Now, for a cheer, they are here triumphant ...
After Michigan had done it, after the seniors had finally won a bowl game, after they'd beaten the defending national champions on what might as well have been their own field, the players went to Lloyd Carr, and lifted him up on their shoulders. It was long overdue.
How perfect was that? Seeing Lloyd, beaming, hoisted into the air. And because he's Lloyd, after a few seconds, he started banging on their shoulder pads, telling them to let him down because he had to go shake the opposing coach's hand.
Urban Meyer, defeated in a bowl game for the first time at Florida clasped Lloyd's hand and then listened to what the now-retired coach had to say.
"Someday you're going to retire and your guys are going to play as hard as my guys played," Carr told him.
Maybe. It's hard to imagine players who love their coach more than Michigan's do Lloyd. As Shawn Crable, who could have been buried for some technically dunderheaded plays that may have cost Michigan important games at Ohio State last year and against Appalachian State this year said:
"He made me into a man ... I was 18 when I came here. I had just turned 18 and I thought I knew everything. He was more than just a coach. He understood was coaching was, but he also understood what turning out men took. I know a lot more. I can handle myself in different situations."He took a lot of boys who thought they were men and turned them into real men."
And that he did so with compassion, dignity, and yes, even that oft-misused term, class, is why even those who never played a down for the man love him so. Under his leadership, Michigan has been as close to the ideal of collegiate athletics as you can get while still kicking ass at the highest level of the game. We love that. We really, really do, and not everyone gets it.
It's easy to think that Michigan is some weird little arrogant enclave, cut off from the rest of the college football world by spread offenses, multimillion-dollar coaches and a new brand of focused, NFL-style coaches. If you thought that, and you're not a Michigan fan, then you can be forgiven. Because it can certainly look that way at times if you don't slow down to take a longer look.
What makes Michigan special, what makes me proud to be represented by Lloyd Carr, Shawn Crable, Mike Hart, Chad Henne and others, is that Michigan seems to be one of the few remaining fanbases that realizes college football is just that. It's college football.
Although it's easy to forget, what with a national worldview formed by ESPN chatters, blogospheric one-upsmanship and columnists who parachute into our world to provide a Brooksian take before returning to their nests lined with old clippings of articles about Bill Parcells. But this is an amateur sport, played by mostly teenagers, for the enjoyment of students, alums and fans. Winning is NOT everything. Although playing hard to do just that most certainly is.
In the NFL, coaches call time outs a fraction of a second before the ball is snapped for a winning field goal. In the NFL, coaches cut nonperformers in a heartbeat. In the NFL, winning really is everything, and those who can't win are shown the door. Because lovable losers just don't exist at that level, and seats will get empty fast. At any given time in the pros, there's a handful of teams who are just cycling coaches in and out the door until they get a spark. My own pro team did that for a while, and it really, really sucks ass. If the Browns hadn't broken out the way they did this, year, the media and fans would have been clamoring for Romeo Crennel's handsomely mustachioed head on a platter (presumably surrounded by a stadium-mustard reduction). There's a few college programs that do that, too, and some of their fans even seem to revel in it. Maybe purgatory can be a blast, but that sounds like hell to me.
I don't want my university's team to be like a pro team. It's tough to talk about ideals and stuff like that without wandering over on to the preachy side of things, but, yes, I really do want Michigan to represent ideals like sportsmanship, fair play, hard work, education and, yes, seriously good football. Considering them the equal of any other team in one's fan portfolio is missing the point.
Pro teams are assemblages of people who came to their team for a reason beyond their control. They were either drafted, and had no say in it, or the whims of the market brought them there.
Michigan's football players came there of their own free will. They looked at the other possibilities and made a decision, just like all the rest of us who went to school there. Sure, when I sent in my housing deposit, I wasn't thinking of my NFL draft prospects, but I was thinking about my future just the same. I came to Ann Arbor, I looked around and said: Yes, this could be home.
And so did everyone on that roster. It's fundamentally different from the pros, where there's a payroll to be met, seats to fill, scoreboard graphics to design, beer prices to set, T-shirt guns to buy, naming rights to be sold and all that other nonsense.
College football really is different. No matter how much ESPN, the BCS, Fox Sports and a good deal of fans are dragging the game toward the other trappings of professionaldom. Just win, baby is not the lowest common denominator. At least, not at Michigan.
Lloyd Carr got that, and then some. And that, more than the Big Ten titles, national championship and sustained success, is why he will be missed.
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"So gentlemen, what a happy day you have given me to remember the rest of my life.” -- Lloyd Carr, concluding the final postgame speech of his career after Michigan beat Florida 41-35 in the Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1, 2008.
Us too, Lloyd. Us too.