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Looking at this year’s Michigan football schedule, everybody who plays, coaches, covers, or follows the team knew this season would be a tough run, one of the toughest in the country.
Michigan’s schedule included five ranked teams – almost half the 12 games. Three of them would come right in a row, in the middle of the season: Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State. The players started calling that the gauntlet, until defensive end Chase Winovich renamed it, “The Revenge Tour,” because all three teams had beaten Michigan last year.
I thought if Michigan could win two of those three, that would be a success. But after the Wolverines whipped Wisconsin and beat rival Michigan State, they got greedy, and wanted to sweep all three.
They had plenty of incentive. Last year, Penn State had crushed Michigan 42-13, and tried to score again with two seconds left. The Wolverines remembered that, too.
This year the Wolverines took it to the Nittany Lions from start to finish, winning 42-7. The Wolverines didn’t merely dominatethe Lions, they embarrassedthem – and they had fun doing it.
Michigan’s defense is so talented, so well-coached, and so hungry, you can’t wait to see what they’ll do next. The last time I saw that was 21 years ago, when Michigan won the national title behind a certain player named Charles Woodson, the only defensive player ever to win the Heisman Trophy.
The current defense can’t boast the same star power. No one on this team is going to win the Heisman Trophy. Michigan might not have a trophy winner at any position. But top to bottom, this defense might be better, with great players at every position playing in perfect syncronicity with each other. Even from 70 rows up you can tell these guys are dying to get back on the field and do it again. Perhaps that’s why they’re the nation’s top defense.
The defense has given the offense time to catch up – and it’s working. Last year, the Wolverines averaged only 11 points against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State. This year, they scored three times that.
For the first time in many years, the Wolverines are having a ball out there — at their opponents’ expense — and it’s contagious. When these Wolverines sack the quarterback or score a touchdown, they like to imitate the celebrations their opponents used on them the previous year. Even the public address operators are getting into the act, playing Wisconsin’s trademark “Jump Around” against the Badgers, and Penn State’s “Sweet Caroline” against the Nittany Lions.
The Wisconsin and Penn State games were both blow outs that ended long after dark, but the fans didn’t leave early to beat the traffic, instead sticking around until the very end to cheer their favorite team. They’re savoring their success, just like the players are.
This fall I’ve heard hundreds of fans and former players say the same thing: Michigan football is fun again.
Turns out revenge is a dish best served by the nation’s top defense.
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I’ll be speaking about The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism, at the National Writers Series at the Traverse City Opera House, on Thursday, November 29, at 7 pm.
The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism, a National Bestseller, is now out in paperback as of November 6.
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Radio stuff: On Friday mornings, these commentaries run at 8:50 on Michigan Radio (91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit and Flint, and 104.1 Grand Rapids), and a few minutes later, I join Sam Webb and Ira Weintraub LIVE from 9:05 to 9:25 on WTKA.com, 1050 AM.
I also join Michigan Radio’s great Cynthia Canty on her afternoon Stateside show every Monday for a few minutes, and occasionally on NPR’s Morning Edition, and the afternoon Here & Now show. Check ’em out!
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