Sympathy For Goliath

Over the weekend, I watched most of the Appalachian State-Michigan football game. I heard that heavily-favored Michigan was trailing 21-14 in the second quarter, so I found the game on one of the Big Ten Network alternate channels and watched it through to its fascinating conclusion.

And yes, I cheered for the underdogs, as did just about everyone in the nation who isn't a Michigan fan. After all, this was a Division I-AA team (yes, I know that there's some confusing new designation like "Championship Subdivision", but most people don't know that and would just be baffled if I used it) beating the team that was ranked #5 in the nation. Americans love it when an underdog wins, unless the underdog beats their own team; in that case, the topic immediately turns to firing the coach/manager/general manager. (See "New York Yankees" after any season in which they didn't win the World Series.)

This was one of the greatest "David defeats Goliath" stories in sports history, and we had a local angle: The player who blocked the field goal attempt that could have won the game for Michigan was Corey Lynch, who attended Fort Myers' Evangelical Christian School, and whose father is that school's football coach. One of my co-workers told me that his son had known Lynch when they both went to school there, and that he was a "good kid."

Still, you have to feel a bit sorry for the players and the coach at Michigan. They just dropped from #5 in the AP poll all the way out of the Top 25, the first time that's happened since 1968. They got beat by an Appalachian State team that had won back-to-back I-AA championships, but still shouldn't have been competitive with the #5 team in the land, according to the pollsters. And they got beat in their home stadium, in front of 100,000 fans. Like many early season college football matchups, this was expected to be a lopsided win with the powerhouse home team running up the score to pad their Bowl Championship Series points. But the supposed tomato can turned out not to be a tomato can at all. And the fans and alumni are carping and calling for the coach's scalp.

So now Michigan is down, way down, down to #32 in the AP poll down. They're one week into the season and they can pretty much kiss their title hopes goodbye. Goliath took a sling stone to the noggin and went down hard. So what do the Wolverines do now? Do things fall apart or can the center hold? Is there a chance for redemption? Because if there's one thing Americans love more than an underdog knocking off a heavy favorite, it's the story of the guy who is down on his luck, down in the gutter, who staggers to his feet, pulls himself up by his bootstraps and then makes himself into a success. It's Popeye getting the crap beaten out of him by Bluto until he eats his spinach.

You can't have a redemption story without major failure first. The Michigan Wolverines have definitely done that part. Where will the story line go next? Stay tuned.