The Wolverine

April 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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74 THE WOLVERINE APRIL 2019 BY CHRIS BALAS H ot takes were out in full force following Michi- gan's Big Ten Tourna- ment loss to Michigan State March 17, a third straight this season to the Spartans that left a stain on an otherwise incred- ible 28-6 season to that point. Many of the worst tirades in- cluded the word "choke." Oth- ers took to Twitter (the devil's message board, especially after losses) to lump U-M's big two programs together as failures. "They can't win the big games" was a common theme, and it brought back to mind an exchange we heard 25 years ago between Doug Karsch, now at WXYT radio in Detroit but then at local Ann Arbor station WTKA when it was in its rat- ings heyday. Michigan hockey had just lost a heartbreaking, 4-3 overtime game to Maine in a thrilling semifinal that precipi- tated a call from a disappointed fan. "I'm tired of always being the bridesmaid," he said. "It seems like we can never win the big game in any sport." Keep in mind, Michigan had won five straight Big Ten titles in foot- ball at that point, beaten Ohio State four of those five seasons and tied once, and the Fab Five had led the basketball team to the NCAA cham- pionship game in two consecutive seasons. Several years ago, Karsch brought out audio of "Chris from Ann Ar- bor" rebutting the initial call. Para- phrasing, it went something like this: "Stop being such a whiny [per- son]. You're spoiled! How many schools would kill to have Michi- gan's success across all sports we're seeing now?" Karsch replied. WTKA even used the two calls as a promo. The point here — don't forget where you came from and where you've been. Twelve years ago, head coach John Beilein inherited a program that hadn't even been to the NCAA Tournament in more than 10 years, and a huge celebration ensued when the Wolverines — finally — were invited to dance after a decade of sitting in the corner. In the last six years, heading into this season's tournament, no pro- gram has had more NCAA Tourna- ment wins than U-M. Only North Carolina has as many (16). On the gridiron, Michigan's blow- out loss at rival Ohio State was a kick in the groin after an otherwise very good season, and while the result is still tough to stomach, it doesn't change the fact that — just like in basketball this year — the Wolverines still had a shot at a title on the last day of the regular season. On the hardwood, Michigan lost its chance at a third straight Big Ten title in the last two minutes, blow- ing a five-point lead and not scor- ing in the last 2:29. MSU outscored U-M 10-0 in that stretch, and all the bounces and calls went against them. "This is life right now," Beilein said. "Your journey is going to be in- credible. You'll have great days, and you'll have bad days. You'll have children that excite you one minute and frustrate you the next … You'll have job opportunities that are great, and job opportunities that don't work out." Not surprisingly, head foot- ball coach Jim Harbaugh's words were pretty much the same days after Michigan lost to the Buckeyes. "They played better on that day," Harbaugh said. "There are things in life where they don't go your way. "It almost seems like life is testing you. I believe the strong end up surviving, and the weak end up keep having that hap- pen to them the rest of their lives." Beilein and Harbaugh have both proven they're among the former, and their ability to keep it all in perspective is one rea- son why. Beilein's teams have hung three banners in the last few years, and Harbaugh's — de- spite a bitter ending to the season — won 10 games for the third time in four years, the first time that's happened in Ann Arbor since the early 1990s. The Big Ten East co-championship seems hollow after a devastat- ing loss, but it's a far cry from the stretch from 2008-14. U-M was in position to be in position, as Beilein likes to say, and that was another baby step. If championships were easy, Beilein noted last week, they'd have 100 banners hanging in the rafters. Disappointment is part of the deal, and it's how you handle it that builds winning programs. "It's life," Beilein said. "We just move on." One day's disappointment is often the catalyst for tomorrow's success, especially for those who have done it before … and are more likely than not to do it again. ❏ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997, working part time for five years before joining the staff full time in 2002. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN CHRIS BALAS No Cigar — For Now There is no doubt John Beilein was disappointed his team could not win a third straight Big Ten Tournament, but it was the vet- eran coach who recently pointed out that disappointment is a part of sports and how one handles that feeling is what builds winning programs. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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