Wednesday, November 19, 2008

RichRod Gamely Tries To Inject Perspective Into U-M Football; Good Luck With That

It's the economy, stupid.

That was the mantra during Bill Clinton's drive toward his successful bid for the presidency in 1992, spread by his Johnny Appleseed, James Carville. And Clinton rode that focus on the economy straight into the White House.

Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez seems to want to use that same strategy to divert attention from the white elephant in the room -- namely, his football team.

RichRod bristled during his Monday press conference about some of the vitriol and personal attacks that he's had to weather because of U-M's unseemly 3-8 record -- the most losses for a Michigan football team. Ever.

He said that those fans -- which no doubt included more than a few alumni -- should "get a life". His words. Then Rodriguez borrowed another campaign theme, i.e. redistributing the worry.

"I mean, look at the economy," Rodriguez said.

Nice try, coach.

But this is Ohio State week, and even if every single Wolverine fan were homeless, penniless, and financially hopeless, the focus would be on the Buckeyes -- no matter how much you'd like to hide that 3-8 white elephant.

Hey coach -- nice try! But it's the team, stupid!

An unlikely win over the Buckeyes -- and make no mistake, this would be about as unlikely as it gets -- would go a long way toward making this muck somewhat digestible. Rodriguez's team could, in one fell swoop, send Wolves fans into the bowl-less season with a degree of holiday cheer.

And as far as the "get a life" comment: they already have one, those types. It's called Michigan football. Don't you know that by now, coach?

Yes, it would be lovely if all the critics -- and that train is so full that a second has just been summoned to carry them all -- would look at the state's failing economy and put things into perspective. It would be grand if they suddenly said, collectively, "You know what? This whole Michigan football thing -- not really all that important. How am I going to pay the mortgage?"

But here's the rub: fans use sports as an escape route from life's daily problems. Two or three hours away from the bills and the angst life brings is just what the doctor ordered, even if what you're escaping to is dysfunction. So to tell people to "get a life" and pay attention to the economy is counter intuitive; they want to ESCAPE their lives and the economy -- stupid!

No, Rodriguez isn't stupid. He's just stupid about the football fans in Michigan. But he'll learn. He'll come to know that they don't want to be told to channel their anger and frustration to more important things; they're perfectly happy channeling it toward your football team, coach. And they're perfectly unhappy with being told otherwise by the man presiding over the worst season in U-M football history.

The timing of the "get a life" comment couldn't have been much worse, coming during OSU week. Even Bo Schembechler's amazingly ironic death two years ago -- on the eve of the Big Game -- failed to dwarf the game itself. Of course, in 2006, the Wolves and Buckeyes were actually playing for something more than one team simply wanting to spoil the other's season. But once the ball was kicked off, Bo's death was set aside for three hours, despite the numbing shock of its news.

I know what RichRod is trying to impart. I truly do. Good intentions are terrific. Well-meaning pleas for perspective are honorable. And to a more sane, reasonable, and significantly less spoiled electorate, maybe Rodriguez's words would have taken hold. But these are Michigan football fans, and this is all they've got, many of them. So don't go ruining it by injecting sanity and perspective, OK?

Rodriguez will learn soon enough. He's not in West Virginia anymore.

Get a life? Sure -- as soon as you get a clue.

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