When I began blogging I decided to steer away from sports takes and tilt my commentary more toward books and reading. But I will venture a few words about the ending of the Michigan-Michigan State game, because in the days since the play went down, people have been asking me what I thought about what will surely go down as the most infamous play by a punter in sports history.
If you didn’t see the play, Michigan was leading their in-state rival 23-21 with ten seconds left and the ball near midfield. All Michigan needed was for the punter to hit the ball away, preferably out of bounds or though the end zone, and then Michigan State’s chances would come down to the Stanford Band Play, which has only ever worked in the Stanford Band Play game, in 1982.
But Michigan’s punter fumbled the snap, and then, instead of simply falling on the ball, which would have left Michigan State in Hail Mary/long field goal position, he attempted to pick the ball up and somehow shoveled it to a Michigan State player who was perfectly situated to run the ball in for a touchdown as time expired. (Here’s a vine of the play.) So Michigan State wins, and Michigan’s national championship hopes disappear. All because of the punter.
My initial reaction, I think, reflects my religion. There’s a certain Jewish mindset which considers all events through the prism of whether they are good or bad for the Jews. As the author of a book, HANGMAN’S GAME, in which the main character, Nick Gallow, is a punter, I couldn’t help but see this play and think, “Bad for the punters.” Even though fan reaction to the play (“can you believe we lost because of the goddam punter!) gets at why I chose to write about a punter in the first place.
I also thought, with some sympathy, what a former NFL punter had told me about how the key to the success at the position is unvarying routine. Not to make excuses, but this game situation came with an unusual directive for the punte: just get it out of there. Don’t do anything to lose it for us. Which, improbably, is exactly what he did.
For which he has my deepest sympathy. Immediately after the game former Patriots punter and Michigan man Zoltan Mesko tweeted, “I don’t care what any college player does to your Saturday afternoon mood. They are all student-athletes and they don’t owe you a thing.”
Nick Gallow isn’t on Twitter or any social media, but if he was, he would say something like that.