CHAMPAIGN — The jokes started about two minutes after Illinois broke free for a 70-yard touchdown to take the lead for good.
It came in the form of a G-Chat message from a friend, a Tweet from UMHoops, a sly crack from a guy in the press box. It’s become the sarcasm-fueled response of a fanbase fed up with a previously foreign concept — losing. At least, until Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez took over.
It’s the cry heard ‘round the Wolverine world this week.
“Well, at least it’s almost basketball season.”
It was funny at the time, especially as Michigan continued to unravel against one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. But with time to digest it and see the anti-Rich Rodriguez vitriol scorch across Internet message boards, I’m realizing this might actually be real.
I remember being in high school and hearing Michigan State fans use the same logic. It always seemed like a pretty fair-weathered mindset to have, especially when the football team had three or four games left to play.
But I came to expect it. Michigan State would lose to Michigan and then drop four straight games and wait anxiously for football season to be over. It was fine.
Now, though, it’s Michigan fans clamoring for the hardwood. It’s unimaginable.
First off, there’s no questioning that this is 100 percent a football school, and even if the team has a few lean years now and again, it will probably stay that way. I mean, the Wolverines still have the most wins of any Division-I team, best winning percentage of all time, the winged helmets, the “Go Blue” banner and The Victors.
But people like winning — especially those who follow Michigan sports — and after a while, Rodriguez’s 8-13 record just isn’t going to cut it. And who’s hot right now?
With the season starting on Friday with an exhibition game, Michigan fans have every right to be excited about this team. An NCAA Tournament appearance, two of the Big Ten’s most explosive players, an engaging coach and a very intriguing schedule are all reasons to get pumped.
But let’s be honest. In all reality, the “basketball season is here!” talk is less about the basketball team and more about football. Fans are getting frustrated, which would quickly and quietly go away if the Wolverines start winning — or just beat Ohio State. Hell, even a trip to the Little Caesar’s Pizza Pizza Bowl would suffice.
After investing a lot of time and heartache into 2008’s disaster, Michigan fans were more ready than ever for the 2009 season to start. And when the Wolverines scorched through four straight wins, you could almost hear Wolverine nation let out a collective sigh of relief — Michigan football seemed to be back.
I think fans are just begging for any little sign of improvement.
Obviously, people got their hopes up a little too much. Football will continue to dwarf basketball in every facet on this campus. But if John Beilein and the boys continue to grow and Rodriguez continues to flounder, things might start changing.
Stranger things have happened.
— Reid’s excited about the Crazy Bread at the Pizza Pizza Bowl. He can be reached at email@example.com.