A golden age of Michigan sports, it wasn’t. The class of 2007 will graduate with zero football national titles, zero Frozen Four berths and zero trips to the Big Dance.
Every year in every major sport, we were given reason to hope. Time and time again, that hope was taken from us, ground into a fine paste in front of our eyes and cruelly spit back in our face as the season came to a deflating conclusion.
But in sports – like life – the final result isn’t really all that matters. The journey counts, too. And it’s hard to imagine any cohort of Wolverines topping our journey.
Our teams didn’t bring home the big-time hardware, but they created moments which none of us will ever forget: Moments that will forever be inscribed in Michigan lore. These moments are so indelibly marked in our memories that 60 years from now, we’ll be able to close our eyes, return to the Big House, Yost or Crisler and relive them all over again. moments of pure joy, stomach-wrenching angst and, yes, abject disappointment. Moments that we wouldn’t trade in for all the trophies in the NCAA’s cabinet.
In no particular order, these were the five sports moments that defined our years as Wolverines:
On the field: There’s something special about your first football season as a Michigan student. Something special about 6,000 or so freshmen from all walks of life coming together and realizing there’s no greater place in the world than Michigan Stadium on a Saturday afternoon.
For us, the first year was especially unique. A veteran team whose season was all but dead until the Steve Breaston-to-John Navarre miracle in the Metrodome, stormed back to win our first (and only) outright Big Ten title. When the Wolverines’ improbable journey was completed, we made our way down to the field to celebrate our first (and only) triumph over the hated Buckeyes on the very field where our dreams had just come true.
A winning state of mind: It’s a key element of any young Wolverine’s indoctrination: learning to be condescending toward our neighbors to the northwest. By the end of Welcome Week, every freshman – even out-of-staters like me – knew that Michigan’s academics were better, Michigan’s sports were better and Michigan’s campus was better. There was just one hole in the equation – for as long as most of us could remember, the Sparties were better at throwing a leather ball through a metal cylinder.
But on one cathartic January evening in Crisler Arena, that formula finally changed. Michigan started off slow, but in the second half, the Wolverines’ momentum kept on building, as Chris Hunter dunked, Graham Brown rebounded and Daniel Horton H-bombed Michigan into the lead. By the end, the “House that Cazzie Built” was shaking, the scoreboard read 72-67 and basketball-starved Michigan students were celebrating a return to glory on the hardwood.
JMFJ: Through the years, Michigan hockey has had plenty of stars. But Jack Johnson was a different: He was a legend.
Even to a hockey layman, it was obvious that Jack stood out from his counterparts on the ice. He was bigger, stronger, faster and – oh, boy – that slapshot was a thing of beauty.
The talent, though, was only part of Jack’s mystique. After his freshman year, with big NHL dollars calling, he said “the only way you’re going to get me out of (Ann Arbor) is by gunpoint.” He once knocked an opposing goalie’s helmet off with a slap shot. His father’s dancing during intermissions just added to Jack’s myth. And, perhaps, Yost fans’ chants of “Kill, Jack, Kill” summed up Johnson’s je ne sais quoi the best.
Findlay’s blast: For most Michigan fans, the summer is a time to sit back, relax and enjoy some time away from the rigors of being a Wolverine supporter. But the Michigan softball team’s incredible run in the 2005 Women’s College World Series re-engaged the far-flung Maize and Blue fan base and brought back that stomach-churning sensation we’re all so familiar with. But this time, the end result was much, much sweeter.
The tournament culminated with a 10-inning duel between Michigan hurler Jennie Ritter and UCLA’s Anjelica Selden. After Ritter worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth, then-freshman Samantha Findlay stepped up to the plate with two outs and runners on first and second. She crushed a three-run homer, putting the Wolverines ahead for good. Thanks to Findlay, Ritter and the rest of the gritty Wolverine squad, the class of ’07 could finally say “We’re No. 1.”
Livin’ on a prayer: Holding a 27-10 lead halfway through the fourth quarter in 2004, it appeared Michigan State had stuck a dagger firmly in Michigan’s chest. Little did the Spartans know that the Wolverines had an invincible Braylon Edwards on their side.
With dusk settling over Ann Arbor and a cool breeze blowing, the true believers were treated to one of the greatest comebacks in college football history. With every Henne-to-Edwards bomb, the mood of the Big House changed: from despondent, to skeptical, to hopeful and finally to ecstatic. With half the stadium – the weak ones – already gone, the Big House reached unheard-of decibel levels, willing the Wolverines to a one-of-a-kind victory. On that magical evening in late October, those who stayed truly were champions.
– Singer is a former senior sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.