Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Achievement Awards Part 1 (The Good)

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills

Player of the Year: Jason Avant

“In the Michael Irvin mold,” is the earliest bit of hyperbole I can remember being thrown at Jason, back when Tom Lemming’s Tuesday recruiting chats on were all I had. Lemming – the same self-absorbed, over-exposed thirty-something with too much time on his hands and a too liberal administer of the“guru” tag – also rated David Underwood a better running back than Cedric Benson out of high school, and compared current safety Anton Campbell (who?) to Gale Sayers. So while Lemming’s credibility should have dissolved to the point where anything but “catches the ball similarly to past receivers, in that he uses his hands” was observed with skepticism, my adolescence and the 28.8 modem it was equipped with really didn’t know that. I just assumed that for the next four years or so Michigan would be at least good enough to make the Divisional’s of the NFL playoffs.

In the end, Underwood was overshadowed by a pouty kid from North Carolina, and a year later by a kid who couldn’t have been much bigger than Underwood was in elementary school; Campbell, meanwhile, has served only as perhaps the most notable case for why Michigan’s coaches aren’t any good, or how high school-professional player parallels can go wrong, probably both. But while Jason’s charisma, second gear, elusiveness and potential for an entrepreneurial venture with Nate Newton are certainly not equal to Eight-Eight’s, the comparison hasn’t been that far off.

If you want to call Jason a “poor man’s Irvin”, go ahead, you’d probably be right. But knowing what you know now about the two of them, could you say you’d rather have Irvin on your football team? Unless your last name is “Escobar” or “Montana”, probably not. It’s the same reason no one talks about how his fumble in the Alamo Bowl was the most critical play of the game. We all know that, but because it’s Jason, we don’t really care.

Yeah, so a quintessential offensive cog like Jason winning an award like this really can’t happen unless the season does end in 7-5 territory, but it was always the little things he did. Getting seven yards out of a wide receiver screen against press-coverage when Breaston would have been grabbed for a two yard loss, the way he gave Henne that “shake it off” head nod when Chad had just thrown the ball somewhere he shouldn’t have, and the unmistakable feeling you got where any time you saw the ball and Jason in the same screen that he had a chance.

Jason was like that girl you were best friends with in high school but never considered dating, even though you probably should have. When Braylon was around, the only time you heard Jason’s name was “Alright, it’s 3rd and 7. Just stay calm, Jason’ll be open.” And you always knew that was ok with him. When Braylon graduated and Breaston was hailed as the second coming, Jason stood as a blurred image in the background of Michigan’s offensive portrait, but still, he never seemed to mind. Then Adrian Arrington got injured, Breaston stalled, and Jason quietly (almost silently) had a thousand-yard season without even an “I got it guys, don’t worry.” You just knew he’d be there, and that was how it always was.

“Milk and Eggs” Award for Player You Can’t Do Without: Mike Hart

There’s a scene that takes place at least once a game involving Mike Hart, and it goes something like this:

Hart rushes for 13 yards and in the process avoids a defensive tackle and a linebacker in the backfield, hurdles one of his own lineman, cuts to his left, slips past another linebacker, barrels himself into the knees of the strong safety, carries him for 4 yards before getting pulled down by the other safety. Stands up and smiles as he flips the ball to the referee.

Brent Musburger: Boy oh boy is he a good one, folks. The little guy! From Syracuse, New York! He is such a deceptive runner for a kid his size, and, let’s remember, Gary, he’s just a sophomore. Just remarkable what he’s been able to do for the Michigan Wolverines.

Gary Danielson: You got it, Brent. I don’t even know if these defenders can see him when he comes through the line! They chuckle. The thing about Michael Hart is not only the way he uses his body, but his feet.

Cuts to obligatory replay of previous run, showing Mike from his knees down. Danielson comes in as they pan up after he’s tackled for close-up shot of him smiling.

Musburger: Now, partner, I know Mr. Peterson in Oklahoma is the Sophomore with the big name, but this one’s not so bad either.

Danielson: Very true, Brent, and…Ha, look at the face on that guy! That’s what you love to see. What a smile, such a good sight to see.

You get the idea. Aside from forcing each announcer to come within six or seven words of calling him “adorable,” every game, he was also the biggest part of Michigan’s offense. I was critical early in the season of the theory that Michigan would be 5-0 if Mike Hart was healthy, but his absence was probably responsible for the Notre Dame and Wisconsin losses. Would they have needed Henne to try a goal line-sneak against Notre Dame if Hart’s hamstring was ok? Would he have fumbled where Max Martin did against Wisconsin, or been stopped on fourth and goal as Grady was? No. But my answer to that doesn’t say much, considering I’d probably elect Mike for president, or at least vote for him in the primaries. Honestly, though, what would you say Michigan finishes if they have ’04 Hart?

When Hart's in the game, a part of me almost roots for a few defenders to break through the line. You know, sort of like playing the first couple levels of Galaga, where there was no real threat of losing and you just wanted to blow (break) a lot of shit (tackles) up. That's how it felt in games like Michigan State, where 15 yard runs started to get boring and you just wanted a challenge. I mean, you know he’s going to take care of whoever gets to him, and it’s really pretty entertaining to watch mountainous defensive linemen spin in circles to try and grab a player who could probably run through their legs if he crouched an inch or two.

But then Hart got injured, chaos ensued, and no one knew how to fix it, nevermind root for it. The problem was that with guys like Grady and Jackson in the backfield, it was like Gallaga had suddenly fast-forwarded to the boss of the last level who had the double-shield, lasers, shrink ray, and napalm. I know Grady was playing a few pounds too heavy with a busted line and getting more carries than he should have, but he isn’t, nor will he ever be a Hart-type. Jackson was a serviceable “running back”, but more in the same way Taco Bell is a serviceable “restaurant” when you’re hungry. I know everyone liked to blame Henne’s failings on Hart for getting injured, but I think that was just the lazy solution to killing two birds with one stone. Henne won games without Hart, just like he lost some with him. I think the bigger problem was accounting for the incompetence of Michigan’s line, and Hart was really the only one who could do that.

(Something a little like this- One of the best runs you'll ever see)

More tomorrow.


Anonymous Scott said...

Which run is linked? Putfile doesn't work for us Mac users.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Johnny said...

It's Mike's "oh my god what the hell did he just do" run from his high school state championship game at the carrier dome. if you know of any upload sites that work for you, let me know and i'll try to put it up.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Joey said...

Well done, sir.

8:44 AM  

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