SOUTH BEND — Durrel Robinson came back here on Saturday, back where the legend of his little brother, Denard, began. Now, at halftime, the magic had eluded the younger Robinson, but Durrel wasn’t nervous.
That would come later.
Durrel sat with his girlfriend Paris, Robinson’s best friend Steve and Robinson’s girlfriend, who requested anonymity.
Robinson had thrown four interceptions on four straight passes by halftime, but Durrel had seen Robinson’s rise, his 502 yards against Notre Dame two years ago. “It made me feel proud of him,” he said.
The logic is inexplicable. Except in Michigan, except with Robinson. We had seen his astonishing comeback against the Fighting Irish last year. Robinson makes mistakes, plenty of them, but he never breaks. Not against Notre Dame.
Plus, Durrell had seen worse halves from his little brother, and so with a serious calm, Durrel said this: “We don’t lose faith.”
And why lose faith? They had weathered the storm. The fun part was about to begin.
“Did you watch last year’s game?” Denard’s girlfriend said.
Notre Dame led 10-0.
The group sat in the family and friends section of Notre Dame Stadium. Steve wore his best friend’s varsity jacket. The two girls wore “Shoelace” and another Robinson-themed shirt.
This section is different. Here, the hits sound louder. The mistakes sting more.
From here, you can reach out and touch the bass drums in the Michigan band. When a Notre Dame wide receiver was open on the goal line, the parents shouted and pointed, so Thomas Gordon bumped over and covered.
Robinson’s supporters sat in the fifth row, tucked in between friends and family of freshman linebacker James Ross III and the family of fifth-year senior J.T. Floyd.
Robinson’s parents come to games “very rarely, very rarely,” J.T.’s father, James, said. Normally the Robinson clan gathers in Robinson’s grandmother’s house in Deerfield Beach, Fla. around a television.
“Every Saturday,” Durrel said. “Everybody (goes). I can’t even tell you who don’t go.”
After Robinson’s first three interceptions, Durrel hardly reacted. Remember Robinson’s three interceptions last year? His miserable first half?
After his third and fourth interceptions, Durrel mumbled for just an instant, but it was out of frustration more than worry.
“One thing about him, though, he ain’t never gonna give up,” Durrel said.
Now, in the third quarter, Robinson was driving again when he fumbled on the Notre Dame 11-yard line.
This time, Durrel swore to Steve quietly. Paris put her hands over her mouth. Robinson’s girlfriend put her hands over her head as in disbelief.
“It’s a heart attack,” Paris said. “I feel like I’m having a heart attack.”
But this was all part of the Robinson script, and by the end of the quarter, the poise was back.
“I’m good,” Durrel said. “I’m confident.”
Steve nodded and grinned.
Notre Dame maintained, 10-0.
Surely, you remember the finish last year. The screen to Vincent Smith. The heaves to Junior Hemingway. The miracles to Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree.
It was time.
When play resumed, Paris clutched Durrel as if playing piggyback. Robinson’s girlfriend needed to get closer so she migrated to the first row aisle, held onto the wall and craned her neck.
On the first drive of the quarter, Robinson took control. It felt right.
Robinson looked deep, but this time, there was no Hemingway there to catch it, so he started running. Six times that drive he ran, but Notre Dame had seen this before, too, and held Michigan to a field goal.
Michigan was within striking distance, 10-3.
Relieved, Robinson’s girlfriend returned to her row. This was what it was supposed to look like.
Something happened. It was hard to see at the time.
Michigan just doesn’t kick many field goals. Robinson is too explosive to not score touchdowns.
The Fighting Irish answered Michigan’s score with a field goal of their own, and what’s more, they chewed up clock.
Notre Dame led 13-3. Robinson’s girlfriend was back at the wall, this time joined by Paris.
Again, Robinson drove downfield for a field goal. The three points made sense, cutting the lead to one score, but only 3:27 remained. For the first time, this did not look right. Last year, Michigan had more time.
“It’s close, man,” Durrel said.
For the first time, Durrel was nervous.
Remember when it was over a year ago, you hugged your friends and waved your pom poms and screamed? This year, the Notre Dame students embraced their players and waved Irish flags and yelled.
Remember how late you stayed? Sang songs into the night? This year, the Notre Dame fans stayed until well after the game, singing “Oh What a Night!” while the band danced.
For all the fireworks, magic and electrifying runs that have marked Robinson’s first two games against Notre Dame, this one ended with a thud.
The Fighting Irish had finally solved the problem of Robinson on the game’s final possession: don’t let Robinson have the ball of the game’s final possession.
The game ended with two Notre Dame first downs and a Tommy Rees kneel.
“It’s about time,” said Eugene Sharp, the usher in the parents section. “About damn time. I was still mad from last year.”
Durrel and his companions lingered for a few minutes. Usually, Robinson doesn’t like to talk after a game, and Durrel said he hadn’t planned anything to say to his little brother.
Under the stadium, Robinson called the loss “the most disappointed I’ve been in myself” in 22 years.
Finally, Robinson’s big brother, best friends and girlfriend — shocked, just like you — got up and left.
There was nothing to say.