Same As It Ever Was
Michigan is a good football program. Ohio State is elite.
Jim Harbaugh is a good football coach. Ohio State has championship football coaches.
Michigan has pretty good players. The Buckeyes have first round draft picks.
Here's what that means -- the rivalry is dead. Michigan-Ohio State isn't a rivalry anymore than a nail is a rival for a boot. Fox paid for the most expensive infomercial in broadcast television. A grand tradition, for sure. Something that once mattered to a lot of people, myself included. But if it weren't for the brands there would be no argument that whatever this is, a rivalry it is not.
I need only to look at my 12-year old son for confirmation of this. He's grown up in the same bedroom, painted maize-and-blue, all his life. When I surprised him one Christmas a few years ago with tickets to his first game at the Big House that next fall, he broke down in tears he was so happy. When we hired Jim Harbaugh, he dressed up like him for Halloween. He's played about 30 seasons worth of Michigan football on the old NCAA Football game, always creating himself with the No.4 (Harbaugh's number).
And yet during last year's emasculating face plant in Columbus, he couldn't take it anymore and checked out. I've yet to get him fully back. He barely paid attention this season, other than asking me how we did afterwards. His zeal for Michigan football zapped because when you're 12, if you ain't first you're last.
However, with the way this year's team seemed to be playing its best ball here in November, I got him back on Saturday -- albeit with reservations. He wants to believe, which is why he watched the basketball win over Gonzaga on Friday with me all the way. He just wants to be disappointed even less.
Unfortunately, after Shea Patterson fumbled a snap in the red zone with the game still competitive, and Ohio State promptly scored one of its many touchdowns, I lost him again. I turned around and he was gone, never to return.
I don't blame him. I'm pretty much there myself. For the second straight year, I didn't watch the fourth quarter of a Michigan-Ohio State game.
Oh, I'll never go without Michigan football in some capacity. It's part of my DNA now. But as far as the Ohio State game is concerned, I'm officially out, until Michigan shows it can actually win it. It's not ruining anymore of my Thanksgiving weekends.
So when next year's game rolls around, I'm sure there will be a movie to go see or something to do with the family. I can always DVR the game, and then only watch it after it's over if I know ahead of time they managed to actually figure it out. Or, if it turns out as it always does now, and likely will into the foreseeable future, I didn't fall for the banana in the tailpipe. Spared myself the misery.
This perennial beating is a pointless exercise for Wolverines, unless you have a dangerously self-loathing S&M fetish. The Buckeyes win all the recruiting battles. The Buckeyes name the score. The Buckeyes even poach our coaching staff when they could hire anyone they want. They are the superior, and there's no end to the indignities. There is no David in a winged helmet coming down to the Valley of Elah to silence the scarlet and gray Goliath anytime soon, near as I can tell. They've even taken our brash Jimmy and broken him.
Watching this game with any amount of anticipation or hope is about as wise as choosing North Korea for your honeymoon. Juggling down power lines in the rain is safer.
Oh, I know, Michigan seemed to be in the game in the first half. Josh Gattis seemed to have a creative game plan. Shea Patterson seemed to be on once again. But let's keep it real, shall we? At the half Michigan was averaging an astounding nine yards-per-play, held the unblockable Chase Young to a goose egg, and still trailed by 12 points!
Michigan was never gonna win this game. And they may never win it again. It's only fitting the Wolverines have been playing Indiana the week before the past few years, for now they have fresh empathy for what decades of futility feels like.
I thought about writing about turning points like dropped passes, failure to follow your blocking to daylight on a key 4th down, and two cosmically stupid penalties by seniors that permanently swung the momentum. Or how Don Brown is once more Ryan Day's whipping boy.
Then I thought better of it, for it's a time for brutal honesty. If none of those things happened, it just would've been something else. If those guys hadn't made those mistakes, it just would've been someone else.
We know it. And worst of all, the program knows it. Their lack of fight to start out the second half made that plain. It was over when we were settling for field goals in a three score game. A painful metaphor the Buckeyes play a different sport than we do.
For the last 15 years the Wolverines have tried a Hall of Fame Coach in Lloyd Carr. The new hotness in Rich Rodriguez. The die-hard loyalist in Brady Hoke. And now the favored son, with a terrific resume except for the lack of championships.
If we've learned anything these last 15 years, it's that Michigan has found every which way to lose to Ohio State. The lyrics change, but the song remains the same.
Without a doubt, under Harbaugh this is a far better program than it was the decade before it arrived. But after five years here's what we know -- Harbaugh is gonna lose at least three games every season. Often to the best teams on the schedule.
We know that, because it's happened every year he's been here. It happened in 2015 (Utah, Michigan State, and Ohio State). It happened in 2016 (Ohio State and Florida State). It happened in 2017 (Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State). It happened in 2018 (Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Florida). And it happened again this season (Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State).
Harbaugh does everything you want a college football coach to do on and off the field with his program, except win championships and beat championship programs. I have no idea if he just can't do it, or Michigan can't no matter who coaches here. And I'm in no mood to debate it anymore. My heart just isn't in it. I'm tired of arguing about the team I love with those who love it, too.
Besides, coaching changes are a crap-shoot. Harbaugh has tried everything to get us over the hump, including giving up control of his own offense, which no one thought he would do. Sadly, everything has failed, and it's not for a lack of effort.
Therefore, it's time for us to receive the message this program has sent us loud and clear. This is the pretty good and best. The pretty good of the West. I'll leave it to each of you reading this to decide for yourselves whether that's good enough for you or not. I'm all out of outrage, as well as optimism.
The older I get the better I am at accepting that which I cannot change. Thus, I finally will accept that pretty good is what Michigan football is. It is what it is, and I don't see it changing anytime soon. I don't have any power to change it anyway.
Now should the program actually convince me otherwise some day, I'd be happy to rejoice. But my faith is gone. See you at another meaningless bowl game.