EUGENE, Ore. – There are times when I just can’t help taking off my journalist hat. Saturday around 4:30 p.m. PDT was one of those times.

Janna Hutz

An hour after Michigan’s 31-27 loss to Oregon, I found myself walking down the middle of Martin Luther King Boulevard in Eugene during heavy post-game traffic.

When I say “walking down the middle,” I really mean it. Hit me, car. Please, hit me. At the time, it likely would have eased the pain.

On the way from Eugene to Portland after the game, I couldn’t even get satisfaction from seeing an Oregon fan pulled over by a cop on the side of Interstate 5.

Criticize me. “It’s just a football game,” you’re thinking. Sure, it is just a football game. But I’m a senior, and unfortunately, I don’t have a redshirt season to fall back on. This Michigan team, which seemed so promising, is my last chance to be a part of a national championship college football team. It won’t be the same when I’m an alum; you aren’t a part of the magic.

The realization that my school would not win a national title – without a miracle – in my four years began to sink in when this scrawny, freckly Oregon student came up to me on the Autzen Stadium field and yelled, “No national championship, Michigan!”

I was wearing a tie and a press credential, and the schmuck could still see right through me. He could tell by the numb look on my face.

Not again. Not this team. Not this year.

No Bourbon Street on New Year’s Eve. No boiled crawfish, no beignets from Cafe Du Monde and did I mention no Bourbon Street?

Say it ain’t so, boys. Say it ain’t so.

You’re probably wondering why this affects me so much. This is coming from a guy who made his college choice based on a variety of factors, but mostly, college football prowess.

To make it into consideration, a college had to have a top-20 program nationally. I chose Michigan over Texas, Penn State and Texas A&M, believing not only that Michigan had the best chance to win a national championship during my four years, but also that winning one here would be the most magical experience of my life.

It would have been magical because I could share it with all of you – with every random person on this campus that I’ve never met. That national championship would be ours, just as much as the team’s.

Seniors, I know you feel me here. Freshmen, most of you don’t. And how could you be expected to understand? You’ve got three more years to win it all. There’s no urgency. There’s no pain in your stomach that creeps up every five or so minutes.

You haven’t gone through the past two days rolling through a nightmarish memory lane: “How could you fumble with a three-point lead when all you need is a first down (Northwestern freshman year)? How could you pass-interfere on fourth down when you’re nowhere near the play (Michigan State sophomore year)? And then (same memory), how could you let that horrible chuck end up in T. J. Duckett’s fat hands? How could you hold in the endzone for a safety and fumble three times (Notre Dame junior year)?”

But Saturday’s memory will be worse than all of those. I believed, especially after Michigan annihilated Notre Dame 38-0, that this team could win a national championship. I believed these Wolverines were an Oklahoma or a Miami. I never felt that way before.

From day one, all this group talked about was a national title – not a Rose Bowl. With this group, the Rose Bowl was a silver lining.

Luckily, we seniors have seen it all before, so we have our coping strategies ready. Hit the bottle, hit the wall, hit the guy next to you. Hit something.

The next part of the coping process is something I’ve bought into the past three years. Not this year.

I know you’re all thinking it. “We can still win the national championship. We just have to run the table, win the Big Ten and hope for a few losses at the top.”

Braylon Edwards started the mantra just minutes after the game. He said he’s heard of teams that lost one game and made the national championship game.

Sure, it’s possible. But I’ve also heard of teams that find a way to win one nonconference road game in four years.

I’m coming up with a much safer coping strategy for the rest of this season: believe it when I see it.

J. Brady McCollough can be reached at bradymcc@umich.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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