So here it is – my last column for The Daily. The years at this place have flown by pretty fast.
With graduation approaching, I’ve found myself reminiscing about my senior year of high school in 1997-98, when I was anticipating what four years in Ann Arbor would be like.
I applied to three other schools, but Michigan was always my top choice for one reason: Sports. I’d been a rabid fan of Michigan sports for years, and as I dreamt about four years at this school, I couldn’t contain my excitement.
You see, 1997-98 was an especially good year for Michigan’s revenue teams. How good, you ask? How do national titles in football and hockey and a Big Ten Tournament title in basketball sound? From my home in the Upper Peninsula (insert your tired, rehashed U.P. joke here), I watched all of this athletic success unfold, and all I could think to myself was, “Man, Michigan sports are going to be sweet while I’m there. This is going to be great.”
As my fellow seniors will readily attest, the last four years haven’t exactly been all wine and roses for the Wolverines. For the rest of you, I decided to dedicate this column to a little game of “1997-98” and “Now” for each of the Big Three – football, men’s basketball and hockey.
Football Then: Charles Woodson winning the Heisman, Brian Griese playing like Joe Montana and Lloyd Carr looking like a genius. I watched every one of Michigan’s games that year, and I just kept waiting for the Wolverines to stumble. Coming off four consecutive four-loss seasons, not even the most die-hard Michigan fan could’ve foreseen a national title.
But, the improbable kept happening. This was largely thanks to Woodson – a man I will worship until the day I die – who capped off an unforgettable regular season by single-handedly beating Ohio State to clinch the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth.
I went to the Rose Bowl and watched Michigan beat Washington State to win the national title. Simply indescribable. To this day, whenever I hear what Carr told the Wolverines after the game – “Congratulations, gentlemen. You just won the national championship” – I get goosebumps.
Football now: Three Citrus Bowls. Three Citrus Bowls!! A horrible defense one year, a horrible offense the next year. Two of the worst cornerbacks in the history of football, James Whitley and Jeremy LeSueur (interesting question: Who do you think was worse?). John Navarre. And, last but not least, hearing “Rocky Top” so many times this past New Year’s Day that the song is still stuck in my head.
Men’s hoops then: Basically, they were the Ed Martin All-Stars. But, man, was that team ever sweet. Tractor Traylor. Jerod Ward. Maceo Baston. Louis Bullock. Hell, even Travis Conlan wasn’t entirely awful. In Brian Ellerbe’s first season as coach, the Wolverines won the Big Ten Tournament and earned a No. 3 seed in the Big Dance. Granted, watching Bullock shoot 4-for-50 in a second-round loss to UCLA wasn’t much fun. But Michigan still won 25 games that year, including a win over Michigan State (yes, that’s right, once upon a time, we beat Michigan State).
Men’s hoops now: One postseason game in four years (no, the BTT doesn’t count). Three losing seasons in four years. I think I’ve witnessed the worst four-year stretch in the history of Michigan basketball.
I remember going to the Michigan State game at Crisler my freshman year. There were about 9,000 of Sparty’s biggest fans in attendance, and the “Flintstones” quickly turned the game into a rout. With about 10 seconds left, Jason Klein came down on a fast break and tossed an alley-oop to Morris Peterson, whose tomahawk dunk brought down the house (which was devoid of Michigan fans by that point). As my friends from Michigan State celebrated, I buried my head in my hands. That pretty much sums up my four years of watching this pitiful excuse for a basketball team.
Ice hockey then: Michigan wasn’t an underdog in the NCAA Tournament – the Wolverines were usually a favorite. Michigan posted eight consecutive seasons of 30 or more wins from 1990-1997. In that time, the Wolverines advanced to six Frozen Fours and won two national titles. The 1996-97 team was particularly dominant – led by Hobey Baker Award winner Brendan Morrison, Michigan compiled a 35-4-4 record and scored at least seven goals in a game 15 times.
Ice hockey now: Zero 30-win seasons – in fact, during my freshman year, Michigan had its worst team in a decade. The Wolverines won just 25 games and broke a run of four straight Frozen Fours by falling in the quarterfinals. After losing in the quarters again the next year, Michigan returned to the Frozen Four last season and made it two in a row this year. Not too shabby, especially in comparison to the basketball team, but not nearly up to the standards that previous Michigan teams had set.
So there you have it. Four years at this school, and not a whole lot to smile about. With my luck, things will be better next year. If (more like when) that happens, well … I’m sure I’ll be at a bar somewhere, cheering.
This is Arun Gopal’s final column for the Michigan Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.