Those who stay will redeem themselves.
Ryan Van Bergen stayed.
While his teammates mobbed Courtney Avery, whose interception for the Michigan football team sealed the 40-34 win over Ohio State on Saturday, Van Bergen slowly walked to the sideline, his hands on his head.
He flipped off his helmet, collapsed on the blue bench and wept.
The crowd’s roar was deafening as Jake Ryan pulled Van Bergen close, whispering in his ear. Then Craig Roh did the same. They told Van Bergen how much his leadership meant, how much of an impact he had on them.
The fifth-year senior had to answer for why the defense was so bad for three years. Now, he could stand proudly and boast about one of the best units in the country.
“Michigan probably needed this win to solidify what we’ve done this season as a program,” Van Bergen said after the game. “This game is more than a win in the win column. It’s bigger than that. It encompasses way more. Our team feels like we finished the season. … We went out the way we wanted to go out.
“We put Team 132 in the books forever. I think this team will always be remembered as the team that set a new standard and re-established what Michigan is supposed to be about. I’m just glad I was a senior, being a part of it.”
Denard Robinson stayed.
When the game ended, he led the sprint to the student section to sing “The Victors.” His 337 total yards and five touchdowns will be a part of history, but Team 132 will remember how he willed Michigan to finally beat the Buckeyes.
Brady Hoke finally found balance for Robinson in a “makeshift” offense, one that fit the quarterback who once thought of transferring before Hoke arrived in January.
Now, the quarterback who had been beaten up — by his critics and by Big Ten defenses — smiled wider than ever.
“I’m just glad I’m playing with these guys because I wouldn’t rather be (anywhere) else,” Robinson said.
“I’m glad I stayed.”
Mike Martin stayed.
The team’s best defensive player on a few of Michigan’s worst defenses finally was a part of a true Michigan defense.
Martin, Van Bergen and fifth-year senior defensive tackle Will Heininger stepped back from the mob that started to rush the field.
“We just kind of stood out there and soaked it in — what this team had done,” Martin said.
David Molk stayed.
He anchored the offensive line Robinson turned to in the fourth quarter when the Wolverines needed to ice the game.
“We’re going to ride you guys,” Robinson told them. “You’re going to win this for us.”
Molk, the center with a mean streak, became the lifeline of Hoke’s offense, protecting Robinson and guiding a powerful run game. The injuries that plagued his career became an afterthought.
When it was done, the usually even-keeled Molk laughed the loudest.
“It’s been a long time,” Molk said. “I’ve been through a lot of stuff. But then again, in the end, you truly realize what this place means.
“I love Michigan, there’s no doubt about it. I don’t care what we had to go through. I love this school. I love this university. I love this team. I love my teammates. I love my coaches. This is great. This is what college football is. (I’ll) never forget it.”
Senior receivers Kevin Koger, Junior Hemingway and Martavious Odoms all stayed, and they all caught touchdown passes against the Buckeyes.
Those who stayed were around long enough to see Hoke’s countdown clocks be reset — on Sunday, one of them read “zero” days since Michigan last beat “Ohio,” the other read “364 days” until the next edition of The Game.
Many seniors watched the finale unfold from the sidelines, their reward for staying being a kiss on the cheek from Hoke and a personalized Michigan football from the pregame senior day festivities.
Still, those who stayed will forever be known as Brady Hoke’s first team — Team 132, as he calls them — immortalized just like Bo Schembechler’s first team in 1969.
When Schembechler told that team, “Those who stay will be champions,” he didn’t inherit the 110th-ranked defense. His quarterback wasn’t an enigma.
We’ve learned that sometimes those who stay will have to endure. They will be ridiculed. They will be embarrassed, playing through the worst three years in the history of Michigan football. They will represent a dark age, one unknown to anyone before their time. They will be considered the children of a prestigious program that just don’t fit in.
If Team 132 has taught us anything, it’s that there won’t always be championships for those who stay, but there will be glory.
Those who stay will knock off Notre Dame under the lights at Michigan Stadium. They’ll demolish Nebraska, welcoming Big Red to the Big Ten the way Michigan teams of old would. And, above all, those who stay will beat Ohio State, completing their journey from forgettable to legendary.
Those who stay will bring back Michigan football.
They immediately bought into a magical coach and didn’t look back. Hoke taught them how to play “Michigan football,” when they admittedly didn’t know the meaning of the phrase.
He made sure the Ohio State game would be the most important of their lives. Molk said The Game was emphasized “a thousand times” more than during the three-year Rich Rodriguez era, and they’ll remember this win — the one that ended Ohio State’s seven-year win streak — forever.
Those who stay will love Brady Hoke and all he stands for. They’ll play for him because he loved them first.
“He is us; we are him,” Molk said. “I love him. I love how he coaches. I love his leadership ability and how he does it. I’d do anything for him.
“If I ever (come) back, 20 years from now, the first guy I would find, I would call coach Hoke. That’s who he is.”
When the fans rushed the field, the seniors who stayed thought, “finally,” as Van Bergen did, and the win over Ohio State brought them to tears. They drenched Hoke in water, then hugged him.
One student in the stands stayed. She held a sign that read: “Brady, thanks for making our senior year.”
Eventually, Team 132 left the Michigan family on the field and gathered in the locker room. An emotional Hoke told them how he’s “proud of them and what they’ve done for Michigan.”
“Just to see them happy, that’s the neat part,” Hoke said. “I mean, the investment and commitment they’ve made as a team. It’s special. It’s special. It’s one of those good days.”
Those who stayed huddled together one last time in the Big House.
Van Bergen shouted, “Team 132 ’til the death.”
For having stayed, they got to sing “The Victors.” And it will never again sound so sweet.
—Rohan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TimRohan