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MICHIGAN WOULD BE SMART TO PLAY FOOTBALL AND NOT SAY ANOTHER WORD
Despite Jim Harbaugh’s suspension, the Wolverines are strong enough to win a widely disputed national championship with talent and guile, as they proved without him in a 24-15 victory at Penn State
“Bet,” said the quarterback, J.J. McCarthy, who was followed on cue by another from 25 years back, Tom Brady, he of a certain Deflategate scheme.
And anyone who wagered Michigan not only beat the spread but won the game, 24-15, with regular orders to bet for weeks ahead.
The athletic director spoke, too. He raved about coach Jim Harbaugh, though he was back in an Unhappy Valley hotel, shelved for three regular-season games because the Big Ten commissioner ruled the program cheated woefully in stealing opponents’ signals in away stadiums. Warde Manuel promised to win a temporary restraining order this Friday, allowing his coach to stroll the sideline the next two weekends and rock and roll the Wolverines toward a wildly disputed national title.
“You may have removed him from our sidelines today, but Jim Harbaugh is our head football coach," he said. “We look forward to defending Jim's right to coach our football team at the hearing. He has instilled his pride, passion, and the team's belief in themselves to achieve greatness. I will continue to support Jim through this process, my coaches and staff, and especially our student-athletes as we continue to play this game and fight to win for Michigan and all who love us.”
Love them. Loathe them. There is no middle ground for Saturday’s shameful soldiers, who, like most crooks in athletics, didn’t need to swindle when they’ve had every reason to whip enemies with skills, guile and mastery. So incensed are the bitter alumni, talk is happening already that Michigan might opt for conference realignment and join … the Southeastern Conference. Um, does anyone really think Nick Saban would have stood for less than a season-long ban?
Never mind that Michigan, in a sports world of defrauders and scammers, went far beyond the call of indiscretion in recent seasons. Using the best of high tech — a human being’s eyes and senses, in the form of Connor Stalions with ticket stubs across the land — the program snatched other teams’ intellectual property. We can debate whether college football has the billions to use electronic devices in players’ helmets, like the NFL, but Tony Petitti ruled correctly Harbaugh toyed with a longstanding regulation and that no other coach bamboozled to such radical extremes. If anything, the new commissioner should have docked him the rest of the season, including a College Football Playoff that awaits the arrival of the dishonorable in maize and blue.
Instead, Petitti bailiwicked Harbaugh without giving him punishment of firm substance. All he did was forbid him from working sidelines through the end of the regular season, with two games to go. The work is largely done in mid-November, and as seen in a ground-gaining whirl at Penn State, Harbaugh easily could hand reins to offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore as the acting head coach. Thanks to knee-recovered running back Blake Corum, who rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns behind a magnificent line, this was a vintage Harbaugh victory planned all week. The bet-encouraging passer, McCarthy, only threw eight times as the Wolverines gathered 227 rushing yards and shut down the enemy QB, Drew Allar. Before he was suspended, Harbaugh spoke of punishment.
“Nobody wants criticism,” he said. “That’s why I work so hard to do everything right, both on and off the field, because it’s been that way for a long time, since I was 22 years old. But if the criticism is directed at me and not my adolescent kids at home or the players on the football team, then I’m OK with it.”
It’s on him now, to the point we’re advancing his NFL gig — I say the Las Vegas Raiders, where Brady is a co-owner involved in the coaching vacancy. But anyone who knows Harbaugh, as I do, realizes he can’t venture to the next level without a national title. Michigan is five wins away, two against Maryland and Ohio State — and a farce in the conference title game — and two more against the postseason likes of Georgia, Florida State and Washington. For now, he’s enjoying the banter from the locker room, where kids are openly rooting for a lawbreaker.
“You know, I expect nothing less from any of our Michigan men. We did this for Michigan,” said Corum, whose face was bloodied afterward as he wore a ‘Michigan vs. Everybody’ ski cap. “I'm so proud of the university. I'm so proud of my guys, the coaches. Coach Harbaugh, this is for you. What are you gonna do when your backs against the wall? You know, when you feel everyone against you? Are you gonna cower down? I was taught to stand on all ten. You know, keep fighting, keep fighting, keep pushing, keep going, keep going. I'm just so proud of my guys, man. We gonna keep coming. We gonna keep going. Everything that's going on right now is just bringing us closer together.”
Said McCarthy: “I just miss him. I miss him even though I saw him last night. It's just different without his presence on this field. No matter what happens, I can't wait to get him back. … I saw this quote the other day on Instagram that said: ‘The mindset you choose when adversity hits is the determining factor if you win or lose. I just feel like anything that comes at this team, we're going to be ready for it and we're going to use it to our advantage.”
Said offensive lineman Trevor Keegan: “We know there's a target on our back right now, and we love that s—. As players and staff, having a one-track mind and staying together — the storm's coming. We are the storm. That's our mentality.”
They were joined on the field by Moore, who battled tears. “Coach Harbaugh, I f—ing love you man,” he said. “I love the s— out of you, man! I did this for you. … We’ve got the best players, best university, best alumni in the country! These f—ing guys, these right here, man, these guys did it. These guys did it, man!”
The best alumni? Not in Washtenaw County Trial Court, for now. Judge Carol Kuhnke, who received a Michigan bachelor’s degree in philosophy and art history in 1990, wasn’t wearing a “Go Blue” hat Saturday. She didn’t make a ruling and is expected to hear a breach-of-contract complaint at 9 a.m. Friday. Manuel kept talking, referring to Big Ten coaches who’ve stolen opponents’ signals in far less egregious ways.
“Under the guise of the NCAA Rule regarding Head Coach Responsibility, the Big Ten decided to penalize Coach Harbaugh without knowing all the facts, and I find that completely unethical, insulting to a well-established process within the NCAA, and an assault on the rights of everyone to be judged by a fair and complete investigation," Manuel said. "Not liking someone or another university or believing without any evidence that they knew or saying someone should have known without an investigation is not grounds to remove someone from their position before the NCAA process has reached a conclusion through a full NCAA investigative process.
“All of the head coaches in the Big Ten and my Big Ten AD colleagues can rejoice today that someone was ‘held accountable,’ but they should be worried about the new standard of judgment that has been unleashed in this conference."
At this point, why say anything else? Players told fans to wager. The athletic director defended Harbaugh as a fine sportsperson. The national championship game is in eight weeks. And the Wolverines won with ease, as players spoke with blood in their eyes.
Just shut up and play football. That’s what they do well at Michigan.
The lying? We’re tired of it.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.