Why Is Michigan Playing Appalachian State Again?

At a house party in 2008, Jason Gingell was talking about the University of Michigan’s upcoming Pro Day. He hadn’t done so well in his private NFL auditions, and this would be his last chance to impress a team. “What position do you play?” a sophomore girl asked. A different girl answered for him: “He’s the asshole who missed the kicks against Appalachian State.” Gingell quickly exited the party.

Three years ago, when I saw the press release announcing Michigan vs. Appalachian State: The Rematch, I figured it was a sick joke. “We look forward to facing Appalachian State again,” Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said in the release. We? Is he speaking on behalf of Appalachian State fans? Because no Michigan fan is looking forward to this game. We think it’s a terrible idea.

I was starting my senior year at Michigan when the two-time defending FCS national champs visited the Big House on September 1, 2007. I have never watched highlights from the game, but I can see them in my nightmares: the lefty quarterback Armanti Edwards, a name that still makes me shutter when I occasionally hear it during NFL broadcasts, firing short passes to wide open receivers who ran and ran after the catch; Chad Henne uncorking a desperation heave to Mario Manningham to set up Michigan for a potential game-winning 37-yard field goal; the field goal getting blocked.

I remember thinking it was strange that the Appalachian State player bothered trying to return it and equally surprising that the kicker succeeded in catching him before he scored. It was as if my mind was analyzing the details of the play so it wouldn’t have to think about the ramifications: Michigan, coming off a Rose Bowl appearance and ranked No. 5 in the preseason poll, had just lost its opener to a Division I-AA school. It was the biggest upset in college football history. I felt like my senior year had been ruined before I’d taken my first class.

Michigan AD Dave Brandon (middle) has made some controversial decisions.
Michigan AD Dave Brandon (middle) has made some controversial decisions.

So you can understand why I wouldn’t want to relive that game, even if the Michigan AD can’t. “The opportunity to play again is a good thing,” he said in an interview following the announcement of the rematch. “I don’t see how it could be a negative.” Brandon does not understand how conjuring stories and highlights from the program’s darkest day could be a bad thing. No, check that—he thinks it’s a good thing. He is very, very wrong.

Since I’m biased, let’s check what the national bloggers had to say about Michigan agreeing to a rematch. Sports Illustrated called it “a concept too hysterical to even contemplate.” CBS Sports noted, “This is the single dumbest scheduling decision we can remember.” Every Day Should Be Saturday wrote, “This is Michigan football becoming a celebrity rehab patient. This is Michigan’s amateur sex tape that no one wants to buy. We’re beginning to think Dave Brandon is not a very smart person.”

Devin Gardner sad

The Mountaineers do not enter Saturday’s game, their first as an FBS member, as two-time defending national champs. In fact, they went just 4-8 last season. Michigan, even with its suspect offensive line, is a 34.5-point favorite. I am not opposed to this game because I fear Michigan will lose. I am opposed to it because it puts a damper on what is supposed to be one of the more enjoyable days on the sports calendar.*

Michigan is having trouble selling tickets for the game. The athletic department has resorted to offering tickets on Living Social, part of a $65 package that includes a program, hot dog, and t-shirt commemorating the 2007 game.

OK, so I’m kidding about details of the shirt. But with this athletic department, it’s hard to tell.

*In case I sound too Grinch-y, please know I am still pumped to see Michigan take the field for the first time in eight months. I’m excited for Florida State-Oklahoma State and LSU-Wisconsin as well. College football is back, and that’s a beautiful thing.

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