Photo: Me @ The Rose Bowl

It's been over a week since Michigan beat the Washington Huskies for the 2023 National Championship and I still don't know what I'm supposed to say.

Where do I even start?

Just start typing, I guess?

How do you make sense of a Michigan team, our Michigan...going 15-0?

We beat everyone. We beat Penn State and Ohio State without our head coach. We shut Iowa out in the Big Ten title game. We beat Alabama in overtime in the most glorious Rose Bowl you've ever seen. And then we beat Washington and their high-powered offense 34-13...which is now every Michigan fan's iPhone passcode.

My God, this defense. Take a bow Jesse Minter.

2023 was special not just because of what Michigan accomplished, but because of the path they had to take to get there.

I go back to 1992...when I first really got into Michigan Football. Back then, it was easier, I guess. Things felt like they were on cruise control. We had great coaching, good QBs, great running backs and linemen, and defenses that were typical great Michigan defenses. Michigan was usually good, winning Big Tens and going to Rose Bowls on the regular. 

But then things got...weird.

College football changed. The second game after Michigan won the national title in 1997, the 1998 home opener versus Syracuse was the first clue that things were going to be different. No one warned us about Donovan McNabb and the things he could do.

All of the sudden, Michigan looked lost and slow. This wasn't going to be good.

But we were Michigan, forgodsakes...and the Big Ten was still the Big Ten so by-in-large, Michigan was going to be okay.

But then along came Jim Tressell...and Maurice Clarrett...and Troy Smith...and Tedd Ginn Jr...and Beanie Wells. And while Ohio State had become Ohio State, Lloyd Carr and Michigan had become the ghost of Michigan's past.

The struggles versus the Buckeyes and similar teams set in motion a circus-like disaster for the Wolverines' program. All of the sudden, Rich Rodriguez was our head coach and Stephen Threet was our quarterback (cue the Benny Hill music). Michigan was in a tailspin. We'd completely lost our identity as a program.

We'd attempted to regain some of that identity when David Brandon, the worst AD in Michigan history, hired Brady Hoke...a great dude but who was totally in over his head. Three years, and a new interim AD, later...Michigan was back at that crossroads again.

I didn't know what to expect when Harbaugh was hired in December of 2014. I hoped that things would get better, but I think in looking back, I had just hoped that things would start to at least make sense again. I felt like we'd all gotten so accustomed to the chaos that being an actual elite football program again was like learning to speak a new language.

The Harbaugh era at Michigan has been it's own complete story filled with highs and lows. I still can't believe he's been here 9 years. As of the time I'm posting this we still don't know what his future holds...if he'll return to Michigan or leave for the NFL. It's been the never-ending storyline of his tenure at Michigan every offseason..."Will Jim jump back to the NFL?"

At this point, after what he's accomplished here, whatever he decides to do, he's earned it. As a Michigan fan, I'll be sad if he leaves...but that's the cost of doing business I guess. It'll end up being just one of many changes coming to the ever-changing landscape of college football.

One thing is for certain, Jim Harbaugh gave Michigan back it's identity. It wasn't instant and it wasn't always clean, but he did it. Michigan went undefeated and won the 2023 National Championship as favorites in every game they played, but they still had to prove themselves in big games. They still had to silence the doubters and pundits who said they're still not as good as Ohio State or Alabama or even Washington.

They did. 

Michigan did that. 

It started in 2021 against Washington, of all teams, when this whole program started to just feel...different. But given the way 2020 went and, well, many of the years since the late 90's, different was good. We like different.

They debuted the "Big Game Blues" all-blue unis that night, on the 20-year anniversary of 9/11, in front of the absolute best "maize out" Michigan's ever been able to put together. Since that night, this program has just felt like they'd begun to figure it all out. 

These two wins versus Washington bookended what I feel is the greatest renaissance we've ever seen. 

I'm not going to list everything here, but these last 3 seasons have really felt like one single era for the Michigan program. An era defined by just a renewed sense of culture and leadership. It felt like Harbaugh leaned much harder on his younger staff and team leaders to take ownership of the program. He didn't step back, but he loosened his grip a little. He let guys like Sherrone Moore, Mike McDonald, Jesse Minter and, I believe, most notably Ben Herbert really step forward in their roles as assistants to really lead this team and this program not only back to being a contender, but a leader among all college football programs.

Even now, after all Michigan has accomplished, and how they accomplished it...the media doesn't really know how to quantify it. Culture isn't something you can just gauge. It takes time to realize. And maybe it never will for some, but for us, we'll know...and we'll have the 2023 season to look back on, with smiling eyes and fond memories of this absolute dream of a season.

We'll never forget captains Michael Barrett, Blake Corum, Kris Jenkins, Trevor Keegan, Mike Sainristil and Zak Zinter. 

We'll never forget JJ McCarthy and his unselfishness, allowing others to shine when they did because it meant the difference between winning and not winning. We'll never forget his composure, his ability to make the big play when asked. We'll never forget that he was, at his core, just a baller who could put the team on his back at any moment.

We'll never forget "Big Game Don" and his runs versus Penn State and Washington when Michigan needed to lean on him the most.

We'll never forget Will Johnson's interception in front of Ohio State's most elite receiver maybe ever in The Game. Or his clutch interception on the first play of the second half of the national title game.

We'll never forget the defense sacking Jalen Milroe six times in the Rose Bowl and the clutch stop on 4th and goal in overtime to seal the victory.

We'll never forget Roman Wilson and his 12 touchdowns this season. For me, his catch on the tipped pass on Michigan's final drive in regulation versus Alabama will go down as maybe his best ever...keeping that drive, and all of our hopes alive...which ended in touchdown catch to tie the game.

And of course we'll never, ever forget Blake Corum, the heart of this team. In 2021 he was showed us what he could do. In 2022 he took his place as the leader in the backfield, but was cut short by injury. In 2023 he came back to finish the job...which he did emphatically scoring 27 touchdowns and being the back that Michigan needed so many times. I still get misty thinking about him flashing that 6-5 to the camera after scoring on the first play after Zinter went down versus Ohio Sate.

That was my play of the year. That play defined this whole season for me and cemented Blake Corum's place in Michigan lore. Man, in a season full of highs...that one is an all-timer.

We'll also never forget the Rose Bowl. Man, that was special. I'd never been to one before and I can just tell you it absolutely lived up to the hype. I can't adequately describe that place with words. It's the closest I think you can get to what I can only describe as college football porn. It was breathtaking...cinematic. It was everything that is left that is still good about college football. When it was late in the game and the outcome was in doubt, I remember sitting on that sideline thinking I wasn't going to be that sad if Michigan lost. I mean, yeah, it wouldn't have been great, but in the moment, with that atmosphere, it was so special. If you ever have a chance to get to Pasadena for that game, do it!

I could go on forever listing special moments and special players, but the only thing I think I can say at this point is thank you.

Thank you to everyone who stops by here to read my site, view our STAT-Os and look at our photos. Thank you for making this ride so worthwhile all these years and allowing us to do this. Whatever happens in the coming hours, days, weeks or years...we'll always have this season...

...this dream season of 2023, when Michigan, our Michigan, got everything right.

Go Blue!

No comments

Post a Comment