Two hundred and sixty five days ago, I went through what I thought was the most gut-wrenching of all possible Michigan sports weekends.
I witnessed the Michigan men’s basketball team limp to the finish line after a 16-3 start, and put itself on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.
What happened that Sunday night is now well-documented – the Wolverines were left out of the NCAA Tournament for the ninth straight year.
I didn’t think that sinking feeling would ever be matched.
Then, this past weekend happened.
Through it all – the ups of UCLA’s win over Southern Cal and the downs of Arkansas’ meltdown and all the media hoopla in between – Saturday’s events that spilled into Sunday gave last March a run for its money.
So which saga was worse? Sounds like something only a tale of the tape can settle:
Football: UCLA linebacker Eric McNeal’s interception in the final minutes of Saturday’s UCLA-Southern Cal matchup. The pick stifled the Trojans’ comeback attempt and secured the 13-9 Bruins win. More than that, it energized Ann Arbor, and reinstituted hope to a school that thought its shot at a Bowl Championship Series Championship Game appearance was over.
Basketball: Michigan knocks off No. 8 Illinois two weeks before the Big Ten Tournament and appears to solidify its spot in the Big Dance.
Edge: Football – being one step closer to the BCS Championship Game > being one step closer to the NCAA Tournament.
Football: Michigan, ranked No. 2 in the BCS, dropped the Game of the Century to the top-ranked Buckeyes, 42-39, on Nov. 18. Michigan still held its No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings the next day, but the margin was miniscule at best. The next week, Southern Cal passed the Wolverines in the BCS. Michigan never reclaimed second place in the poll.
Basketball: Michigan capped off a 2-7 finish to its season with a loss to lowly Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament opener. The next weekend, Michigan was left out of the field of 65 for the NCAA Tournament.
Edge: Football – nothing beats the sinking feeling of having a rival end your season.
Football: The aforementioned McNeal. His interception buried the Trojans and elevated Michigan to the theoretical No. 2 spot, pending the result of the Arkansas-Florida game.
Basketball: Horton. Time and time again, the then-senior did whatever he could to bail Michigan out of tough situations. Most notable was his 39-point performance in Michigan’s win over Illinois.
Edge: Basketball – it’s not fun having others do your dirty work.
Football: Reggie Fish, Arkansas’ punt returner. With his team ahead of Florida by four in the third quarter, Fish tried fielding a punt . over his shoulder . on his own 3-yard line. He subsequently muffed the return, and the Gators recovered the ball – along with the momentum -in the end zone, and never relinquished the lead.
Basketball: Michigan coach Tommy Amaker. Many people could take the blame for the late-season collapse last season, but in the end, the responsibility rests in the hands of the coach, who was consistently outcoached as the season drew to a close.
Edge: Football – no question for anyone who actually saw that inexplicable attempt to catch a ball Saturday night.
Football: Mike Hart following Michigan’s regular-season finale loss to Ohio State: “Do I think there should be a rematch? Probably. I think we’re both the top teams in the country, regardless of what anybody says. On a neutral site, it would be a big game. . I guarantee if we play them again it would be a whole different game. We should have got them the first time around. We didn’t. So if it doesn’t happen, that’s our fault. You know, but if we played them again, it would be a whole different game. Guarantee that.”
Basketball: Daniel Horton following Michigan’s regular-season finale loss to Indiana: “I don’t understand why people keep asking us – we’re in the Tournament. If we don’t make the Tournament, then there’s something wrong. If we don’t make the tournament, then I don’t know who else deserves to.”
Edge: Push – both statements were ballsy, and both players poured out their hearts after frustrating events.
Football:> Lloyd Carr refuses to campaign.
Basketball: Tommy Amaker refuses to campaign.
Edge: Push – both may have been classy, but sometimes class isn’t what’s the most necessary thing when others are campaigning all over the place.
Football: Media “experts,” including ESPN, CBSSportsline.com and FOXsports.com, all placed Michigan in the BCS Championship Game over Florida in their respective Saturday night projections.
Basketball: Joe Lunardi, the man behind the near-flawless Bracketology, put Michigan in his final projected field of 65. Other analysts, such as CBS’s Clark Kellogg and ESPN’s Jay Bilas said “Michigan has nothing to worry about.”
Edge: Football – both times Wolverine fans’ hopes were unnecessarily raised, but once again, much more was on the line for football, making the hurt much stronger.
Football: Florida’s last national title came after a rematch with Florida State, who beat the Gators in the regular season. Florida coach Urban Meyer continued to stress over the past month that Michigan didn’t deserve a rematch and that the fans wanted the Gators to play – a myth most polls on major sports websites completely debunked Saturday night .
Basketball: Teams like Air Force and Seton Hall got the nod over Michigan, even though neither had the marquee wins that Michigan possessed (Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin).
Edge: Football – let’s be honest, the hoops team probably would have been trounced in the first round of the tourney just like Seton Hall and Air Force were.
I don’t think I’m going to complain about last March ever again. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, this past weekend trumps the pain from last March, and by quite a large margin. The emotional roller coaster Michigan fans went through on Saturday will possibly never be matched (though I should be careful what I wish for).
So football team, take solace in this: You won this competition, and it’s something that Urban Meyer could never steal from you – no matter how much he campaigns.
– Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.