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Michael Florek: Michigan wills itself to victory, capping improbable season

Marissa McClain/Daily
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By Michael Florek, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 3, 2012

NEW ORLEANS — Stop trying to make sense of it. What happened inside the Superdome can’t be explained.

The scenes seem disjointed: third-and-20 conversion, touchdown, interception, touchdown, touchdown catch review. The first 55 minutes flashed by in a blur of yellow and orange pompoms. The last five and overtime were an eternity.

I’m not entirely sure how it got to the point where Brendan Gibbons lined up his 37-yard, game-winning field goal. If you asked me to rehash the entire game, I’m not sure I could. In the immediate aftermath, one of the team assistants ran onto the field.

“This is crazy!” he said, looking for someone to hug.

I agree. So stop trying to explain what’s been an unexplainable year. Stop thinking altogether. Here’s what you need to know: That just happened. Fans, soak in the feeling, even if the events that got you there are a little hazy.

What this brings, though, is very clear.

Any questions left for this team to answer are walking out the door with the departing seniors. Michigan football is back to being Michigan football.

"We're back," said fifth-year senior receiver Junior Hemingway. "Michigan's back."

It was a classic Michigan win, in an untraditional Michigan environment. Instead of the Rose Bowl, the Superdome provided the back drop for a not-very-pretty win. The game wasn’t about what the coordinators cooked up. It was backyard football, just line up and play. Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s players vs. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer’s players. Who wanted it more?

“This game was about will,” said offensive coordinator Al Borges. “The kids played like they played all year.”

In a season that’s been defined by willing themselves to a high place, it was the perfect capper. The Wolverines probably didn’t “deserve” to have the season they did. They probably didn’t “deserve” to be in the Sugar Bowl. They probably didn’t “deserve” to be in this game after the first quarter.

They willed themselves to this victory just like they willed themselves to this season. It was a year ago tomorrow that Dave Brandon started his coaching search. He found a man in Brady Hoke who willed himself to live his dream and become Michigan’s head coach. He took largely the same players that went 15-22 over the past three seasons and willed them to believe in this one.

They showed how far they came in front of the nation Tuesday night. Fifth-year senior center David Molk was ruled out of the game in warm-ups after a foot injury. He missed three plays. Fifth-year senior Ryan Van Bergen had his foot bent parallel to his shin. Then had it bent the other way. He couldn’t make it around after the game without the help of crutches. He didn’t miss a snap.

“That’s the why we’ve won 11 games,” Hoke said of the team’s resolve.

That’s what good teams do. Teams that go to Rose Bowls and win national titles and beat their rivals out-will evenly matched opponents. The memories of the Michigan of yesteryear aren’t about great play-calling. What’s remembered are the moments where battles are won. Tuesday night was a battle.

And in the end, the entire team stormed the Sugar Bowl stage. They wore flat-brimmed hats and giant T-shirts, there were no Roses in their mouths. Adding in the specially made Sugar Bowl jerseys made it obvious that this wasn’t the wardrobe of the teams of the past.

Slowly, the chant started.

“It’s great…to be…a Michigan Wolverine”

But they sure looked and sounded like them.


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