2015 was a pretty good year for college football fans in the state – especially for fans of its two Big Ten schools.
The Michigan Wolverines finished their 2014 season in horrible shape, on and off the field.
After the students held a campus rally, hoping to get athletic director Dave Brandon fired, a popular website, MGoBlog, did the job for them. When MGoBlog published Brandon’s insulting emails to fans, including, “Quit drinking and go to bed,” Brandon had to resign.
For Michigan’s last home game that year, only 83,000 people paid to see it, and thousands of them didn’t actually bother to show up.
I hadn’t seen so many empty seats in the Big House since I was eight years-old. Brady Hoke’s teams lost that game, and six more, which cost him his job. Add it all up, and it might have been the most miserable year in the history of Michigan football.
Michigan fans dreamed that prodigal son Jim Harbaugh would return, but just about every single NFL reporter kept saying, 'No how and No way.'
But on Saturday night, December 27, I got off the phone with my sources.
For the first time I was absolutely certain Harbaugh was coming to Michigan. I asked my wife if I should bother tweeting the info, because who would care at 10:30 on a Saturday night? She said, "Just tweet it, or I'll be hearing about it the rest of the night."
I hit send, then went to brush my teeth. Before going to bed, I checked my twitter account one last time - and watched it explode, adding 10,000 followers in a week. Turns out these fans were just a little hungry for good news.
A year later, Harbaugh-Mania shows no signs of letting up.
But it wasn’t all milk and honey.
Against Michigan State, the Wolverines needed only to execute a “game-winning punt” to vanquish their rival. Instead – oh, heck, I still can’t explain what happened. Think of the craziest play you’ve ever seen, then multiply it by the second craziest, and you’d be close. Michigan fans were so stunned, their expressions went viral.
The Spartans were also expected to lose to undefeated, returning national champion Ohio State, especially when they had to start their second-string quarterback. But the Spartans went down to Columbus and beat the Bucks, in one of the best coaching jobs I’ve ever seen. Of course, on the other side of the field, it was one of the worst coaching jobs I’ve ever seen. And there’s your upset.
Michigan State became the first school to get to the Final Four in football and basketball -- and in the same year, no less. But the Spartans’ luck ran out against Alabama, and so did their offense, which couldn’t score a point.
Michigan finished with a convincing 41-7 thumping of Florida, to notch a 10-win season – exactly twice as many wins as Hoke won his last year, with the same players. That’s what great coaching looks like.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions reverted to form, missing the playoffs.
They fired team president Tom Lewand, and kept beleaguered head coach Jim Caldwell, who looks just as confused when the Lions are ahead by 20 as he does when they’re losing by 20 – which is more common.
Love you, Lions fans, but to be shocked by this Most Lions of Seasons is tantamount to Charlie Brown screaming at Lucy for pulling the football. You had to see it coming.
For all the twists and turns, the world is almost back on its axis: The Lions missed the playoffs, the Spartans are riding high, and the Wolverines are catching up fast.
2016 looks like it will be a lot of fun. Well, unless you’re a Lions fan.