IOWA CITY — For the first time in my esteemed Michigan football
road game career, I walked the other way.
When John Navarre’s 49th pass of the game fell incomplete into
the Kinnick Stadium grass, I retreated through an army of corn-fed
ladybugs into the stadium parking lot. There was no point in
sticking around to watch the celebration like I did against Purdue
and Northwestern freshman year, Michigan State sophomore year,
Notre Dame and Ohio State junior year and Oregon this year — I’ve
seen it all before.
Step one in the “How to cope with a Michigan loss on the road”
handbook? Opposing students storm the field, and we watch in envy
as they act like they’ve actually just conquered heroes. They
conveniently forget that beating Michigan is something that happens
all the time these days — especially on the road.
The victorious fans, after they’ve trampled the stadium turf and
reflected on what just occurred, say to their buddies, “What a
great football game,” or something they wouldn’t dream of saying if
they were on the other side.
Step two is by far the most important. Skip this one, and you’re
sure to not be ready for next week’s game.
Without further ado, the blame game begins.
This is the crucial part of recovery because we can rationalize
Michigan’s deviant behavior as the fault of one player, coach or
unit. It’s not Michigan’s fault, it’s this person’s, and he happens
to play or coach for Michigan.
UCLA 2000? Hayden Epstein! Purdue 2000? Second-half play
calling! Northwestern 2000? That damn sieve-like defense!
Washington 2001? Special teams! Michigan State 2001? Jeremy
LeSueur! Ohio State 2001? John Navarre! Tennessee 2001? John
Navarre! Notre Dame 2002? Offensive turnovers! Iowa 2002? Markus
Curry! Ohio State 2002? Second-half play calling! Oregon 2003?
Iowa 2003? Hmmm …
Luckily, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr got the blame game started
just moments after the loss.
“I take full responsibility,” Carr said.
Carr and his staff were definitely in the running for the Iowa
2003 hardware. What in this scarlet-and-gray world was that punt
formation? Three big dudes about 10 yards in the backfield and
Garrett Rivas — a kicker — a few yards behind them? He runs out
of the pocket like he’s running the option and executes a …
fake fake punt?
Carr rationalized the decision as a way to make up for the loss
of injured Jeremy Van Alstyne and Larry Stevens on the punt team.
Carr also felt it was the best chance to keep Iowa return
specialist Ramon Ochoa from breaking a big one like he did in the
Questions: Since when does Michigan not have two top-tier
athletes to take the place of Van Alstyne and Stevens on the punt
team, and since when does Michigan go to a gimmick formation just
to get decent punt coverage?
OK, so Carr should be blamed for this one. He even admitted
But wait! The players want the blame, too? Goodness gracious
alive, we’re going to be up all night debating this one.
“That’s our coach,” Navarre said. “He’s going to say that. I
respect him for that, but this is a team loss. It always is.”
“For him to blame himself for the loss is wrong,” Chris Perry
said. “We lost the game. We should’ve won. He doesn’t play a snap.
I haven’t seen him out there in pads yet.”
This stuff is all too confusing. It’s hard to blame Perry, who
rushed for 3.6 yards per carry and a touchdown against a stacked
Iowa front. It’s hard to blame Navarre, who threw for 389 yards and
two touchdowns. And anyone with two sides of a brain couldn’t blame
the Michigan defense, which fought valiantly against poor field
position to keep the Wolverines in the game.
We’re really getting nowhere here. It’s the coach, it isn’t the
coach, it’s the players, it isn’t the players. I’m putting an end
to this right now.
The Iowa 2003 blame should fall on my shoulders. I felt the same
way after the Oregon game, but I wasn’t man enough to voice it at
Before the Oregon game, I bought a green and yellow Oregon
hooded sweatshirt. Bad karma. On the drive out to Iowa, I wore my
Oregon sweatshirt. At the time, it was a part of the coping
process. I was trying to say, “I’m past the Oregon loss. It’s
I’m 4-7 all-time watching Michigan on the road, and maybe it’s
time I should just stay home. I’m a Boston Red Sox and Buffalo
Bills fan, and I should never have brought my putrid luck to Ann
I’ve written columns that take down the morale of the team and
its players. They play their hearts out, and I rip them two days
later in this newspaper.
So, when you’re making your way through step two of the Iowa
2003 recovery, take it easy on the Wolverines — and yourself —
and put the loss on my shoulders.