The Detroit sports community lost an icon this weekend. Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp passed away at 56 years old. He was many things to many people — a husband, a name to curse when you didn’t like what he wrote, and a friend to so many in this business. It is my deep regret that I never got to know him personally.
What I do know is that Drew also once worked for The Michigan Daily. Traditions run strong at the Daily, and one of those traditions is a pervasive connection with the writers who came before you. So even though I didn’t know Drew personally, I felt that it was important to get to know who he was from those who did.
To them, he was a giving mentor. One of the younger writers when Drew worked at the Daily was Bob Wojnowski, now a sports columnist for the Detroit News. After Saturday’s game, I spoke with him.
He talked about a Daily trip to Champaign where they were snowed in after a basketball game. He said that Drew liked to leave the “mushy” columns for the other columnists. It was his job to hold the teams accountable.
I asked what Sharp would have thought about the “mushy” columns being written about him over the weekend.
“He actually would be the first, probably, to make a joke about it himself,” Wojnowski said. “So I’ll go ahead and say it, I think Drew left us because the Big Ten finally got good and he couldn’t stand it. He said, ‘Screw this, I’m getting out of here. Big Ten’s good? Really?’ ”
Sharp wasn’t at Michigan Stadium on Saturday to see the third-ranked Wolverines beat Illinois, 41-8. We’ll never know for sure what he would have written if he had been.
But we wanted to try to imagine, as a respectful homage to a Detroit sports legend and an alumnus of this student newspaper. So we asked Wojnowski: What would Drew Sharp have written about today’s game?
“He would have pointed out how sloppy they got in the second half,” Wojnowski said. “Guaranteed. Oh, and, he’s not wrong on this, what have they accomplished? They’ve won six home games, who have they beaten? And even next week, what will that prove? Michigan State’s bad, so who have they beaten? I guarantee you that would have been his angle.”
It’s an absolutely fair take to have, and one that’s needed, too. You didn’t always have to agree with Drew, and often, fans didn’t. But no one could argue he didn’t try to make you think.
So, here it is. No one can replicate Drew Sharp, or his irreplaceable style. But in his honor, we gave it a college try:
They got sloppy.
They went ahead, way ahead, and then the Michigan football team thought it could just go to sleep. The fans sure wanted to. They left early in bunches, and maybe that’s a good thing, because they didn’t have to see the Wolverines take it easy after halftime.
Michigan won the second half 10-8, which was plenty enough to win, but if the Wolverines want to contend for championships, they can’t take their victory laps before the final buzzer. Alabama’s still out there, still a real powerhouse from a heavyweight conference, and you don’t see Nick Saban’s bunch letting up to Illinois.
Don’t let the final score obscure it. Michigan’s second half wasn’t up to snuff, not if the Wolverines are going to exorcise their demons in East Lansing next week in a game that should remind them it’s not over until the final buzzer.
This Illinois team was in a 0-0 tie with Rutgers after the first quarter last week. In the end, the Fighting Illini won by just 17. And let’s not forget that Michigan beat those Scarlet Knights 78-0 the week before.
In that game, Jim Harbaugh refused to take his foot off the gas, going for two early and letting his backups run roughshod over the scuffling Scarlet Knights. Even if Rutgers wanted to stop them, it couldn’t. But on Saturday, the Wolverines took care of that themselves.
Harbaugh had new glasses this week, so he has no excuse not to have seen his team coasting a bit toward the end. On Illinois’ one touchdown, which was capped with a two-point conversion, the Wolverines let the Fighting Illini look like a competent offense, lobbing up a 43-yard pass into the end zone right after a turnover. A turnover, I might add, that came because Michigan couldn’t corral a snap on a fake punt.
It wasn’t every Wolverine, of course. Karan Higdon flexed his muscle by powering for a 45-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Wilton Speight came out of the game after three quarters, but until then, he didn’t let himself leave it mentally. He had one of his best games of the year, and that might get lost in the shuffle now because the rest of his team didn’t finish how it could have.
Illinois had 70 yards in the first half. That’s what championship defenses do to inferior opponents. But they do it for whole games.
This problem is not unfixable. Michigan’s still 7-0, and if it plays to its potential, who knows what it could accomplish? There was a time not long ago a game like this would have been welcome news around Ann Arbor. But not this year. Not with what they want to accomplish. Especially not when the Wolverines have hardly played anyone.
Maybe, this will be a wake-up call. A reminder. A haphazard half that fans can look back on as the last time their team checked out early this year.
The Wolverines would be wise to learn that lesson fast. Michigan State is not good this season, but the Spartans are still next on Michigan’s schedule. And that should be the ultimate memory-jogger. The games last 60 minutes.
Drew is gone, far too soon, and he leaves a gaping hole in the press box.
And even though we couldn’t possibly capture his Sharp wit, it will surely be remembered.