Thursday, August 25, 2011

Appalachian State to be Michigan's 2014 Season Opener

The University of Michigan athletic department released a statement today announcing that, in 2014, the Wolverines will face Appalachian State in the football season's opening game. Michigan fans across the blogosphere were understandably upset that they would have to face Appalachian State again.

The Appalachian State Mountaineers have become well known around the Michigan fan base for upsetting the Wolverines in the season opener of 2007. It was the first time Michigan had ever lost to an FCS school. (The Mountaineers were reigning FCS national champions.)

That game, which MGoBlog has nicknamed "The Horror," was the beginning of the end for Lloyd Carr. Michigan alumni and fans everywhere were calling vehemently for him to step down: such a loss at the hands of an FCS school could only spell incompetence, they claimed. For that entire season, Carr never heard the end of it. He eventually announced his retirement after losing to Ohio State (for the fourth consecutive time) at the end of the season. Carr was able to leave on a high note, however, when the Wolverines defeated Florida in the Capital One Bowl. Despite the painful losses, he was eventually named to the College Football Hall of Fame.

The loss to Appalachian State was heartbreaking, confusing, and deflating. It deflated the entire 2007 season, with Michigan going 8-4 in the regular season but finishing strong against Florida. Some Michigan fans attribute that game ("The Horror") as the moment when Michigan football began its downward spiral, while others say that the essence of Michigan football died with Bo Schembechler in 2006.

Michigan fans loathe remembering the Appalachian State loss, but Michigan's rivals cherish it. Ohio State fans gathered to watch the game in Ohio Stadium and cheered like maniacs when they either witnessed or received the news that Michigan was upset by Appalachian State. For a Michigan fan, it was brutal.

And for Appalachian State themselves, it was arguably the biggest and greatest victory in the entire history of their program. Signs and mementos of that game are posted all over Appalachian State's locker room. The Mountaineers treasure the memory of that one victory every day. It was the game that changed their program forever. Suddenly, with just one game, everybody was talking about them.

"Appalachian State gained monumental coverage and reaped huge economic benefits from merchandise sales after the upset," wrote Angelique Chengelis in her book, 100 Things Michigan Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die. "Michigan also received monumental national coverage, but of a negative variety. Michigan rivals overwhelmed the Appalachian State bookstore with orders for Appalachian State t-shirts and apparel, and within hours of the upset, anti-Michigan fans had posted online their cell phone videos from a variety of locations, like Beaver Stadium and Ohio Stadium, capturing the moment when Penn State and Ohio State fans heard that Michigan had lost."

Chengelis, a writer for the Detroit News, does not sugarcoat her account of the Appalachian State game, describing it candidly and honestly. While Ohio State fans may choose to sugarcoat the departure of their beloved Jim Tressel, Michigan fans typically do not sugarcoat the loss to Appalachian State. However, that doesn't mean there isn't a silver lining. The reaction that everyone had to Michigan's loss—especially how much it has helped Appalachian State, even though technically it's just one game—only shows how huge Michigan football is and how great of an impact it really has. Michigan is a nationally-recognized, elite program, one whom many rivals despise because of its long tradition of success. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that Buckeyes sing of the Appalachian State victory over Michigan at their birthday parties.

Mike Hart, Michigan's running back at the time, called the defeat the "worst ever in Michigan football history." It certainly was. Never was there a game whose outcome was so unexpected and so devastating at the same time. (To those of you who don't know, it should be noted that Michigan wasn't blown out in the game. Appalachian State won by a very narrow 34-32. Their victory came in the final seconds of the game when they blocked a field goal that would have won Michigan the game. Still, it never should have happened.)

Now, Michigan will have the chance to play Appalachian State again in 2014, as the first game of the season.

Understandably, there are mixed feelings about this. Brian at MGoBlog comically refuses to even acknowledge that the 2007 upset ever happened, so he calls this game the "first" time that Michigan and Appalachian State will play. Personally, I am torn by the prospect of playing Appalachian State in 2014.

On one hand, I can understand why athletic director Dave Brandon scheduled it. The loss in 2007 was such an embarrassment and such a disappointment that he's looking to rectify it. While possibly defeating Appalachian State can not and will not erase history, nor will it erase the memory of how devastating that 2007 loss was to Michigan fans, it can at least provide some form of payback. There are many, or at least some, who would have no problem with that. Payback is often very satisfying.

On the other hand, do we really want to run the risk of another upset? I mean, I'm all for payback, and Appalachian State definitely deserves it for everything they reaped after beating us, but the main reason why Michigan lost in the first place was not because they sucked, it was because they were overconfident. It could go either way in 2014. I can see Michigan coming in expecting to win and being overconfident, or I can see them doing the opposite: being so fired up that they just flat out destroy Appalachian State. Obviously, the latter is what most Michigan fans want and what most of them are feeling right now.

However, it kind of seems pathetic that beating Appalachian State because they upset us once would be so important. Would fans really relish it that much? I mean, sure, it would feel like Michigan set things right by getting payback, but isn't it kind of sad that thumping a weak program would make us feel that good? Michigan should be more concerned with its rivals, its push into Big Ten domination, and its push into BCS prominence. That doesn't mean it should overlook Appalachian State. Michigan should never overlook any of its opponents. It should understand that wins are earned, not guaranteed.

Playing FCS schools like Appalachian State is just like playing MAC schools: there is so much more to lose than there is to gain. That's why I don't think we should have ever played them. (That's also why I think we should never play Slippery Rock, with whom we have a somewhat affable relationship.) If we win, it's like, "So what? They were a small program, and Michigan is huge. No surprise." If we lose, it's like, "What is wrong with Michigan?!"

I do like Dave Brandon's confidence in the program enough to accept them on their schedule. If he really didn't think Michigan could beat Appalachian State, he wouldn't have scheduled them.

Maybe we should just trust that everything is going to work out for the best. It's been kind of hard to do that for the last couple of years, but then again, believing in Michigan is what being a fan is all about.

1 comment:

  1. "Signs and mementos of that game are posted all over Appalachian State's locker room."

    That's not true anymore. Most players who were in that game were gone, and Coach Moore comes down on players who mention it because it distracts from what the team needs to focus on now (which is currently building the program so that they're serious contenders for a move to FBS)