Less than a week after one of the most impressive wins of the Lloyd Carr era, the positive momentum from Michigan football team’s Capital One Bowl victory quickly stopped Saturday afternoon.
What thwarted this seemingly unstoppable force? A sticker.
Yes, the mood within Wolverine Nation shifted from optimistic to enraged because of a simple prank.
At the Army All-American Football Bowl, during which four-star safety Brandon Smith committed to Michigan, it was another high school senior’s attire that drew the ire of Wolverine fans.
Terrelle Pryor, the game’s MVP and the nation’s No. 1 recruit according to Rivals.com, had a Buckeye sticker on the back of his helmet.
Before Michigan fans even thought about how it got there, hysteria set in. Message boards were going nuts. “NEXT!” “He’s gone,” and “Hope Mallett stays” were just some of the slew of messages that came flying in after an NBC camera showed a close up of Pryor’s helmet during a play. More anger filtered out a quarter later when the Jeannette, Penn., native got more attention.
On the sideline, the 6-foot-6 quarterback with 4.4 speed flipped his helmet around and pointed to the Buckeye leaf sticker on the back with a smile on his face. Sure he was surrounded by Ohio State commits, including the one who placed the sticker on the helmet, but the act itself didn’t sit well with Michigan fans.
And because of that simple gesture, the future of Michigan football, which according to most was resting on the shoulders of a quarterback who hasn’t even committed to a school yet, was bleak.
Michigan fans overlooked the fact that the Wolverines played great in their season-ending win over Florida and that one of the nation’s top coaches is now running the program.
They overlooked the fact that Pryor showed up to the game in a Michigan sweatshirt.
And they overlooked how the sticker got there – Ohio State pledge Devier Posey placed it there, unbeknownst to Pryor at first.
Pryor’s actions are simply a form of gamesmanship. Remember, he showed up to the game in a Michigan sweatshirt. If you were an 18-year-old kid, wouldn’t you want as much attention around your recruitment as possible?
And even if he decides to head to Columbus instead of Ann Arbor, Pryor’s antics did something else besides setting off panic on message boards – it raised the stakes in college football’s biggest rivalry.
Pryor, a once-in-a-lifetime recruit who has both thrown and run for 4,000 yards in his high-school career, isn’t just choosing one school – he’s shunning another.
Is it entertaining? Sure. But will it make the left-out team’s fanbase angrier than ever? You betcha.
Sweatshirtgate and Stickergate, depending on your allegiances, have certainly been blown out of proportion.
But once the dust settles and one team gets the prized recruit, the other will get something nearly as dangerous: another incentive to hate its rival.
– Bell can be reached at email@example.com.