The Michigan-Ohio State football game — to be played this Saturday (Nov. 29) in Columbus, Ohio — is an annual peak moment for sports fans in the Detroit area, most of Michigan, all of Ohio, much of the Great Lakes and Midwest region, and, sometimes, the entire nation.
This autumn, a Wolverines upset would be extraordinary in what will likely be the final in the rivalry for Coach Brady Hoke, hired four years ago by former athletic director David Brandon, who recently resigned under severe pressure.
Moreover, as the maize-and-blue struggle around a .500 record and hope for a minor bowl bid, they end a regular season that has been one long fiasco, one of the most embarrassing ever for one of America’s most proud and prestigious athletic departments.
While it’s painful for Michigan’s global fan base, there is abundant schadenfreude in parts of this state, among other schools in the Big Ten and on campuses across the nation.
For decades, the Wolverines were swaggering, sore winners with a holier-than-thou attitude. They were dubbed — in the polite translation — “arrogant asses” by former Michigan State coach Darryl Rogers, a nickname that stuck. They were haughty and they were petty; they were Michigan, and you weren’t.
Now, they don’t talk so loud. Now they don’t seem so proud. Now their karma is biting them in their butts in a big way. Some of Michigan’s faux pas have been comical. Others have been simply pathetic. And a few, like the most recent, have been downright frightening.
It came last week when Hoke kicked defensive end Frank Clark off the team after police near Sandusky, Ohio, charged him with misdemeanor domestic abuse against his girlfriend in a hotel room. Clark allegedly punched her in the face, grabbed her throat, pinned her to a bed, and pushed her up against a wall.
If only Clark had saved such violent behavior for J.T. Barrett, Ohio State’s fabulous freshman quarterback, Hoke, the fans, and the media would tout Clark for the NFL draft.
The goofiest Wolverines incident came at the Michigan-Michigan “Stake” game on Oct. 25 at East Lansing.
After the Spartans’ 35-11 victory, MSU coach Mark Dantonio and quarterback Connor Cook spoke pointedly of Wolverine players — led by Joe Bolden — planting a stake in the turf before the game as a show of bravado. In response, Michigan State scored a gratuitous late touchdown.
When I heard this, I asked Hoke if it was true.
“I think I was aware that something happened,” Hoke told me. “But I’m not fully aware.”
That doublespeak was topped by Brandon, the athletic director, just days before he “got resigned” on Halloween. He was asked by MLive to comment on an enterprising report by the website “MGoBlog,” which
collected nasty emails Brandon sent to his customers during his five-year reign of error.
In one, Brandon told a complaining fan: “I suggest you find a new team to support. We will be fine without you. Have a happy life.”
Brandon’s explanation was “I don’t read blogs, I think it’s nonsense.“ It was the classic non-denial denial. A few days later, new school president Mark Schlissel accepted Brandon’s resignation.
When Brandon was CEO at Domino’s Pizza, the product got so bad that, when he left, the company’s TV commercials apologized for its poor quality. At Michigan football, Brandon produced an overly cheesy, flat, mediocre product.
At Domino’s, one of Boss Brandon’s favorite sayings was “If it ain’t broke, break it.”
Just as he damaged that brand, he’s certainly broken the Michigan football program. And he will still be paid $3 million over the next four years. At least he ain’t broke.