BY RYAN KARTJE
Daily Sports Editor
Published April 10, 2011
I’ll be honest. On several occasions, in this column, I’ve lamented — whined even — about the last four years of Michigan sports.
And at times, it has outright sucked to know that these last four years have rendered the football team a mess, the basketball team a mediocre success and the hockey team an incredible tease.
It’s hard not to be upset. For those of us who have been here for four years, the first major sporting event we experienced as students was a loss to Appalachian State — the worst in the history of Michigan football. The last: Saturday’s national championship loss to Minnesota-Duluth — one of the toughest losses in the history of Michigan hockey.
Standing in the front room of the Blue Leprechaun on Saturday, I thought it would be avenged. It seemed this was a cruel joke, one that would deliver its we-were-just-kidding punchline when Shawn Hunwick raised the national championship trophy Saturday night.
Alas, it was not meant to be. So I trudged home, absolutely ill from another tough loss. I was in Fort Wayne during Michigan’s double-overtime regional loss to Miami (Ohio) last year, and I could only imagine this felt worse.
But as I let the pain of this final tragic punctuation to the last four years hit me, I started to let go.
Let go of Appalachian State. Let go of Toledo. Let go of Rich Rodriguez.
Let go of Manny Harris, DeShawn Sims and the sky-high expectations of 2010. Let go of Evan Turner’s buzzer beater (and for that matter, Josh Gasser's buzzer beater). Let go of Darius Morris’s last-second miss.
Let go of Billy Sauer’s meltdown. Let go of Air Force’s 30-shot deficit. Let go of Fort Wayne. Let go of St. Paul.
I’ve always been an optimist, always pretty quick to let things go. But these things weren’t easily purged. That is, until I started to reflect on the things that got us to or came as a result of those low points.
If there were no loss to Appalachian State in 2007, Michigan’s dominant Capital One Bowl victory over Tim Tebow and his Gators — who were massive favorites — would’ve never meant as much to any of us. Lloyd Carr wouldn’t have gone out in the same fashion that he did.
If there were no RichRod era, there would be no Brady Hoke and there definitely would’ve been no Denard Robinson.
If there were no disappointment in Manny and DeShawn’s last season, no one would’ve been that surprised by Michigan’s incredible underdog run this year.
If there were no Evan Turner shot with 2.2 seconds left, maybe this year’s team would’ve never had the same fire. Maybe Manny would’ve stayed — and maybe that wouldn’t have been a good thing.
If there were no Darius Morris miss, then there would be no enormous chip on the point guard’s shoulder — one we’ll all see when the 2011-12 season begins.
If there were no Billy Sauer meltdown against Notre Dame, there would’ve been no Bryan Hogan. And if there were no Bryan Hogan and his headcase performance against Air Force, there probably would’ve been no Shawn Hunwick.
And if there were no Shawn Hunwick, you'd better believe there would be no NCAA regional in Fort Wayne last season. And absolutely no national championship hopes this season.
You see, all the pain and the disappointment and the letdowns have made us, as sports fans, stronger and have yielded some of the happiest sports moments of the last four years.
So don’t lament the last four years; instead, remember the characters and the moments that would’ve never been if Michigan beat Appalachian State or Billy Sauer stood on his head in 2008.
This downtrodden period may define our sports experience here in Ann Arbor, but don’t let that be a bad thing. And definitely don’t pain yourself with “what if’s.”
Because, when you really take a closer look, we’ve had one hell of a ride.
-Kartje thinks Michigan basketball or hockey will bring home a national championship in the next four years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.