IOWA CITY (Oct. 6, 2003) – For the first time in my esteemed Michigan football road game career, I walked the other way. When John Navarre’s 49th pass of the game fell incomplete into the Kinnick Stadium grass, I retreated through an army of corn-fed ladybugs into the stadium parking lot.
Step one in the “How to cope with a Michigan loss on the road” handbook? The opposing students storm the field, and we watch in envy as they act like they’ve just conquered heroes. They conveniently forget that beating Michigan is something that happens all the time these days – especially on the road.
The victorious fans, after they’ve trampled the stadium turf and reflected on what just occurred, say to their buddies, “What a great football game,” or something they wouldn’t dream of saying if they were on the other side.
Step two is by far the most important. Skip this one, and you’re sure to not be ready for next week’s game. Without further ado, the blame game begins.
UCLA 2000? Hayden Epstein! Purdue 2000? Second-half play calling! Northwestern 2000? That damn sieve-like defense! Washington 2001? Special teams! Michigan State 2001? Jeremy LeSueur! Ohio State 2001? John Navarre! Tennessee 2001? John Navarre! Notre Dame 2002? Offensive turnovers! Iowa 2002? Markus Curry! Ohio State 2002? Second-half play calling! Oregon 2003? Special teams!
Iowa 2003? Hmmm …
Luckily, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr got the blame game started just moments after the loss.
“I take full responsibility,” Carr said.
Carr and his staff were definitely in the running for the Iowa 2003 hardware. What in this scarlet-and-gray world was that punt formation? Three big dudes about 10 yards in the backfield and Garrett Rivas – a kicker – a few yards behind them? He runs out of the pocket like he’s running the option and executes a … fake fake punt?
Carr rationalized the decision as a way to make up for the loss of injured Jeremy Van Alstyne and Larry Stevens on the punt team. Carr also felt it was the best chance to keep Iowa return specialist Ramon Ochoa from breaking a big one like he did in the first half.
Questions: Since when does Michigan not have two top-tier athletes to take the place of Van Alstyne and Stevens on the punt team, and since when does Michigan go to a gimmick formation just to get decent punt coverage?
OK, so Carr should be blamed for this one. He even admitted it.
But wait! The players want the blame, too?
“That’s our coach,” Navarre said. “He’s going to say that. I respect him for that, but this is a team loss. It always is.”
“For him to blame himself for the loss is wrong,” Chris Perry said. “We lost the game. We should’ve won. He doesn’t play a snap. I haven’t seen him out there in pads yet.”
This stuff is all too confusing. It’s hard to blame Perry, who rushed for 3.6 yards per carry and a touchdown against a stacked Iowa front. It’s hard to blame Navarre, who threw for 389 yards and two touchdowns.
We’re really getting nowhere here. It’s the coach, it isn’t the coach, it’s the players, it isn’t the players. I’m putting an end to this right now.
The Iowa 2003 blame should fall on my shoulders. I felt the same way after the Oregon game, but I wasn’t man enough to voice it at the time.
I’m 4-7 all-time watching Michigan on the road, and maybe it’s time I should just stay home. I’m a Boston Red Sox and Buffalo Bills fan, and I should never have brought my putrid luck to Ann Arbor.
I’ve written columns that take down the morale of the team and its players. They play their hearts out, and I rip them two days later in this newspaper.
So, when you’re making your way through step two of the Iowa 2003 recovery, take it easy on the Wolverines – and yourself – and put the loss on my shoulders.
Naweed Sikora can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.