What To Do When The Dream Ends
Burgess had him. He'd made this tackle dozens of times over the course of the year, and hundreds if not thousands of times since he started playing football. Then something strange happened. Chris Wells spun. All of a sudden Prescott lay outstretched on the turf watching his would be tacklee sprint through the Michigan secondary for a 53 yard touchdown run. It wasn't supposed to happen. Wells was supposed to go down. But there he was. 50 some yards away celebrating the first run over 25 yards Michigan had given up all year.
That was when I knew the dream had ended.
Sometime a dream becomes too much like reality for our bodies to process. Your senses are simply overwhelmed by the impulses cascading from your brain, and in a moment of protest your body lashes out at your unconscious forcing it back into the receding depths of your cerebellum. All of a sudden you feel that sudden jolt. Your eyes and mouth shoot open as you gasp at the air as though it was your life’s first breath. Bewildered you look around your room. Weren't you just somewhere else? Weren't you doing something important, something special? Wasn’t Michigan still undefeated? Then the sleep falls from your mind and the dream fades from your hazy perception. Wearily, you rub your eyes, flip the pillow, and try to recapture the magic you just lost, if only for a few more hours or a few minutes before the alarm goes off.
Try as you might, the dream is never as sweet or as perfect after you awaken from that momentary impulse. No matter how hard you try, the dream is gone.
Saturday was the sudden spasm that shook us from a dream we never wanted to end. A dream of dominance and perfection washed away by the harsh reality of a superior team. Our defense, a dominant world-beating force all season long, was finally solved by Troy Smith and the Ohio State coaching staff. The one-on-one tackles we'd come to expect as givens were missed. The sacks we almost felt were a right, were replaced by minimal pressure and a costly personal foul. Our run defense disintegrated before our eyes as Wells and Pittman scampered for 50 yard touchdown runs. The sweet dream turned sour, and our bodies convulsed at the contradiction of what we knew to be true.
Were that to be the only part of this story, Saturday would have been more of a nightmare than the end of a pleasant dream. Despite the disappointment of the outcome, there were the performances of Mike Hart, Chad Henne, Alan Branch, Adrian Arrington, and Mario Manningham on which to hang our hopes of a Rose Bowl win and the promise of a new season.
Chad Henne showed us why we were right to expect so much from him. After Michigan's final touchdown, was there any doubt in anyone's mind that Michigan would have scored again had it gotten the ball back? I didn't think so. Henne guided Michigan to 39 points, finding open receivers in the face of the best defense he'd seen all year. He wasn't Troy Smith. No one expected him to be. But he was the next best thing. Playing through a daunting pass rush and with a middle offensive line that served more as ushers than blockers, Henne completed 21 of 35 passes for 267 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. He was hit repeatedly as he released and was sacked four times. Still he did not falter. Sure he missed Manningham on a wide open bomb, but Smith misfired once or twice too. Chad was everything you could have wanted from a quarterback on Saturday. When he and the rest of the offense were on the field, the dream seemed more of a reality than at any other time in the game.
Mike Hart continued to be the best college running back Michigan has seen in a generation. Scoring 3 touchdowns and rolling to 141 yards Hart brought his best game to the marquee game. Say what you will about his lack of speed. I'll happily take his quite 6.6 yards a carry over Wheatley, Thomas or Touchdown Tim. However, unlike the three backs I just mentioned, Hart has never beaten Ohio State. Hart has one last chance to change that next year.
It is so hard to understand how it all happened. It happened so quick. One moment they were up. The next they were down three scores. It was not for lack of effort. It was not for lack of skill. Michigan played feverishly against a superior foe and came within Ginn's fingertips of pulling the upset.
Still. The dream is now over. But it doesn't make it less sweet. For most of us waking up means the drudgery of work or school awaiting us after we shake off the cobwebs. For Michigan, the end of the dream means it awakes to a bed of Roses and the faint possibility of a rematch. Instead of an undefeated season Michigan will end the year with a single blemish on its record. Instead of Glendale, Michigan will be in Pasadena on New Year's Day.
The dream is over, but a new one takes its place. A dream where Michigan wins the Rose Bowl and positions itself as next year's National Championship frontrunner. It’s a dream filled with Roses and a warm morning in the California sun. It's a dream that has months of happy possibilities. It has summer two-a-days and recruiting wars. It has a schedule where Michigan’s toughest games are at home. It’s a dream we don’t have to wake from until November 17, 2007.
By that time a new dream will have taken its place. And that dream will be like this one was.
Hopefully it will last a little longer.
*Photo Courtesy Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press