Will you protect this House?

Three in a row to Michigan State — that might fill your head with expletives. It might make you think Rich Rod should be fired and run out of Ann Arbor by an angry mob with pitchforks and torches. You might want to charge the field and replace our secondary defense because you feel that you would provide better pass coverage than they do. And you can think what you like.

But don’t you dare turn your back on this House.

There are a few groups that always stay until the very end of the game, including the football team and the marching band. You probably don’t come to see the marching band, but I can tell you that as a member, we felt the same pain and agony as you did while watching the game on Saturday. I lost my voice for a week after we played University of Massachusetts. I shudder to think when it will come back after our team’s performance on Saturday. I was almost in tears as I screamed, “Where was the coverage? Where was it?”

But the marching band — by implied mission statement — stays until the very last second. And I didn’t like what I heard or what I saw this past weekend. By the end of the game, there were more Spartans in the Big House than Wolverines.

And they cheered. They jumped up and down and sang their fight song, and it echoed across the stadium, across the stands and through the east side tunnel, bouncing between the press boxes and lingering in our ears. And what happened when we — the Michigan Marching Band — played “The Victors”? Maybe a few people half-heartedly put their fists in the air and put their hands together to sing the best college fight song ever written. This isn’t a new problem. It happened last year with Ohio State too. Michigan fans were forced to sit and listen to “O-H-I-O” echo through the Big House. Our Big House.

But we don’t need a win in football to be the Victors. We are the Victors when we win, and we are the Victors when we lose. Being the Victors means more now than it did when Louis Elbel wrote those words in 1898 and set them to that song. The Victors are proud. The Victors are unshaken by defeat. The Victors stay until the last second of every game and cheer their team on as it leaves the field.

The team, the team, the team.

We need a corollary to Bo Schembechler’s speech. Famously, he said to the football team, “No man is more important than the team. No coach is more important than the team.” But I wish he had added, “No fan is more important than the team.”

What that means is that we are a team together. The band, the fans, the players, the coach — every last one of us is a member of a larger team. We are the Victors. The Leaders and the Best. We are the Michigan Faithful. The Wolverines. We are the Maize and Blue.

Whether or not you think Rich Rod is the best or worst coach to have ever existed, or if you lie somewhere in between, you are still the Michigan Faithful. Whether you worship Denard Robinson or think he’s overhyped, you are the Michigan Faithful. The fact is that it doesn’t matter, because the team is more important than any coach or player.

Those who stay will be champions.

Every embarrassing defeat witnesses Michigan fans turning their backs on the field and walking out of the stadium. I’m sure even more fans shut off their TVs at home and go outside to get some fresh air and relax after the tension of our failures. And because of this, our team, our program and our winning tradition falter. That Big House — our coliseum and our home — falls to the green and white, the scarlet and gray. And I believe it begs the question, originally posed to the football team and marching band by Drum Major David Hines, Jr., “Will you protect this House?”

We may be down. But we are not out. We are never out. We are all in. If you’re turning your TV off or selling your tickets because we’re losing, you can stay away when we’re winning too. If you take off the maize and blue now, don’t bother putting it back on again. Riding in on the coattails of our victory does not make you champions. If you do not stay, even in the face of ugly defeat, you are not a champion.

But I will stay. And I will protect this House.

Eric Szkarlat can be reached at eszkarla@umich.edu

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