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J. Brady McCollough: 'Navarre Era' disappointment because of team, not Johnny

BY
J. BRADY MCCOLLOUGH: THE SPORTSMONDAY COLUMN

Published October 14, 2003

MINNEAPOLIS - John Navarre really got me
thinking after Michigan's 30-27 loss to Iowa Oct. 4.

"I feel bad for the guys," he said, on the verge of tears.

John Navarre felt bad for them?

On the drive back from Iowa City, I couldn't stop thinking about
that comment. Was Navarre admitting his guilt? Admitting it was he
who lost the game and not the Michigan special teams? I still don't
know what he meant, but it struck me how bad he felt for his
teammates when they failed him just as much as he failed them.

Navarre had just lost his sixth straight game to a ranked
opponent on the road. But ugly statistics aside, he did what he'd
always done - everything BUT win the game.

Notice how I say he lost the game and not the Wolverines -
that's how it works around here.

I began to pity Navarre and everything he's gone through. No
college student deserves the treatment he's gotten from fans and
the media. I considered how bad I felt about Michigan losing its
second game in three weeks. Then I thought about what it would be
like to be Navarre flying back to Ann Arbor with the weight of the
Wolverine world on his shoulders.

Put yourself in his size-infinity shoes sometime.

Imagine a class that you just can't pass. You've taken it six
different semesters, and no matter how hard you try - if you're
like Navarre, you take the meaning of "try" to a whole new level -
you fail the final exam every time. You may have put up startling
numbers on your midterm and quizzes, but you bomb the final exam no
matter what.

And here's the catch: When you don't pass the class, nobody else
in the class passes either - including your best friends. And when
you don't pass it for the sixth straight time, reporters from all
the newspapers blast you. The rest of the campus calls for your
removal from the University.

"SPEN-CER BRIN-TON! SPEN-CER BRIN-TON!"

"JER-MAINE GON-ZAL-ES! JER-MAINE GON-ZAL-ES!"

And most recently ... "MATT GU-TIER-REZ! MATT GU-TIER-REZ!"

How do you like being Navarre so far?

I do know this: If Navarre was reading this column right now,
he'd want to puke.

Navarre has never wanted anyone's pity. He showed that Friday
night in what might have been the greatest performance of his
career, issuing a "Shut the hell up" to everyone who ever said
Michigan couldn't win a big game on the road with him at
quarterback.

Navarre never should have been a three-year starter at Michigan.
When Drew Henson left for the New York Yankees, Navarre was hurled
into the fire a year prematurely.

But Navarre never made excuses for himself, even when things
were really bad. He knows his limitations just as much as the rest
of us do. He'll never be fast or flashy, he'll always throw some
balls inaccurately, but he has worked his ass off in the film room
and the practice field to make up for those limitations.

In fact, if you dissected the tape from the Minnesota victory
Friday, you'd see Navarre played the same game against Oregon and
Iowa. On some plays, you see the obvious improvement he has made
since 2001. On others, you wonder if he's improved at all.

He misfired on a crucial 4th-and-1 swing pass to Chris Perry. On
Michigan's eventual game-winning drive, he threw a pass to Jason
Avant, draped by a group of Minnesota defenders in the endzone,
that could have been picked off. But unlike the Oregon and Iowa
games, people will remember the great things he did in this one -
the shocking touchdown reception from receiver Steve Breaston and
his 52-yard touchdown heave to Braylon Edwards.

This time, with the same things holding him back, Navarre
won.

He won because his teammates helped him win it. He won because
the special teams survived a game without a monumental screw up. He
won because the Michigan coaches found a way for Perry to beat the
Minnesota defense through the air. He won because Edwards, Avant
and Breaston played their best game as a receiving trio.

Aside from eight games that Henson started freshman year (6-2
record, .75 win percentage), John Navarre has been my quarterback
during my four years at Michigan (26-10, .72).

My graduating class will go down as the Navarre Era of Michigan
football, and many will look back at us as the class whose New
Year's Day dreams were held down by Navarre. But when I look back
at the Navarre Era, I'll remember a quarterback who persevered
through a life's worth of critics and a team - not an individual -
that couldn't silence them.

J. Brady McCollough can be reached at "mailto:bradymcc@umich.edu">bradymcc@umich.edu.