The Coleumn: ‘Michipain’ and the decade of suffering 

The UConn Huskies take on the Syracuse Orange at their second home game of the season at Rentschler Field at Pratt and Whitney Stadium on Saturday night. Syracuse beat UConn 48-14 after leading the whole game. Photo by Erin Knapp / The Daily Campus.

This week, the University of Connecticut football team travels to Michigan Stadium to square off against the University of Michigan Wolverines. This will be the first meeting between the two schools since 2013, when the Wolverines escaped from Rentschler Field with a three-point victory. 

Rather than highlight the importance of this game to this revitalized UConn team (although there will be a preview soon), I wanted to focus on something different. For the last seven years, I have been following the Wolverines closely. What I have noticed in particular is a little surprising, a little shocking, and a little sad. 

This is “Michipain,” the story of how the Wolverines and Michigan sports as a whole have suffered through a decade and a half of turmoil and disappointment. 

It all began on Sept. 1, 2007. Ranked No. 5 in the country and coming off an 11-2 2006 campaign, the Wolverines hosted the Appalachian State University Mountaineers. Everyone expected the Wolverines to win in a rockslide despite the Mountaineers’ top ranking in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision. 

The Wolverines had a 14-7 lead after the first quarter, but ended the half down 28-14 after being outscored 21-3 in the second quarter. Fast forward to the fourth quarter; Michigan retook the lead with 4:36 remaining on a punt return for a touchdown and got the ball back on an interception on the very next play. The Wolverines had a prime opportunity to ice the game with a field goal up by a point, but the Mountaineers blocked the kick and made a 24-yard field goal on the ensuing drive. 

24 seconds remained on the clock to avoid a major upset. The Wolverines set themselves up for the win with a 37-yard field goal attempt. Everyone at Michigan Stadium took a breath after the kick, gasping instead of sighing. Appalachian State had blocked the field goal attempt and almost took it home for the 34-32 victory. An FCS team had beaten the Wolverines in their own home. 

Denver Pioneers goaltender Magnus Chrona (30) makes a save on a shot from Michigan Wolverines forward Brendan Brisson (19) during an overtime period of the 2022 Frozen Four college ice hockey national semifinals at the TD Garden. Photo by Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports.

Michigan fell out of the rankings the following week, but finished 9-4 with a victory in the Capital One Bowl against the University of Florida. Head coach Lloyd Carr retired after the season and the team struggled under Rich Rodriguez before Jim Harbaugh returned to his alma mater in 2015. 

This is what broke Michigan sports. Sports teams in “The Mitten” had been broken before, but not this severely. These teams, whether they were good or bad, suffered heartbreak after heartbreak. 

Since 2004, the Ohio State University has won all but two games against the Wolverines in football, staking their dominance in the series’ recent history. Both of those Michigan wins came at Michigan Stadium; the last time the Wolverines won at “The Shoe” was in 2000. All those losses to their Buckeye-d big brother hurt, but the Wolverines’ worst loss came on their own turf in 2015. 

Ranked No. 12 in the nation and playing their in-state rival, the No. 7 Michigan State University Spartans, Michigan lined up to punt the ball away with 10 seconds left, hoping that there would be no special teams miracle. But the punt never happened, as the punter failed to get his hands on the ball and fumbled it away. The Spartans recovered and took it to the house, winning the game 27-23. Once again, the opposing special teams silenced fans in Ann Arbor. 

This pain extends beyond the gridiron. Since 2010, the Wolverines have been one of the most successful men’s basketball programs in the nation, up there with the University of Kansas, Gonzaga University and the University of Kentucky. 

In 2013, the Wolverines advanced to the national championship game for the first time since 1993. Back then, the Fab Five led the charge, but fell short against the University of North Carolina when Chris Webber called a timeout the Wolverines did not have. The Tar Heels held on to win their second national title under head coach Dean Smith 77-71. 

Back to Atlanta, Michigan took out Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse University Orange in the Final Four and earned a matchup against Rick Pitino and the University of Louisville Cardinals. The No. 4-seeded Wolverines, with their decent starting lineup of players, looked for an upset against a more experienced team that had been to the Final Four one year earlier. 

Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole (3) celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics in game five of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center. Photo by Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports.

Instead, Louisville won their “third” national title 82-76 behind Luke Hancock and Peyton Siva as another chapter in the Big East’s history ended. What makes matters worse for Wolverines fans is that the Cardinals vacated their title because of a scandal. 

But that was not Michigan’s only Final Four appearance in the decade. In 2018, the No. 3 Wolverines made it to San Antonio behind a game-winning 3-pointer from Jordan Poole against the University of Houston in the second round and intense wins against Texas A&M University and Florida State University in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. After dispatching the eleventh-seeded Loyola-Chicago University Ramblers in the Final Four, the Wolverines returned to the championship game against another top-seeded Big East opponent. Instead of Louisville, Jay Wright and the Villanova University Wildcats waited on the other side. 

Michigan had an opportunity to avenge their brothers from the 2013 team with an upset win against the Wildcats. Unfortunately for them, Villanova looked better with their two All-Americans and an extremely unfair starting five. The Wildcats pounced on the Wolverines 79-62 for their third national title and second in three years. 

Since then, the Wolverines have made it as far as the Elite Eight, a milestone they reached in 2021. With stars like Hunter Dickinson returning, the Wolverines hope to be a national title contender this season.  

Let us also look at the Wolverines’ men’s hockey team. Michigan has nine national titles, tied for the most with the University of Denver, but has won none since Marty Turco led them to the promised land in 1998. Without going into much detail, the Wolverines returned to the championship game in 2011, where they had their hearts broken and lost to the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 3-2 in overtime. Since then, the Wolverines have made the semifinals twice and been removed due to a COVID-19 outbreak once in their five tournament appearances. 

Michigan Wolverines forward Jimmy Lambert (23), forward Mackie Samoskevich (11), and forward Thomas Bordeleau (34) react after losing to the Denver Pioneers in an overtime period of the 2022 Frozen Four college ice hockey national semifinals at the TD Garden. Photo by Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports.

The Wolverines hope to return to glory, but with 2021 top three picks Owen Power, Matthew Beniers and Kent Johnson all in the National Hockey League, their chances of making it back are bleak. There is more than one name-brand collegiate team in the state, however. 

I am not much of a Michigan State fan, which is why I do not know as much about their athletics program as the Wolverines. Regardless, the Spartans have seen their fair share of heartbreak. In 2009, head coach Tom Izzo led his Spartan men’s basketball team to the championship game following a win against UConn in the Final Four, but they lost to Roy Williams and the Tar Heels 89-72. Izzo brought them back to the Final Four in 2010, 2015 and 2019, but the Butler University Bulldogs, Duke University Blue Devils and Texas Tech University Red Raiders were too much to handle in the semifinal game, respectively. 

In 2015, the Spartans made the College Football Playoff (CFP) for the first time and faced off against the University of Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. Nick Saban’s army shut them out 38-0 and the Spartans have not returned to the CFP since. 

Back to the Wolverines, our final stop brings us to Miami, Florida on Dec. 31, 2021. Earlier that month, the Wolverines mauled the University of Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship game to secure their place in the CFP. As the No. 2 seed, they did not have to play the top-seeded Crimson Tide. Instead, they got the third-seeded University of Georgia Bulldogs, a team filled with rage after getting clobbered in the SEC Championship game, in the Orange Bowl. 

Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo had no answers for Stetson Bennett and the ferocious Bulldogs offense. On the other side of the ball, Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean and Georgia’s defense overpowered Cade McNamara. The Bulldogs marched on to Indianapolis 34-11 and earned a rematch with Saban, which they won. 

This cycle of pain will continue until either the Wolverines or the Spartans win a national title, but what if I told you that this feeling of anguish and consistent agony extends beyond college sports? This will be continued. 

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