It didn’t take me long to realize how much Michigan football meant to the emotional well-being of this campus. It was just one week into my freshman year, and Michigan was taking its first road trip — to Washington.

Jess Cox
When Notre Dame beat Michigan last September, Ann Arbor seemed to shut down.
Jess Cox

Like every other year since I’ve been here — and maybe every other year in Michigan history — hopes were high to start the year. But then we went to Seattle.

I watched the game next door to my dorm room in the basement of West Quad. Things looked good for most of the game. But even though the Huskies didn’t score an offensive touchdown all day, Washington put up 17 points in the fourth quarter and beat the Wolverines, 23-18. The whole floor was watching the game together because, during freshman year, you don’t really do very much without the rest of the guys in your hall.

We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We were all simply shocked. The group of us might have sat there for a few minutes, but we quickly retreated to our own rooms to sit in silence. I don’t know what the rest of the guys did, but I sent an e-mail about the game to my friends. Talking was pretty much out of the question. It was just too depressing.

Two months later, it was the same thing again. Our hopes weren’t as high when we traveled to State, but we still expected to win. And when we were leading by four points with just a few seconds left, things were looking up.

This time, I wasn’t watching the game at all. Instead, I was in a minivan, driving home from an ultimate frisbee tournament and listening to the game on Michigan radio. We listened as the announcer counted down the seconds, “Four! Three! Two! One! Zero!” He actually said, “Zero!” I remember that specifically. We went nuts in the car before we realized that there was still one second on the clock. When Michigan lost on the final play, we drove into the abandoned city and there was practically no one on South University. The town looked as if it had been killed, and we sure felt as if we had.

And it’s happened many more times. In fact, it happens just about every time we lose a football game — the whole town goes silent. As students, we pour our lives into these football games — even on the road — so when we lose, it eats away at us.

Have you seen that episode of “Sex and the City” where … Nevermind, stupid question. At one point during the show, Samantha — she’s the one who has a lot of sex — dates a Mets fan. He’s a great guy, but he’s never in the mood to have sex on nights when the Mets lose. And that’s a lot of nights. In some sense, Michigan is the same way.

Last year, I watched the Notre Dame game at my house with just a couple of buddies. We sat there in agony as Brady Quinn and Darius Walker somehow managed to beat the Wolverines. After the game was over, we didn’t know what to do. It was a flashback to the Washington game. We didn’t feel like talking, and we certainly didn’t feel like watching more football. And of course, we made sure not to answer any of the phone calls from Irish fans.

We sat on the porch, not saying a word. We just watched people walk in front of our place, and what we saw was both fascinating and depressing. People didn’t even walk together. Most of them walked with their heads down, looking at the feet of the person in front of them — someone who three hours before was probably a close friend.

Parties were hard to come by that night. But that’s just the way it is after football losses at Michigan.


— Ian Herbert can be reached at iherbert@umich.edu

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