For all the bulletin-board material the Michigan football team has manufactured this season, its loudest statement to date was just made with stone-cold silence.
Following Saturday’s game in East Lansing, the Michigan football team huddled near midfield for what appeared to be a team prayer. But, it was actually a direct response to comments Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio made to the media more than two months ago.
In early September, Dantonio asked the press if he should have a moment of silence for Michigan the day Appalachian State beat the Wolverines. Apparently, word got back to Ann Arbor about the comments. Not surprisingly, it fired up the team.
That led to the team’s post-game kneeling in the middle of Spartan Stadium Saturday night – the Wolverines returned the favor with a moment of silence for Michigan State. After that, they simply got up, bowed to the Spartan Stadium faithful and headed back to the locker room to celebrate their 28-24 win.
“It was personal,” defensive tackle Terrance Taylor said after the game. “This one was personal because of some of the things they said, dating all the way back to the beginning of the year, after we lost to Appalachian State. It was personal.
” ‘Let’s have a moment of silence for Michigan’ – it felt like we won two games today.”
Call it confidence, call it acting obnoxiousness, call it swagger.
But whatever term you choose to describe what has changed the Michigan football team, this “thing” is something the Wolverines certainly didn’t have two months ago. And more important, it’s something this group needs if it wants to finally end a season strongly – something the Wolverines haven’t done since the current senior class arrived in Ann Arbor.
Usually Michigan athletes are expected to act like Michigan Men: the say-the-right-thing, do-the-right-thing athletes Bo Schembechler expected everyone to become while he was still coaching here. That’s fine, but a little swagger can’t hurt.
Need proof? How does an 8-0 record since that swagger reemerged strike your fancy?
It started following Michigan’s embarrassing 32-point home loss to Oregon.
Mike Hart, the outspoken senior who usually has all the answers, stood at the podium not knowing what went wrong.
But it didn’t take him long to try and fire up his team.
“We’re going to win next week,” Hart said, referring to the game against Notre Dame the next week. “There’s not a question in my mind. I guarantee we win next week. I’m going to get this team ready.”
Fast forward two months, and Hart’s still setting the confident tone for this team.
Hey Mike: How’d you feel when you were down 10 with seven minutes to go?
“I was just laughing,” Hart said. “I thought it was funny. They got excited. Sometimes you get your little brother excited when you’re playing basketball and you let him get the lead. Then you just come and take it back.”
Hart got a chance to backtrack when he was asked a follow-up question: Do you think of Michigan State as your little brother?
“Yup,” he matter-of-factly responded.
I don’t want to see this team turn into the next version of the Miami Hurricanes, having more off-field problems than on-field successes. I’m confident that won’t be the case – the coaching and tradition that’s a part of this program won’t let that happen.
But this team took so much criticism after an 0-2 start, so it’s allowed to have a chip on its shoulder.
Even the purists can agree that a confident team is a better team. And even if the team is walking a fine line between confidence and cockiness, it’s winning.
I’ll take a controversial winner over a lovable loser any day.
– Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.