OCT. 27, 2003 – You can’t catch. You guys can’t stop the run. You are vulnerable to letting short passes become big gains. You have no concept of special teams. You make horrible play calls and don’t have your team fired up. You … well, you are not very good.

Sports Department
Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards celebrates one of his two touchdown grabs against Purdue Oct. 25. (BRETT MOUNTAIN/Daily)
Sports Department

Somewhere during this 2003 Michigan football season, we forgot exactly how much this team actually can do.

After two heart-breaking losses to Iowa and Oregon and three quarters from hell against Minnesota, there weren’t many sane supporters of the Maize and Blue who wanted to believe that this was still the national championship-caliber team that many media and fans made it out to be in August and pre-Eugene September.

The conquering heroes had taken a valiant fall, and there was much wondering of how San Antonio or Nashville would look during late December.

A weird thing happened on the way down the road of mediocrity, though.

Michigan got its flat tire fixed.

And it all started with the man wearing No. 1.

Braylon Edwards – the car-jack, if you will – hauled in a bomb for a touchdown from John Navarre in that heavenly fourth quarter against Minnesota, changing the entire season in one play. Then the junior went in front of the media three days later to not only address himself as a person – which he was very open in doing – but to announce he would be back for his senior season. An 11-2 record wouldn’t be good enough for him.

In those two moves – in addition to the two touchdowns against Purdue – Edwards sent a message. One, he was the go-to-guy; and two, he is concerned with winning, not just himself – which many had perceived him to be.

In fact, he’ll be the last one to ever talk about himself before his own teammates, but because he doesn’t have the same modest quietness that a Steve Breaston has, he’ll never be viewed that way.

He was asked on Saturday whether he was more responsible for getting Jason Avant open or whether it was Avant getting Edwards open, thanks to double coverage on one of the two. Instead of the self-promoting answer, Edwards said “Chris Perry” as he knows he gets nothing without a consistent running game.

He was asked if he and Avant try to one-up one another during games. Edwards almost looked insulted that he would ever try to knowingly compete with a teammate.

But most of you wouldn’t expect that from him. Most of you just expect him to drop balls that look like easy catches and act like a jerk when he scores a touchdown.

Being a wide receiver is one of the most, if not the most, taxing positions in the game. Mentally you tell yourself not to think of your individual failures (dropped passes), while at the same time you wonder whether you should think about them so that you could fix them. Physically you take the hardest hits, as your job is to catch the ball at any cost. Edwards’ ribs, assuming they’re still together, will have plenty of horror stories of high passes that left them out to dry by the end of the season.

And then, you have to answer the boos from critics who probably couldn’t catch a bullet from John Navarre or Matt Gutierrez if their season ticket or laptop depended on it. You have to answer to coaches wondering why you couldn’t catch a simple eight-yard out route when you’re able to make leaping grabs that leave pro scouts drooling.

If you’re Braylon Edwards, you have to go through all this and ten-fold. Edwards placed the No. 1 bulls-eye on himself last spring, and the number got over-hyped to the point where it developed a personality for Edwards that wasn’t Edwards.

Then the drops happened. What fans didn’t understand was that drops do in fact happen. Even loveable Breaston has drops, but because he’s the most exciting player since Charles Woodson, he’s forgiven. Because Edwards threw the No. 1 on his back, he’s been chastised.

But the next three months are big for Edwards, as he could become the biggest hero Michigan has had since Woodson and Brian Griese.

More key catches, like the ones he had against Purdue, will be the difference-makers in the Michigan State and Ohio State games.

A big game in the bowl game will promote his status for the 2004 Heisman.

And his final decision to turn down the appeal of agents and the NFL in January will make him the greatest conqueror ever. That role was supposed to be Drew Henson’s in 2001, but he went back on his word and left fans wishing for the triple-A prospect to return in any fashion.

Loyalty is a trait that would erase any misperceptions of Edwards that are out there.

Edwards had just six catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Pretty much an average day, but he’s shown the Michigan Nation why he is No. 1.

Kyle O’Neill can be reached at kylero@umich.edu.

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