On a hot, balmy, September day in Ann Arbor, Michigan set out to open at home facing an underrated team that the Wolverines were expected, by most, to beat handily. This Michigan team had just come off a successful season; we’ll find out how successful in a moment, but had lost their previous game to a bitter rival.
Michigan’s opponent took the opening kickoff and surgically proceeded 78 yards in 11 plays, moving the ball at will. Michigan’s first offensive possession, on the other hand couldn’t have began more opposite. On the opening drive, Mighty Michigan led by a QB who won the job, but not the support from fans, threw an interception. Their opponent did what good teams do and immediately took that mistake and parlayed it into points.
Next thing you know, Michigan was down 21-0. Fans booed, the QB was replaced once, then twice, and Michigan ended up losing the game 38-28.
The starter had accumulated a modest stat-line of 13 for 24 with a touchdown, but due to mistakes was booed off the field and replaced with a much anticipated freshman. The phenom QB that fans wanted to see ended the game 7 for 20 accumulating 92 yards and a touchdown.
This was 1998, Michigan’s starting QB was Tom Brady, and their opponent was Syracuse led by Donovan McNabb. Michigan’s back-up was Super-Freshman, Drew Henson. That Wolverines squad had just come off of a National Championship the year before so it’s easy to see why expectations were at an all-time-high.
Fast forward if you will, to this past Saturday. Michigan, under the leadership of Jim Harbaugh, who single-handedly, seemingly has raised the expectations of fans, to the levels of 1998, faced an opponent they were supposed to handle with ease. The current team has a QB at the helm who is not receiving the full-support of the fan-base and has a couple of options behind him that some fans are hoping to see. This includes a red-shirt Freshman who has, by most accounts, tremendous arm talent.
The similarities don’t end here. Michigan came out on Saturday in their home opener and the game was closer than most expected in the first half. Even into the second half, the Maize and Blue continued to struggle a bit but eventually got it together, even through a smattering of boos.
Now for the differences –
Michigan is 2-0 currently, not 0-2. Wilton Speight is the QB, not Tom Brady. Jim Harbaugh is the coach, and is a coach who specializes in offense and specifically QB development, not Lloyd Carr (this is not a Harbaugh/Carr comparison). Michigan is not coming off of a National Championship the previous season, instead they are coming off a disappointing loss. Two straight heartbreaking losses if we’re being technical, with a third coming only one game previous and let’s not ignore the fact that Speight was playing injured in the last two games while still keeping his team in position to win the games.
Yet, somehow, perfection is the expectation still. Somehow even when we know that Michigan is one of the youngest teams in the nation (heck we heard about it all off-season from every media pundit) mistakes are not even remotely acceptable. We feel the need to point out every overthrow, every flaw, every mistake, as if we are coaching the games ourselves. But why?
That is my question to all of us. Why? What makes us think that this team suddenly was going to come out and play mistake free football while losing so many players? What compels some of us to boo as if we are entitled to some sort of spectacular performance simply because we pay for a ticket and support a team? Why can’t we just calm down a bit, and just support the team – period? Is 2-0, like, not good?
Let’s go back to 1998 through 1999. I bet you if the fans knew then, that Tom Brady would go on to be not-so-arguably the greatest QB in NFL history, there wouldn’t have been a single boo, a single question, or a hint of controversy in terms of which QB Lloyd should trot out onto the field. I believe this would be true even though Michigan finished that season with 3 total losses.
Last year, after Brady came back to Michigan for the first time in a long time, there were several articles written, rehashing the game I led with above, talking about how the lack of support that Brady felt in his time at Michigan had led to him feeling shunned from the University; exiled even. Last year, when Brady stepped onto the field as co-Captain, after enjoying a competitive game of catch with Coach Harbaugh, he received a VERY loud ovation. Is it a double-standard that we now without equivocation claim this man as “OUR” QB, “OUR” product, even though the fan-base was dying to see him lose his job to a Freshman?
Kind of seems like it.
The fact is, he was and is a Michigan Man, and you should be ashamed to look back and know you were one of the people booing a college player who is giving his all for the team. Just the same, you should be ashamed to boo the guys representing the team today. Can you be a little upset in the moment if the team isn’t executing as well as you’d hope? Sure. But then take a deep breath, look at the bigger picture, and let it go! Michigan has not lost this year, has a very young team, and the future, whether this year or beyond, is very bright.
I happened to be at both of the games described above, the one in 1998 and the one last Saturday, and to hear the boos in the latest situation almost gave me chills. I was reminded of 1998. I was reminded that QBs are polarizing for any team. I was reminded that this is college football, and these are kids.
While I experienced periods of frustration so far this season, ultimately Michigan won the games, the Wolverines are 2-0. So as I take my deep breath of reflection, I think it’s fair to expect mistakes this season, especially early on, and then hopefully things begin to smooth out as the season progresses. Is it frustrating to see them occur in the moment? Sure. Do I or should you feel compelled to attack kids on social media, lash out at coaches with your hot take on why you know more than them as far as who should start at QB on Saturday? No, a RESOUNDING NO!
Be rational, that’s all I ask. Support the team as best you can, through hard times and good times, and realize that your hate, negativity, or lack of support does not go unheard. The players notice. I’m sure Brady still remembers his experience against Syracuse and what it felt like to not have the backing from the fans. Maybe the doubters served as a small token of motivation for Brady but I bet it created much more overthinking, and or mistakes as he tried to be perfect at times. He may not admit that, but I have to believe that lack of support is more harmful than helpful – that seems like common sense.
Wilton Speight is not Tom Brady, but he is the QB for Michigan. Harbaugh believes in him, his team believes in him, WE should believe in him. Who knows what could happen in his career after Michigan. I would hope he could look back at it as a positive experience where he felt the love and support of not only the greatest University in the World, but also of the fans, whether he’s the next 5-time Super Bowl winner, or just another great Michigan Man successful at life beyond football.