Strength and Honor

When this season started 6 weeks ago, things seemed destined for glory. We had a trio of seniors on offense that were going to the most dominating force Michigan has ever seen. Henne, Hart and Long were the class of the Big Ten, maybe all of college football. Junior Mario Manningham was a show stopper with breakout speed and great hands. The defense was quick and had good experience. We were battle tested against some of the most potent teams from last season. We could smell blood, and we were the hunters.

No one saw this season starting the way it did. Like most college teams, when you are 0-0, every year feels like it could be "the one". But after the first two opening games, Michigan saw its title hopes dwindle. Two very quick and talented teams came into the Big House and destroyed Michigan. Call it overconfidence, call it bad coaching, call it lack of preparation. Either way, we were 0-2. And the bandwagon was empty.

Its easy to love a winner. But never easy to hang on to a struggling team. But Michigan found inspiration from anywhere it could. Even Russell Crowe of all people. Because when it comes to sports, its 90% mental. You have to believe you can win. But when you lose to 1-AA Appalachian State, and then get pasted by Oregon, both in front of your home crowd, there's very little that anyone can do to tell you that you are still a good player and there's still something worth fighting for.

Enter Mike Hart.

I've seen many players get upset when they lose bad. I've seen players blame everyone but themselves. Mike Hart is not one of those people...not even close. He's a guy who wills everyone around him to play better. When he stood up in front of the media after the Oregon loss and guaranteed a victory against Notre Dame the following week, he wasn't being cocky, not even arrogant. He was being a leader. And at the lowest point of the season, he rose up and gave every player on that team something to rally behind. He took a team of battered and bruised egos, and put them all on his shoulders and said, "follow me".

Since that declaration, Michigan is 4-0. They are still reeling from the first two losses. This is still not a confident squad. The defense especially is still hesitant. With injuries and player discipline issues abound, Michigan is still awaiting its identity. Beating a seemingly overrated Notre Dame and Penn State did little to encourage Michigan. These are players who came to this school to achieve greatness. They need a win that is equal to the devastating losses from the beginning of the season. The Big Ten isn't helping them out much. But the last 6 games of the season will still be a test.

It seems like a broken record, but Michigan and Ohio State are now on a collision course once again. Both undefeated in the Big Ten, OSU undefeated overall. Its the perennial showdown. And for Michigan, that's all that's left to play for. The next 5 games are a tune up. There important for sure, but don't mean nearly as much to this 2007 Michigan squad as the final game of the year. For this group of seniors, its their national championship, its the reason for them all still being here.

The wall in the Michigan locker room now reads "Strength and Honor". A line said by Maximus, played by Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator. He says that line to his soldiers and fellow slaves before they went into battle. I personally think that line sums up what is left for Michigan to play for this year. You don't become one of the most revered and respected programs in the country overnight. Its is built upon years of success and leadership. Michigan is still one of the best programs in the country. But it is up to this team to restore the order in Ann Arbor.

Mike Hart should be considered the best player in the country. Not only for what he does on the field every week, but for what he means to this team, this school, and this state. Every young player in the state of Michigan, or in the country, should look to Mike Hart for inspiration. I don't want to make it a point to come out and say that he should win the Heisman trophy...that's not what I am trying to say here.

And in all fairness, I seriously doubt that he will win it. He might come close, but Michigan will not push for him to win it like some other schools would. I can safely assume that Hart wouldn't want it that way. But I can also safely assume that no other player in the country means more to his team that Hart means to Michigan.

So to all the fans of this team who booed them in weeks 1 & 2, please know that this team doesn't need you. I was there, I heard you. I was appalled by what I heard and saw in the stands those first two weeks. And as much as Michigan players and coaches deny that they pay attention to it, they heard you too. But as Michigan looked within themselves to put together the pieces of a broken season, they now have no room for naysayers and fair weather fans.

I don't care how long you had season tickets or how much you pay the university to be at the games, thus giving you the "right". You don't boo your team. Ever. I was more embarrassed by the fans at the Oregon game than the lack of production on the field.

Michigan is supposed to hold itself to a higher standard. Simple as that.

But what I have seen the past 4 weeks is something special. Maybe not on the scoreboard, but its awesome to see how this teams' leadership has taken over in spite of heavy injuries and terrible fans.

But to wrap up this little rant, all I can say is the heart of Michigan football is starting to show again. After a strange first half of the season, I think, and hope that Michigan will find inspiration from Mike Hart, Russell Crowe, Lloyd Carr and the memory of the late great Bo Schembechler. Any program in the country would be privileged and honored to have just a piece of the history and pageantry of Michigan football.

This is why I watch...and why I will always watch. Its not just football. Its not just a game.

Go Blue.

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