Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Henne to Manningham

Well... here's to new beginnings, but some things will never change.

I'm in Ann Arbor, and..

I’m sitting on the edge of the couch, watching, waiting for the kickoff. Michigan down by ten to the Spartans. My mind is reeling, trying not to think about what had happened to bring us here, trying to suppress that tightening in my gut. I try not to think about how well they had played coming out of the tunnel and how atrociously things had gone since the end of the first quarter, not to think about the first or eighth of September, not to wonder how hurt Hart really is.

The game returns from commercial after the State extra point and I lean forward, my elbows on my knees, my hands clutching the sides of my face just in case the unthinkable happens and I need to jam my palms against my eye sockets. My right leg is bouncing up and down frantically, I don’t even notice until the girl next to me tells me that I’m shaking the entire couch. I laugh slightly, and mutter, “Sorry. I’m nervous.” I settle my leg down, it requires a conscious effort of will to keep it still. And then the Spartans kick the ball off and Michigan has possession again, and hope begins to return…

Henne to Arrington, 12 yards.

And here it is again… that offense I remember from so many times before… Henne back in the pocket, calmly throwing the ball around the field, passes caught by receivers slipping out of bounds to stop the clock. And then the camera switches back to the heroic senior quarterback, who hadn’t played very well, but was about to bring us redemption… the quarterback who was now hobbling…

And then it’s Mallett, with his baseball cap on backwards and a look that was somehow a mix of boyish enthusiasm and grim determination, and maybe a little bit of fear, about to put his helmet on over his hat, before it is swiped quickly from his head. My breath catches in my throat and I can hardly even move as Mallett gets behind center, takes the snap… and fumbles…

Yet, somehow… somehow the ball skips forward, jumps into the outstretched hands of our Messiah, number 20, and he’s sweeping around the line and running up the field for a first down. I had no idea Hart was even back on the field, but it was as if he knew where he had to be that instant, and as if he reached out and called the ball to him with The Force.

And then Henne is back under center, surely hurt and in pain, but knowing that this was his last chance to turn it all around, that he just had to be magic one more time to get them through this all, that he had to be the one to lead them back from the jaws of defeat.

Henne to Manningham, 13 yards

Henne to Mathews, 3 yards

Henne to Arrington, 11 yards.

And they’re just picking apart the Spartan defenders, who are reeling. Henne looks like he’s a little kid back there, slinging the ball to his friends on the front lawn, down past the mailbox and over that old Cadillac parked against the curb. The Spartan defensive line is like a little brother counting hopelessly to five Mississippi, the ball always gone before he can even get to three because the cards are just against him. And then it’s a touchdown, Mathews streaking across the back of the end zone and Henne finding him. Jubilation. The Victors.

And the looks on the MSU student’s faces are priceless; they are drawn and wide eyed and full of fear, because they have seen this all before, against the back drop of the Michigan band. They’ve seen their team collapse again and again, they’ve seen those men in maize and blue tear tooth and nail back from the brink of annihilation and they know they’re just as helpless as their peers on the field. They know it’s over, they know the miraculous comeback is inevitable, they know that Michigan is holding them at arm’s length as if with a Hart stiff arm.

And the Michigan defense stuffs the Spartan run, despite the fact that they have been on the field for the entire half, that they have to be sucking wind and running on pure adrenaline and will, and Michigan has the ball back, a little under 4:30 left and time for just one more drive for the history books.

Henne to Arrington…

to Manningham…

to Arrington…

to Manningham to the 29 yard line

… as if Henne is making sure both his star receivers get a little of the glory.

Then it’s a handoff, and despite Minor fighting for every inch of ground he can gain, trying to claw his way around to the outside while being completely covered in green, he’s tackled for a two yard loss. The next play is an incomplete pass and suddenly it’s third and twelve, the prospect of a 42 yard field goal and overtime staring me in the face. And I’m back crouching over, almost in a fetal position, my eyes glued on the TV, and my right leg surely twitching like a scared animal, though I didn’t notice it at all.

And then it happened, something magical… something that instantly recalls thoughts of that Penn State game in 2005…

Henne dropped back, and Manningham streaked down the field and the ball was hurled into the air, soared like a magnificent savior towards the corner of the end zone. And Super Mario, number 86, number 1, leapt into the air, hovered above the earth like some divine being as my breath caught in my throat and the blood thundered in my ears, just hung there defying gravity until the ball came crashing into his outstretched hands and he fell back to the earth, the ball cradled safely away as he landed… and then it was bedlam.

I’m on my feet and the Victors is playing. It’s comeback victories and Rose Bowls. People are embracing and cars honking all over the dark streets of Ann Arbor. It’s that first kiss and Christmas morning all wrapped into one, shouting and pumping my fist to the beat as the marching band blasts East Lansing away.

It’s Henne to Manningham… those three words I’ll remember for the rest of my life no matter what happens… those words and that time that ovoid ball found its way into Hart’s hands as if called back to where it knew it belonged, nestled in the arm of Mike Hart.


Anonymous said...

I am picking nits here, but on the 1st and 10 from the 29 on the final drive, Minor actually got to the 28, but then fumbled the ball out of bounds back to the 31. The announcers never picked this up, but if you watch the tape closely, you can see that he makes forward progress, but that the ball pops out at the end, which is why the referee marks him down three yards behind where he physically went out of bounds.

Matt said...

Thanks! When I was watching that play, it seemed like Minor gained a few yards, but I completely missed him fumbling the ball. I just thought I was seeing things.

Yes, I'll have another said...

I'll give you the best compliment someone can get from another who reads their work. I literally got chills reading this. Well done. Very well done. Damn I miss Ann Arbor.