Just by walking down the steps at Michigan Stadium in the waning minutes of the Wolverines’ dramatic win on Saturday, one could hear the unyielding sounds of criticism by fans directed at quarterback John Navarre.

Paul Wong
Joe Smith

And they didn’t quite evoke an image of confidence.

“You suck Navarre!” one fan yelped, leaving his seat.

“We’re in trouble,” an older man stated, almost like he’s been there before.

Navarre has been there before, too. He’s heard the criticism, and says he tries to ignore it. But its hard to avoid hearing the complaints by the fans, the media, his coaches and even his friends about him not having enough pocket presence, his interceptions, his lack of mobility and his habit of focusing on one receiver.

Yet on Saturday, Navarre led Michigan down the field when he needed to, with a certain sense of calm not evident last year, and put the Wolverines in position to win against a top 10 team.

Isn’t that all anyone could ask for?

This is a guy who was never supposed to be a three-year starter for the Wolverines. A guy who was supposed to be holding the clipboard for Golden Boy Drew Henson last year, and instead was thrown into the fire a year early.

“John Navarre had it tough because he had to follow up a senior season that he wasn’t supposed to play – and the defense wasn’t good and his receivers were average,” said Gary Danielson, a television analyst and 13-year NFL veteran.

To a man, Navarre’s teammates agree. Just as Navarre doesn’t win games on his own, he doesn’t lose them by himself either.

Navarre does not have the worldly talent of a Henson, or the immeasurable intangibles of a Joey Harrington. Navarre is the type of quarterback that needs playmakers on his team to win.

Just like Saturday, when he needed Chris Perry to break that 57-yard run to give Michigan an early lead. He needed receiver Tyrece Butler to make several clutch third-down catches and to fall on Braylon Edwards’ fumble late in the game.

The bottom line is that while Navarre has his faults – such as a lack of mobility and raw talent – Michigan can still win with him as quarterback. He just needs help from others.

And he’s Michigan’s starter, for better or worse. If Spencer Brinton was that great of a quarterback, he’d be starting. Freshman Matt Gutierrez is still a year or two away from starting.

So if Michigan is going to win, its going to win with No. 16 calling the shots. And that may not be so bad.

“I always felt John had a lot of potential and I really thought he was further along his sophomore year than Tom Brady or Brian Griese or other players I’ve seen in that situation,” said Danielson. “He has a lot of potential to be a great quarterback.”

People forget that Navarre has started 16 more games than Tom Brady did at this time in his career. Danielson said he also remembers the Michigan coaching staff wanting to run Griese out of town his junior year. The next year, Griese led Michigan to a national title.

It’s understandably hard for Michigan fans to instantly think of Navarre as one of Michigan’s great quarterbacks, even though he’ll probably rank among the top five in yards and completions. People just remember last year’s promising start and downward spiral to end the season – Navarre threw nine interceptions in the final five games. They remember him falling short against Michigan State, his four interceptions against Ohio State and his fumbles against Tennessee.

Several Wolverines have stated that people don’t remember the inefficient running game, the inability for receivers to get open, the struggling pass defense.

“I think the whole team underachieved, not just Navarre,” Danielson said.

Navarre said that a quarterback is not everything to a team winning – just one piece of the puzzle. But, fair or not, people often measure the success of a quarterback by wins and championships. Not many can rifle off how many 300-yard passing games Brady threw for, or Griese’s completion percentage. But they remember Brady leading the Wolverines to a dramatic Orange Bowl victory in 2000 and Griese riding off in the Pasadena sunset with a national title in hand.

Navarre’s legacy will be determined the same way. If he can lead Michigan to a Big Ten Championship or Rose Bowl victory in the next two years, critics may forget some of his faults and past transgressions.

He just can’t do it all by himself.

Joe Smith can be reached at josephms@umich.edu.

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