexplicably set to the Big Ten Network's replay of the Michigan-App State game. From there we went to Conor O'Neil's and then (briefly) to the Monkey Bar, where no sooner had we walked inside than I saw a dude who looked like a skinny version of my best friend Matt from high school and I knew had to be none other than MGoBlog's legendary Brian Cook. After recovering from the bizarre coincidence, we all got annihilated at a martini bar down the street, and I also got to meet Jerry Hinnen, the Auburn expatriate who writes The Joe Cribbs Car Wash from A2 since having followed his med-student fiancee up there. (In retrospect I kind of regret not having had the energy to go out Saturday night, because I'm sure I would've been fascinated to hear the firsthand reaction of an Auburn grad to Alabama's shocker loss to ULM.)
We did get the chance to commiserate with Dave of Maize 'n' Brew, who was kind enough to let us co-opt some space at his table at the Grizzly Peak Brewing Company after the game. In addition to a Maize 'n' Brew endorsement, I also have to give a shout-out to Grizzly Peak, whose Swiss cheese/caramelized onion/Kalamata olive patty melt could not possibly have been any closer to what I wanted at that precise moment; to Kristen H., the waitress who brought it to me (along with the world's most richly enjoyed Jack on the rocks), I meant to ask you to marry me but I forgot. The offer still stands the next time I'm up in Ann Arbor, assuming you don't get any better offers between now and then.
Sunday morning at Cafe Felix, having a moderate amount of time for this shit.
On Sunday, after brunch at Cafe Felix, we went into Detroit and managed not to get shot at even once; instead, we drove around Grosse Pointe playing "Look At That House"/"No, Look At THAT House!" and did some very half-assed gambling at the MGM Grand. My ballsiest move was at the roulette wheel, where in honor of Knowshon Moreno I put ten bucks on #24; let's just say Knowshon's weekend was quite a bit more fruitful than mine was.
In the end, I can't say that I found my first Big Ten experience to be superior in any substantial way to the SEC, but it was still plenty worthwhile, and my thanks go out to Brian, Dave, and the justifiably venerated city of Ann Arbor for helping to make it so. If this was Canada, it wasn't half bad.
Needless to say, a lot of stuff happened whilst we were Maizing Out in Ann Arbor, so I'll try to get to it now:
Takin' that ass to school no matter what color the jersey is.
· Didn't get to see any of the Georgia game, obviously, but Nathan at The College Football Review was kind enough to put together a nicely detailed blow-by-blow for me via e-mail, which is posted more or less verbatim here. Sounds like there was definitely a focus deficit in the wake of the big Auburn win, much as I'd feared -- unless three horrendous first-half turnovers were part of the game plan all along -- but give credit to the Dawgs for overcoming it and getting their heads screwed on straight before things got out of hand. Definitely give credit to the defense, who only allowed Kentucky to turn those turnovers into 10 points and who held the Wildcats to their lowest scoring output of the entire season. If the offense has gotten their wake-up call and can match that effort next week against the Techies, we'll be in terrific shape.
· No thanks to Vandy, those unable-to-hold-a-late-lead son-of-a-bitches, but if Tennessee couldn't find it in their hearts to lose a game for us, two teams ranked above us did, and now we're sitting at #7 in the BCS standings; take care of business against Tech, guys, and you're a guaranteed #6 (since either Kansas or Missouri has to fall this weekend) and damn near impossible to be passed over by the BCS even if Tennessee holds on against Kentucky. Sucks that both Oregon and Oklahoma lost primarily because their quarterbacks got injured, but at least the Sooners are likely to get theirs back. Oregon isn't, which means they may have lost their starting QB, a Heisman Trophy, a Pac-10 title, and a shot at the national title all at once; if you've had a more disastrous Thursday night than that, by all means, let me hear about it.
"Well, it could be worse -- our backup could be a Leaf. Wait, what?"
· Bigger collapse this season: South Carolina or California? Discuss.
· Or do I need to throw Alabama into that discussion? Exactly one month ago, when the Tide was busy making Tennessee their bitch, it looked like Nick Saban's reclamation project in Tuscaloosa was running way ahead of schedule, but three losses later that project now looks to be running well behind. Who's responsible here? Roll Bama Roll says in no uncertain terms that "we just have entirely too many players who are, in fact, losers" and who constitute soon-to-be-cut "dead weight"; I guess that makes sense to a point, since there were bound to be some players who'd gotten used to Mike Shula's way of doing things and who weren't going to respond well to the much tougher Saban regime. I have to wonder, though -- how many of those players could there really be? And how do you go from annihilating Tennessee to losing to ULM -- whom, it should be said, even lame ol' Mike Shula managed to beat by 34? When Steve Spurrier's early Gamecock teams struggled, people remarked that the SEC was a much different conference from what it had been when he left in 2001; what we may be finding now is that it's even different from what Saban left in 2004.
· Now is probably as good a time as any to announce that we're planning our next big CFB road trip for USC-Notre Dame in sunny Los Angeles on November 29, 2008. If you've got any ideas about reasonably priced (i.e. less than a kidney) tickets, welcoming tailgates, or places to crash, by all means let me hear about 'em. I mean, I'm not proud; I'll bunk down with pretty much anybody.
Yup, anybody . . . anybody at all.