Michigan ruined my childhood.
All right, that’s probably an overstatement, but I was a kid growing up in Ohio during the John Cooper years. Of course I was an Ohio State fan, and of course, Michigan was the worst.
It seemed like every year, Ohio State went into the Michigan game undefeated, and every year they lost. That’s because that’s kind of what happened.
In 1993, when I was 9, Ohio State was 9-0-1 going into The Game. The Buckeyes lost 28-0.
In 1995, when I was 11, Ohio State was 11-0 going into The Game. The Buckeyes lost, 31-23.
In 1996, the team was going to the freaking Rose Bowl already. They were 10-0. They lost, 13-9. I was 12.
In 1997, when I was 13, Ohio State was 10-1. Michigan was ranked No. 1. Antoine Winfield, in my memory, was a badass that day. Ohio State lost, 20-14.
That’s your formative sports years right there. And every year, Ohio State lost to Michigan. It’s hard to get over that.
It’s probably why I’ve never shied away from tweaking Michigan over the years even as I’ve tried to be an impartial reporter when it comes to the Buckeyes. To be frank, 12-year-old me has enjoyed watching the dumpster fire that has become Michigan football. Is it mature? Of course not. But it’s feelings, man. You’re always your 12-year-old self in some ways.
But watching the past few months, there’s been a different emotion. Sadness. I’ve felt legitimately sad for Michigan fans. Watching something you love, something so important, an institution of your life, crumble into something you don’t recognize, is horrible. It’s not funny. It’s not fair.
So with Dave Brandon set to resign at U-M, today, in fact, is a great day. I feel elated for the few Michigan fans I know. Mostly, I feel good for people like Brian Cook, people like John U. Bacon, people who have eloquently written about what it’s been like to watch Michigan fall apart from the inside.
I don’t doubt that Brandon’s heart was in the right place when he took over as Michigan’s AD. Many thought it was a home run hire. A guy with big business bona fides – checkered as they were – taking over one of the blue blood athletics departments in the country. How could it fail?
Hubris. Brandon was liked and respected by his coaches, as he made money and wasn’t afraid to spend it, but he famously pissed off and pissed away the fan base in just about every way he could. He raised ticket prices. He insulted emailers. He installed a bureaucracy where there had been a soul. It didn’t work, and it shouldn’t have. As corporate as college sports has become, there still has to be a heart there, or people will turn away. They did in droves at Michigan.
Simply put, Michigan hasn’t been Michigan for a while. It’s true on the football field, where the team has been a .500 club for the past seven seasons, but it’s more true off of it. Michigan’s slogan once was “The Michigan difference.” It was pretentious to a fault – to no one’s surprise – but it was in many ways true. Michigan stood for something. It's part of what made the rivalry great.
Watching from 200 miles to the south, it feels like Michigan hasn't stood for something a while, and it’s time to change that. A new AD is on the way. A new coach likely will follow. For the Big Ten, for Ohio State and for itself, Michigan needs to be Michigan again.
Today was the first step. Sorry, 12-year-old me. For once, I’m rooting for Michigan to get it right.