Larry Navarre couldn’t hold back any
longer. Following his son’s emotional performance in the
biggest game of his life, Larry was asked about John’s
development as a player at Michigan.

Janna Hutz
John Navarre answered his critics Saturday by leading his team to its first win over the Buckeyes in three years. (TONY DING/Daily)
Janna Hutz

“In a short sentence,” said Larry, “I told
Coach (Lloyd) Carr two days ago on the phone, ‘I sent you a
boy and he came back a man.’ ”

At this point, tears of pride and joy began to roll down his
face as he spoke about his son’s heavily scrutinized career
as quarterback.

John had just told the media that the idea of this one game
defining his career “was B.S.”

Larry shared his son’s belief.

“I agree with him. It is B.S.,” Larry said. “I
don’t think one game defines any player or his legacy. I
understand that this is Michigan — this is Big Ten football.
I understand the pressures, and, fair or unfair, it doesn’t
make a difference. But I know who my son is.”

In some ways, Mr. Navarre’s emotional outpouring
represented exactly what every supporter of John Navarre was
feeling. But how many people actually know who he truly is?

Nobody ever wanted Navarre to fail, but his inability to get the
job done in critical situations made most people want to pull their
hair out. It was difficult to look past the overthrows, sacks and
fumbles when the Wolverines really needed him. But most
importantly, it was difficult to deal with losing to the Buckeyes
for two straight seasons when the Wolverines were clearly the more
talented team.

To finally see him overcome that obstacle, which began with
Michigan’s comeback win at Minnesota, was an emotional
release for people. The one player everyone always wanted to
succeed, finally got it done. So is he a hero?

Navarre has faced more abuse and criticism over his career at
Michigan than most athletes face in their entire lifetime —
but he has fought through it.

He has taken the boos in stride — never stopping to worry
about his image, the mistakes or the critics saying he has no
business playing quarterback for Michigan.

“The reality was that I was going to be defined by this
game,” Navarre said. “So, I worked harder and prepared
harder and so did this team, and we all rallied around each other
and showed what we’re capable of.”

The 2003 calendar year has been truly a roller-coaster ride for
Navarre. After a convincing performance against Florida on Jan. 1,
big things were expected from him — especially given his
supporting cast and the talented Michigan defense.

But six games and two losses into the season, Navarre was back
in the hotseat as people began questioning his ability to step up
and lead the team to the championship everyone knew it was talented
enough to win. So is he an underachiever?

But this time, Navarre responded, and Michigan hasn’t lost
since.

So who is John Navarre, and how should he be defined in Michigan
lore?

If you define him by his numbers, than he is one of the greatest
quarterbacks in Michigan history. If you define him by his
performances against Michigan’s rivals, he’s beaten
Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State this season — all
of which he lost to over the past two years.

But if you’re like me, you will look beyond any on-field
performances to find the true answer to this question. Like his
father Larry said, John is a man, and he’s become a man, not
because of the beating he’s withstood on the field, but
because of the mental stress he’s dealt with at such a young
age.

“He is an unbelievable human being,” Carr said.
“The way he has handled all the things that were said and
written about him; I can’t tell you how much I admire him. I
have had some great quarterbacks here — I mean great ones.
John Navarre is one of them.”

Did Navarre deserve the criticism he received at Michigan?
Probably some it — definitely not all of it. Either way,
he’s earned my respect and the respect of many Michigan fans,
and not just because he beat Ohio State.

Larry, it’s taken me a while, but I think I finally
figured out who your son is. He’s not John Navarre, the
quarterback, or John Navarre, the 2003 hero, or even John Navarre,
the underachiever. He’s just John Navarre, the 23-year-old
man — strong-willed, determined and tough-minded — and
that’s all he’ll ever need to be.

— Naweed Sikora can be reached at
“mailto:nsikora@umich.edu”>nsikora@umich.edu

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