As I polish the Governor of Michigan’s Paul Bunyan trophy, I realize two things: 1) This is an ugly trophy, and 2) Saturday’s win was just as ugly on many levels.
As I predicted last week, the Spartans brought everything they had. Fortunately, for us they didn’t have much on the O-side of the ball. We shut down LeVeon Bell who is the only game in town on the MSU offense.
Our offense was mercurial as well. The Wolverines did not score any touchdowns. We got in the red zone—we just did not convert. That happens, but usually not to us. I would be lying if I said it didn’t matter. Of course it matters. We wanted to blow Sparty out—unleash four years of frustration on them and not just rain, but hail on their parade. It just didn’t happen that way.
“At the end of the day we did enough to win,” Jordan Kovacs said.
While that is succinctly true, it doesn’t say it all. There was much more riding on this game than just winning. Just winning or losing a football game would be the point with an opponent like Notre Dame; it’s always a pleasure to beat them but beating Notre Dame isn’t germane to the culture of Michigan football.
While on the other hand allowing MSU to make history with a 5-year winning streak that coincidentally ends our winning streak in the Big House, while staving off our 900th win is a very big deal. Why? A football program becomes what it does. The mark of a champion is performing like a champion. This was not a game for this homely trophy, or even state bragging rights per se. This was fighting for the right to legitimately say that we are “the leaders and best.” This was about not allowing our little brother to take something that we did want to let them have.
Our team is a work in progress. Each week we witness more progress. However, our offense is still iffy. While our defense seems to be a lot better—reading between the lines—there is much room for improvement, especially with our pass coverage, etc. etc. etc. While we all are glad that the Rich Rodriguez era is gone, and welcome the renaissance of Michigan football—the fact is, we are in transition.
Hoke doesn’t have his horses in the stall, and the players on board now are players recruited for a different game style than Hoke’s.
That is another reason why this victory was especially important. Hoke is a setting a precedent that even at it’s lowest point—and that is this year—Michigan is a force to reckoned with it. MSU’s program is in place. Dantonio has been there for a number of years. If he was going to ever establish any dominance over us—Saturday’s game was the time and place.
There are many great things about Brady Hoke. “This is Michigan for God sakes,” “Michigan football is not back, it never left.” He gets it. He understands that we don’t strive to make the bar in college football because we are the bar.
Of course we were the first college football program to achieve 900 wins—what part of “leaders and best” don’t you understand? Rich Rodriguez was an excuse-meister. One of his favorite excuses for his failures was “the team is young, they need time to grow up and get tougher.”
Conversely, Brady Hoke said, “if you’ll bite as a dog, you’ll bite as a puppy.” There you have the difference. One man looked at a challenge as what is was, the other as what is was not. Rich Rod looked at a young team as a valid reason to lose; Brady looked at a young team as an invalid reason to not win: mindset.
That is why winning this game was vital: mindset. It reminds us of who we are. That is, you don’t kick a good dog when he’s down because it’s cruel. You don’t kick a wolverine when he’s down because he will rip your leg off. So yes, it’s an ugly trophy, and it was an ugly victory, but the underlying statement was a thing of beauty: “The Leaders and Best”