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SportsTuesday Column: Rewriting the script for Michigan's 'Team 133'

Erin Kirkland/Daily
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By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 3, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas — This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen, was it?

Taylor Lewan stared blankly ahead as he plodded slowly through the north end zone at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday night. He clutched the winged helmet in his right hand and steadied himself with his left by leaning on a trainer’s shoulder.

It wasn’t that something was bothering the redshirt junior leader of the Michigan offense line, it was that everything was.

The turf beneath Lewan’s feet, painted crimson and white, spelled out a crisp ‘ALABAMA.’ Reporters and photographers swarmed around him, snapping photos as he limped gingerly toward the tunnel. The scoreboard was even less considerate: Alabama 41, Michigan 14.

Insult, meet injury.

Lewan moved at a snail’s pace up the walkway and took a right toward the Michigan locker room, now using the wall to brace himself. Each step was careful, cautious. Finally, several minutes behind the last of his teammates, Lewan took a deep breath and disappeared into the locker room.

[Exit stage right.]

Cut! No, no, no, that wasn’t right. Somebody must have gone off-script, and a wretched job of ad-lib it was.

This was the Cowboys Classic. This was the season opener against No. 2 Alabama, the defending national champions. This was the Big Ten versus the SEC.

Michigan, having finally emerged from the abyss of the torturous Rich Rodriguez era, was once again a national power. And even a national power can have its Cinderella moment against the defending champion. Oh, and it was going to happen on the biggest of stages, in front of 90,413 in the palatial House that Jerry Built.

This is Michigan, fergodsakes. And like Fab Fiver Juwan Howard, who watched from field level on Saturday, the Wolverines were going to shock the world.

But they didn’t. It was a rout that, in all honesty, was just ugly to watch, save the moments of pure incredulity at the talent clad in crimson.

Maybe the script was never wrong. Maybe this was bound to happen. Maybe it’s just that this time, there was no plot twist and no pick-your-own-ending option. And that’s what stung.

It’s expecting to be kicked in the mouth, then actually getting kicked in the mouth. (Man, I was really hoping that wasn’t going to happen.)

The Michigan players didn’t quit, even after entering as two-touchdown underdogs and being down three touchdowns after only one quarter of play. One starter dropped, then another and another. Backups came in, some got burned, but they played to the final snap. On that final snap, Michigan had zero starters in on defense.

Sometimes effort trumps talent, but the Crimson Tide played with both halves of the equation, so Michigan was way behind the eight ball from the opening kick.

A win would have been legendary, but the loss was expected. Now it’s time to circle the wagons.

“We can’t let Alabama beat us twice,” Jordan Kovacs said.

That seems to be the anthem of the week, and perhaps for the remainder of the season. Elliott Mealer said it on Monday. So did Devin Gardner.

“We can’t let Alabama beat us twice.”

Once was enough. Air Force shuttles into Ann Arbor on Saturday, boasting a triple-option offense that will make your head spin. But Michigan will be ready for the Falcons, because they’re still bloodied and bruised enough from the ‘Bama beatdown to not let it happen again.

A 41-14 defeat to the Crimson Tide sure smarts, and it’ll do more than any two-a-day or grueling workout to motivate and prepare Michigan’s ‘Team 133’ for the other 11 games remaining on the schedule.

The storybook might not end with Michigan playing for the national championship this season, but the program knows it doesn’t belong there just yet. The Wolverines’ stated goal under Hoke has been, and always will be, to win the Big Ten championship, and a drubbing from Alabama doesn’t alter that one bit.

Maybe the Cowboys Classic wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen, but it was just the beginning.

— Nesbitt can be reached at stnesbit@umich.edu or on Twitter: @stephenjnesbitt