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Thursday, December 07, 2006

This is not about Florida. It is not about Florida. Comments will not be about Florida. There is no Florida. There is only Zuul.

Visitors, Michigan is not your football program. One thing this Recent Event Not Involving Florida has done is reveal the deep-seated weirdness of Michigan in relation to the rest of the world. Anyone who sat through WVU and Rutgers' three overtimes to catch Lloyd Carr's rare appearance on SportsCenter probably wondered why he bothered at all. His entire segment consisted of a brief appeal to not punish Michigan for finishing its schedule before Thanksgiving followed by "I don't want to campaign" repeated ad nauseum until the helpless anchor bid Carr adieu. His only other public statement before the fateful Event came on Michigan Replay, when Carr said this:

I just think that based on some of the comments the Florida coach has made in the last two weeks, he has been campaigning strenuously for a berth in the championship game and making some statements about Michigan that I think were inappropriate. That certainly is going to stir a controversy, and who knows what that's going to lead to.
The press, desperate for any word out of Carr's mouth, slapped up story after story on that single phrase "I think [his comments] were inappropriate," delivered with all the ferocity of a euthanized koala bear to Jim Brandstatter on Michigan Replay.

Oddly, this has spurred a lot of passion. Stewart Mandel's bizarre response:
I wasn't particularly thrilled with either coach's approach, and I think the whole exchange marked a particularly ugly moment for the BCS. ... [Stuff criticizing Meyer snipped]

All that said, I thought Carr's response to Meyer went completely overboard. Never once during the final two weeks of the season did Meyer say anything derogatory about the Wolverines. He never even said his team was better than Carr's. All he said was that Michigan had its shot at Ohio State and that he felt his team had earned the right to get its shot at the Buckeyes. So don't give me this "Carr took the high road" nonsense.

It's not like this is a great shock or anything, but Mandel's plain wrong. In the immediate aftermath of the Ohio State game, Meyer is the one who went overboard:
"If they do that (rematch), there should be a playoff system next year," Meyer said. "And I do think those are great teams, because I tried to watch every snap, but I believe as we move on, we need a playoff series. I think if that (rematch) happens, I think it's over. All the presidents would need to get together immediately and put in a playoff system - like, now. I didn't think it was possible to do with all the stadiums and selling tickets, but I believe there's enough firepower out there now to get that done."

Should the Wolverines upset the Buckeyes in a rematch, Meyer would not consider Michigan the champions.

"Absolutely (there would be no national champion)," he said. "If I'm Ohio State, I go get a bunch of rings and say, 'We won the national championship.' That's not right."

Aside from the strong implication that Meyer's been watching too many Larry The Cable Guy specials, that's a blindingly stupid statement and undoubtedly what Carr was referencing as "inappropriate." I hate deploying the word "whine," which -- along with "drinking the Kool-Aid," "thrown under the bus," and "special" -- is one of the four leading indicators that the person you're dealing with is a bonafide moron, but goddamn, son, that's a whine right there. It probably warranted some mild opprobrium on a regional, little-watched coaches show. As a Michigan fan it ticks me off a bit, and I'm glad Carr called him on it. Mandel's assertion that Carr went "overboard" and thus forfeited the high road which you're goddamn right he took -- that road was less "high" than "orbital" -- further proves that whenever you ask a Northwestern graduate about Michigan, they lose their capacity for rational thought. (Something like "I could have gone there, not suffer miserably for four years, and come out with a degree just as prestigious" does not sit well.)

Exhibit B is PTI's Michael Wilbon, also a product of Northwestern, who called Carr a "Neanderthal" in the aftermath of the Recent Event, then said he'd acquired all the negative personality aspects of Bo without any of the positives. And there's the litmus test. Either you see Carr and by extension the entire Michigan program as a throwback to the bad old days... or a throwback to the good old days. You exhort Carr to emulate Mamet characters or exalt Lloyd as the dumpy guy from the Mac commercials (in one of the weirdest analogies I've seen work in a while).

In short, you believe in what the ads call The Michigan Difference or you don't. If you don't, that's fine, but then at some point we're going to do our version of the Nebraska thing and ditch it. What's Nebraska now that they chucked Frank Solich and the triple option? Just another mediocre North division team that loses the Big 12 championship game. They ditched it, and I bet in their heart of hearts they regret it.

In the end, I don't really care about narrow aisleways or too-small seats or cold metal bleachers. I don't care about the infinitesimal chance that if Lloyd Carr had spent the last two weeks on a media blitz that we would be in the national championship game. I don't care that Michigan's never going to have a recruiting run like USC or go on some five-year streak where losses flash across the sky with the infrequency and populace-terrifying inexplicability of comets. Or rather, I do care about all these things but I regard them as a necessary cost of doing business, because I believe that Michigan does stand for something that other athletic programs do not. And whatever that thing is, it is deeply intertwined with Lloyd's refusal to do anything resembling campaigning.

What I care about is that when you enter Michigan Stadium all it advertises is itself, and what I pity is the kind of person who would walk in and think about all the revenue they could make if they would just stop being cavemen.