The Michigan senior class of the 2007 football season has done just about everything one could ask.
Headlined by All-Americans such as tackle Jake Long and running back Mike Hart, and the All-Big Ten performers quarterback Chad Henne, guard Adam Kraus, safety Jamar Adams, and several more, this class has been nothing short of consistent winners.
But they never beat Ohio State, and they’ve never won a bowl game.
They’ve set all sorts of records and positive individual legacies.
Quarterback Chad Henne was primed to start his 40th consecutive game against Notre Dame—that is to say, every game of his career—before he was injured and missed two consecutive starts. In all, Henne has started all but four of all his games at Michigan. That is 45 starts in a college football world that constantly rotates quarterbacks.
He also holds the Michigan record for passing yards in a career, at the same school where Jim Harbaugh, John Navarre, Todd Collins, Brian Greise, Drew Henson, Rick Leach, and Tom Brady all played their college football. Henne tops them all, at least statistically.
Sure, Chad Henne will go down in the Michigan record books for his numbers, but it is his resilience and toughness this season that will go down in Michigan lore forever.
Against Illinois in Champaign on October 20th, Henne was sacked in the first quarter, dislocating his throwing shoulder. When he returned from the locker room after receiving a cortisone shot—not a pleasant event—his arm was constantly popping out of its socket.
When he would reach his hand under center, his throwing shoulder would pop out, and he would have to return it to place before taking the snap. He was begging Michigan offensive coaches for more plays out of the shotgun, because the force of the center snapping the ball was dislocating his shoulder.
But somehow, he led Michigan back from a 14-3 deficit to win, on the road, with a separated shoulder: 27-17.
He did it again two weeks later against Michigan State, stepping into the Michigan huddle in a 24-14 hole with eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter. The offense, and Henne, had been slowed by injuries and poor play the entire second half—a problem which foreshadowed their troubles in the next two games against Wisconsin and Ohio State.
Henne completed his first pass to the far sideline for a first down. But he freakishly stepped on one of his lineman’s feet, tweaking his ankle. After sitting out a play—a nearly disastrous one, as Mike Hart picked up backup quarterback Ryan Mallett’s fumble and ran it for a first down—Henne returned and flipped the switch.
The same switch he flipped against Illinois earlier in the year, against Minnesota, Michigan State, Texas, and against Purdue as a freshman, against Michigan State and Penn State as a sophomore, and against Ohio State as a junior.
Two touchdown drives later, Michigan had wrapped up an improbable 28-24 victory in East Lansing, all because of Henne and his uncooperative throwing shoulder, which he later admitted forced him to pay with pain for every throw on those last two drives.
Henne will unquestionably be put in the history books of Michigan football as one of the toughest competitors and greatest leaders Michigan has ever had.
But despite playing some of his best games against Ohio State his first three years, and one of his gutsiest performances in a senior year filled with them, Chad Henne is 0-4 against his archrival, and has never won a bowl game.
Running back Mike Hart is one of those guys who talks a lot. He jaws to his teammates on the sideline and in the huddle, he talks trash to the opponent, he says pretty outlandish things in the post-game press conference to infuriate his rivals, and he once guaranteed a win against Notre Dame.
But Hart is also one of those guys who backs it all up with is play. Prior to getting hurt against Purdue, Hart carried the team. He was Michigan’s entire offense against Oregon, Notre Dame, and Penn State, and he single-handedly led a short-lived Michigan comeback against Appalachian State.
He holds Michigan’s all-time rushing record at the same school where Anthony Thomas, Chris Perry, Jamie Morris, and Ronald Johnson played. He is a great teammate, and an unquestioned leader.
But despite the fact that he came back exclusively to beat Ohio State his senior year, he fell short. No victories against Ohio State. And no bowl wins.
Jake Long may be the best offensive lineman in Michigan history, topping the list of Michigan and NFL greats Jon Jansen, Steve Hutchinson, Jeff Backus, Tom Mack, and Dan Dierdorf.
But despite his best efforts, he never beat Ohio State.
Oh, how nasty little fact stains on the legacy of these seniors. What has sometimes been a redeemer for other Michigan players with statistically subpar careers and for other Michigan teams with statistically subpar seasons has become the demon that will forever haunt the way these players are remembered.
Nonetheless, they’ve certainly accomplished great things that are not unlike what other Michigan teams have done in the past.
They’ve won a Big Ten championship, something every class in Michigan history has done.
They’ve beaten (pounded is more apt, perhaps) Notre Dame the last two years.
They’ve never lost to Michigan State or Penn State.
In fact, not including Ohio State, these seniors have only lost only three conference games: one to Minnesota and two to Wisconsin.
They’ve played in two Rose Bowls, narrowly losing one to a great quarterback and inexplicably getting manhandled by a team they could have beaten.
But of course, underachieving has also been one of the not-so-pretty hallmarks of this class. Between those two Rose Bowls and a 2005 Alamo Bowl loss to Nebraska, they have never won a bowl game either.
These seniors will never beat Ohio State as players, but they can still leave Michigan with a good taste coming out of the Carr regime and into the new Rodriguez era. They can wrap up their historic careers and almost forty years of the Bo era with a win against the defending national champion Florida Gators, and reigning Heisman winner Tim Tebow in the Capital One Bowl on New Year’s Day.
There is one last chance for these seniors. Win, and they can salvage something tangible from a nightmarish season. Lose, and they cement a losing legacy in the biggest of games, and likely scare off all future underclassmen from staying just one more year.
They have one last chance to write the happy ending all Maize and Blue faithful want for them, and send coach Lloyd Carr out as a winner in his final game.
Their days as players for Michigan are numbered, but these lifetime Wolverines have one more chance to make Ohio State their only losing legacy, and stamp a positive capstone on solid careers.
They have one last chance to briefly silence all the negative talk about them.
One last chance.