The Wolverine

October 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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66 THE WOLVERINE OCTOBER 2022 BY CHRIS BALAS Jim Harbaugh. Tom Brady. Chad Henne and Denard Robinson. W hat do all these guys have in common (other than being revered Michigan greats, of course)? None of them ever won an outright Big Ten championship in their time in Ann Arbor. They also happened to be on some loaded teams and would probably be the first to tell you it's not as easy as it looks. In fact, it's not easy at all. It takes a united team, a little bit of luck and great leadership, especially at the quarterback position. So, forgive Cade McNamara if he was a little defensive when asked how he viewed the quarterback competition with sophomore J.J. McCarthy in the spring. "I see myself as a Big Ten champi- onship-winning quarterback," he said. "And that's how I see it." In September, though, he looked like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders when he took the field against Colorado State. McCarthy was coming on strong, and as is the case in quarterback competi- tions, a significant portion of the fan base longed to see more of the man with the bigger arm and quicker legs. It wasn't personal, of course. Like Tom Brady vs. Drew Henson and other competitions over the years, fans like the shiny new toy, especially when he's as talented as No. 9. In this case, it was certainly justified. McCarthy proceeded to dominate in his first three games, earning the start- ing job after beginning the game and completing 11 of 12 passes for 229 yards with 3 scores in the opening half against Hawai'i. He looked every bit the part of a budding superstar. He also remained humble and grateful in staying true to his personality. "It's a tremendous honor by Coach Harbaugh," he said after being named the starter. "But I'm going to do the same thing that Cade would do — do everything I can to win football games for this program, work my butt off ev- ery single day, be prepared as much as possible. "And play my heart out every single week." Which is exactly what McNamara did in leading the Wolverines to the pro- gram's first Big Ten title since 2004 last year. And we mean "leading." While run- ning back Hassan Haskins, the offen- sive line and a swarming defense played huge roles, McNamara was one of the key cogs that made it all work. Like John Navarre in 2003, even Brian Griese to an extent in the 1997 national championship season, he was probably underappreciated. After losing his starting position, McNamara then suffered an injury in Game 3 that will sideline him for "at least a few weeks," Harbaugh reported after a 59-0 win over UConn. That's how quickly fortunes can change in this game, and how heartless it can be. It's also why, as Harbaugh put it, it's great to have "two starters" at the position. "It's a big edge for our team to have two really good quarterbacks, and we as a team embrace that," he said. "I do, the coaches do, our players do … you'd love for your fan base to be able to do that, [too]." Too many, unfortunately, can't. As fickle as the game can be, fan bases tend to be even worse. Michigan's, though, gave him a warm ovation when he entered in the last few minutes of the first half against UConn, a nice touch. No matter what a faction might be- lieve, they'll need him back healthy and with the confidence he appears to have lost. McCarthy is clearly "the guy" go- ing forward, and he also appears to be a great leader. But as we saw again when McNamara went down with a leg injury in one of his few plays against the Hus- kies, every backup is only a play away from hearing his name called. We've recounted Harbaugh's own story in this column before — how he broke his arm against Michigan State in 1984, leading to an emotional conversa- tion with coach Bo Schembechler in a hospital bed later that night. "Bo?" he said as his coach turned to leave. "Don't forget about me, OK?" Schembechler recalled getting choked up in responding, "Jim — how am I go- ing to forget about you?" That should be, and no doubt will be, Harbaugh's same message to Mc- Namara, and one the Michigan fan base should share. No matter what he does going forward, he'll always be the Big Ten championship-winning quarterback. We wouldn't be surprised at all if he's still got a few chapters left to add that legacy, too. ❏ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS Don't Forget About No. 12 Cade McNamara, who last year became Michigan's first Big Ten championship-win- ning quarterback since 2004, lost his start- ing job and was injured all in the span of one week this season. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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