Saturday, April 20, 2024
HomeSportsThe tale of Michigan's championship: two narratives intertwined and best appreciated when...

The tale of Michigan’s championship: two narratives intertwined and best appreciated when told together

<

> HOUSTON — There are two stories to tell about this Michigan team, and they’re really the same.<

One is the story of a program that bent the rules, a coach who got suspended, a university that went to war with its conference, and a championship many will view with disdain.<

>
The other is about a team that stuck together, a star running back who gave away turkeys at Thanksgiving and toys at Christmas, a coach who raises chickens and speaks in non-sequiturs and the genuine affection that held them together.<

>
Both are true.<

>
Michigan’s run to the national championship, punctuated by a 34-13 victory against Washington on Monday night at NRG Stadium, was a choose-your-own-adventure season. Call it an inspirational triumph if you want, a counterfeit championship if you must. The Wolverines earned the right to end this season on their own terms, trophy in hand.<

>
“The ultimate goal was to win a national championship,” said running back Donovan Edwards, who ran for two touchdowns in the first quarter. “Everything played out perfectly, how it’s supposed to be. There’s no (better) feeling than to go through what we have and still come out on top. Perfect story. A lot of adversity. Coach Harbaugh’s not there for six games. Perfect story.”<

>
It was a perfect ending, at least. Jim Harbaugh’s nine-year run at Michigan was building toward Monday night, a championship won with a punishing running game and a tenacious defense that rattled Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., the Heisman Trophy runner-up. Michigan wore down the Huskies in the fourth quarter and finished the game with two late touchdown runs from Blake Corum, the 5-foot-8 running back who carried the team on his shoulders.<

>
After Michigan rallied to beat Alabama in overtime at the Rose Bowl, the on-field celebration was a mix of relief, exhilaration and jubilation; after all, the Wolverines had finally won a College Football Playoff game after back-to-back losses in the semifinals. Monday’s celebration was more like the fulfillment of destiny, a team that knew it was the best and proved it beyond a doubt.<

>
“You know how mad these haters are?” defensive tackle Kris Jenkins shouted as confetti swirled and the stadium speakers blared “Mr. Brightside,” Michigan’s unofficial anthem. “They’re sick.”<

>
Inside Michigan’s locker room, the air was thick with cigar smoke as Michigan’s offensive linemen presented a game ball to Sherrone Moore, the offensive coordinator who guided the Wolverines to four victories while Harbaugh was suspended. One of the last players to leave the field was Edwards, who climbed on the shoulders of left guard Trevor Keegan and shouted, “To the promised land!”<

>
Michigan is an awkward champion for those who prefer their heroes unblemished and their villains irredeemable. There’s a lot to like about this Michigan team and its stars, from Corum to defensive back Mike Sainristil to quarterback J.J. McCarthy. But it’s impossible to tell the story of this season without referencing the scandals, the investigations and the multiple suspensions for Harbaugh, who was sidelined three games amid an NCAA investigation into recruiting violations and three more for the scouting and sign-stealing scandal that became a midseason bombshell.<

>
Harbaugh sometimes referred to Michigan’s journey as a happy mission. After being suspended by the Big Ten in November, he told his team to play angry. The only way to understand this team is to recognize the duality: the joy that radiated from Harbaugh and his players every time they were together, and the anger that fueled “Michigan vs. Everybody.”<

>
The anger came from allegations that a former staffer, Connor Stalions, coordinated a scheme to collect video footage of other teams’ signals. The team and its fans believed the scandal was overblown, designed to derail Michigan’s dream season. Others believed the allegations were serious enough to warrant an asterisk next to Michigan’s accomplishments.<

>
“We’re innocent, and we stood strong and tall because we knew we were innocent,” Harbaugh said. “And I’d like to point that out. These guys are innocent. (To) overcome that, it wasn’t that hard because we knew we were innocent.”<

>
This much is undeniable: The rest of the sport had plenty of chances to make sure Michigan didn’t hoist the College Football Playoff championship trophy: Penn State. Ohio State. Alabama. Washington. None of them did.<

>
“This today, given everything we had to deal with, dealing with all the people who were out there hating and spewing and wishing this would take us down, this is the pinnacle right here,” athletic director Warde Manuel said. “I promise you that.” “This is the pinnacle right here,” said athletic director Warde Manuel. (Photo: Thomas Shea / USA Today)Emerging from the 2020 season, Harbaugh and the Wolverines were stuck in purgatory. Harbaugh was 49-22 in his first six seasons with no division titles and no victories against Ohio State. The rapturous anticipation that accompanied his arrival had turned to disillusionment and despair.<

>

RELATED ARTICLES

Most Popular