FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — It’s not that “The Spot” has to die. It’ll never die. It will live on, forever, lounging in semi-retirement with the other football definitive articles, fighting for shelf space with The Fumble, The Catch and The Drive, a memento of America’s game and America’s folly.
It will be dragged, kicking and screaming, back into the public discourse when the temperature dictates. Baby boomers have the Zapruder film. Their grandchildren have A.J. Alexander’s keister. Back and to the left. Back and to the left.
— Landof10 Ohio State (@Landof10OSU) December 22, 2016
It’s what you do with that bad boy.
Wallow in misery, Michigan, or fight like crazy?
Pine for the Fiesta that wasn’t? Or embrace the Orange that is?
Declare the end of the universe as we know it? A crime against humanity and justice for which there is no possible recourse or recompense? A season’s work, and worth, laid to waste in an instant?
Or do you shrug and just get the hell on with it?
“It was a bummer not making the (College Football) Playoff, but we put ourselves in that position,” said Wolverines quarterback Wilton Speight, who’ll lead Michigan (10-2) out against Florida State (9-3) on Friday in the 2016 Orange Bowl, the first act of the New Year’s Six footballpalooza. “We put the ball in other people’s court to determine if we were going or not, and you never want to do that in anything with life. But we were quickly happy, moving on to the Orange Bowl and playing an unbelievable opponent.”
Great. Prove it.
Because that’s the trick with bowl games, the coaching conundrum, especially if you happen to land somewhere that you’d rather not be. The squad that fell short of a campaign’s aspiration, eight times out of 10, turns into the one flailing for inspiration.
Michigan, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, 2013. What are we doing HERE?
They say, to a man, that their heads are in Miami Gardens. But if their hearts are in Tempe and their souls still buried in Columbus, they’re sunk.
Since 1990, the loser of The Game dropped a heartbreaker in Ann Arbor or Columbus by six points or fewer 10 times. Only two of the teams that landed on the wrong end of the pile went on to win bowl games — Michigan is 1-5, Ohio State 1-3. The ghosts linger.
So for the last month, you’ve had Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh in a maize and blue wrestling singlet on one side of the mat, crouched like a young Tom Cruise, and The Spot on the other, the two circling each other cautiously.
Speight watched the Ohio State tape a couple of times after the fact, then again two weeks ago, in order to find “little things that maybe you didn’t see before going through the film, just fine-tuning.
“But yeah, it’s a little pit in your stomach when you watch it.”
That pit feeling doesn’t really go away, either.
Do you let it eat at you? Or take the indigestion out on the next sucker on the fight card?
“We just kind of take every game the same; we want to win,” fullback Khalid Hill offered. “Coach Harbaugh has said we’re in it for the win. We’re going to work as hard as we can to make sure we get that win. We don’t look at any team different or any game different … (it) might be a bowl game, but we take it as just as a regular game in the regular season.”
It’s not. Seventeen Michigan starters on offense, defense and special teams are suiting up for the last time together. It’s the end of a class, the end of a wave, the end of an era.
And the bar set for a new one.
“I think it’s a very important game because it’s the next game. It’s been our mindset all year,” Speight said. “Every week is a championship week. And this isn’t the playoff, but it’s one of the closest bowls to it. That’s our mindset, and that’s why it’s vital for us to get this win.”
That the Wolverines turned Penn State into oatmeal (true) and were the better team for 51 of 60-plus minutes at The Shoe (also true) doesn’t matter now. Harbaugh knows where the buttons are, and how to push them.
Don’t tell them you deserved to be in Tempe.
Don’t tell them you deserved more CFP love.
“It sets us up for recruiting and stuff like that,” defensive end Chris Wormley observed, “but also (it’s a chance) just to leave a good taste in our mouth after the Ohio State loss, not making it to the Big Ten Championship. After all those hopes and goals we had at the beginning of the season, I think this game is going to say a lot about us. Especially since this is our last game. People say you’re only as good as your last game, so getting a win in this game will mean a lot.”
People say you got jobbed, that the narrative deserved a better finish. So give them one. The zebras got the first word on the fate of Michigan’s December.
The Wolverines still get the last.