South Bend, Indiana - September 13, 2008 (AP) Beneath rainy skies, Michigan's year of discontent continued today in South Bend. Notre Dame combined Golden Tate's four catches for 127 yards with opportunistic defense and special teams to defeat Michigan 35-17. The loss dropped Michigan to 10-8 since the untimely passing of its icon Bo Schembechler and allowed Notre Dame to maintain the lead it has held in its series with Michigan since the end of the Theodore Roosevelt Administration.
The loss also continued a year of woe for Michigan, commencing with the traumatizing loss of Schembechler, whose dour, humorless, leaden persona was for many the personification of Michigan. Schembechler's passing was followed by off-season revelations by former Michigan icon Jim Harbaugh of academic fraud and low standards at Ann Arbor. Harbaugh -- former winner of the 1986 Bo Schembechler Award for Leadership and Dedication -- was denounced as a turncoat. Harbaugh's role as the John Dean of Michigan football came as a blow to the University, which highly values its long tradition of the appearance of propriety. Harbaugh's evidence of a plantation system for athletes at Michigan, no different in kind from that at Miami or Okalahoma, was particularly grating to Michigan alumni, undermining their highly prized attempts to seem highfalutin vis a vis their friends, neighbors and service-industry co-employees who purchased degrees from Michigan State University.
These disturbing exposes were followed in the fall of 2007 by a stunning loss to Division II Appalachian State and the forced retirement of dynamic coach Lloyd Carr. The choice of a new coach came at a sensitive time for the entire state. With most major industries in disarray and political corruption rampant in its largest city, Michigan was forced to hire Jeff Daniels to do television advertisements attempting to persuade companies to do business there. Nor were matters helped when a multi-million dollar effort to develop a new energizing motto for the state resulted in "Michigan: last one out, turn off the lights."
Unfortunately, while some hailed the replacement of Carr, the choice of West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez led to waves of controversy. Many reasoned that Michigan's newly-revealed inferiority to Appalachia both on and off the field might be remedied by taking a coach from the flagship university of that region, but Rodriguez faced challenges. Michigan fans favored LSU coach Les Miles, a Michigan graduate whose close-set eyes many felt would make him close enough to hiring a coach from West Virginia.
The passing over of Miles made Rodriguez's situation more stark. He became the first coach from outside the Schembechler coaching tree in forty years and was not a member of the "Michigan family", which has long favored marriages with close relations. It was thought that Rodriguez would be sensitive to this issue given his West Virginia roots. Instead, Rodriguez seemed dismissive of Michigan traditions long held dear by the Schembechler faction.
Rodriguez got off to an even bumpier start as West Virginia sued him for breach of contract. On the eve of being forced to have Rodriguez, its President and its Athletic Director deposed -- potentially opening up still further revelations of wrongdoing -- Michigan was forced to knuckle under to a draconian settlement by which the University and Rodiguez paid West Virginia millions of dollars. The ultimate financial hit was expected to be minimal to the University as it was learned it would be funded by Fab Five financier Ed Martin. Neverthless, the litigation beat-down was especially humiliating as it established Michigan as the first institution or person ever to have anything put over on them by West Virginia.
Further controversy developed over the off-season when prize incoming recruit Sam McGuffie was investigated by the NCAA over whether his compensation as a member of the back-up dance troupe for the New Kids on the Block reunion tour compromised his amateur status. Rodriguez quelled fan fears by saying of McGuffie: "He's got it. . . the right stuff." McGuffie has promised to clear with the NCAA ahead of time his potential future work with Kurt Thomas and Mitch Gaylord in "Gymkata II".
Despite the dark clouds of the off-season, Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman saw the season as one of hope and change. In a recent letter sent to Victors Club members she wrote: "This is a special year in Michigan football. It used to be thought that only crotchety, petty, miserable, boring, sour-pussed old WASP bastards could be the head coach at Michigan, but with the hiring of Rich Rodriguez, Michigan has opened its arms wide to show that a crotchety, petty, sour-pussed, miserable, lying Hispanic bastard who will betray and mislead his own alma mater also is very welcome at Michigan."
And Rodriguez fed hopes by pledging that Michigan fans had his word that he was as dedicated to Michigan as to his own wife or alma mater. Rodriguez did note some recruiting deficiencies coming in. He felt that the incredibly high standards of the Michigan Business School limited recruiting by preventing admission of many fine scholar athletes. As Rodriguez noted, "given what graduates of the Michigan Business School have done for the economy of this state, who wouldn't want to go there?"
Following a close loss to Utah and a stirring win against Miami (Oh), fans were downbeat after the loss to Notre Dame. After the game, Michigan players and coaches pointed to their own missteps as the key to the game. Michigan defensive back Steve Brown expressed the sentiment of many on the Michigan sideline when he said "We don't have our heads down because we know who the better team was. They beat us today. It happens, but in our hearts we know we're the better team."
As Brown's statement indicates, yesterday's game continued a remarkable streak dating back to 1886 in which Michigan has never lost to a better team. It is the longest and most treasured streak in collegiate sports. The streak was lengthened to its current incredible size by mentor Schembechler whose innovative football theory eliminated consideration of fumbles, interceptions, kicking field goals, kicking punts, returning punts or returning kicks as elements of the game.
In his seminal treatise "Football My Way - And Shut The Fuck Up And Do As I Say", which is still widely read by Big Ten fans and coaches, Schembechler expounded on his theory, known as the Schembechler Theorum: "The more stupid mistakes your team makes, the better it ultimately shows you are than the other team. So, for example, if my team turns the ball over ten times, misses all of its field goals, fumbles repeatedly, throws interceptions and allows long kick returns, those facts are, in the end, the best evidence of its superiority, my own excellence as a coach, our preeminance as a team and the intellectual accuity of our scholar-athletes."
One important caveat to the Schembechler Theorum is that when Michigan's opponents turn the ball over more than Michigan, the Schembechler Theorum becomes inoperative and is replaced by the Carr Paradigm, which holds that "good, well-coached teams are sound in the kicking game, do not make stupid mistakes and do not turn the ball over and teams that do deserve to lose."
Michigan's turnover total of six is one fewer than the number of illegitimate children of graduate Tom Brady. Nevertheless, with the pre-season now over, Michigan will be able to re-focus on its Big Ten games, which are the only ones that matter to Michigan unless they happen to win the other ones.