In Appreciation of Denard Robinson

Posted by on Sep 20, 2012 in Uncategorized | 998 comments

[To listen to the audio version, click here: Bacon_Final_for_air_9-21]

Last week, the University of Michigan football team beat up University of Massachusetts, 63-13.  Okay, U-Mass was pretty bad.  Even the lowly Indiana Hoosiers crushed them the week before.  But the Wolverines did exactly what they were supposed to do, and they did it very well.

Many Michigan fans complained anyway.  This is not uncommon, or even unexpected.  A few years ago, Michigan blew out 15th-ranked Notre Dame team 38-0, the first time Michigan shut out over the Irish in over a century.  The next day, I challenged listeners on a sports talk show to find something to complain about.  I thought I was joking.  They did not, and had no trouble filling two hours with a steady stream of original complaints.

Michigan backers are intensely loyal, and they do not believe in winning at all costs, but some act more like opera critics than fans, less interested in cheering the team on than pointing out where the coaches and players could have done better.  They are not happy unless they are not happy.

So, the day after Michigan slaughtered U-Mass, I was not surprised to hear fans complain about quarterback Denard Robinson’s performance.  Mind you, Denard ran for over one hundred yards and a touchdown, and passed for almost three hundred yards, and three touchdowns.

And that, to one caller, was the problem: “I’m sick and tired of living and dying with Denard.”  In other words, Robinson was too good for that fan’s taste.  I’ve always said, the two toughest jobs in the state of Michigan are not Governor, Mayor of Detroit or President of the University of Michigan, but goalie for the Detroit Red Wings and quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines.  You can never do enough.

This is Robinson’s third season as Michigan’s starting quarterback, and every fall, he’s been a strong candidate for the Heisman Trophy.  Still, the fans complain that he runs too much, that he doesn’t pass well enough, and he doesn’t beat enough of the big teams.

In his defense, oftentimes it seems the new coaching staff is uncertain how best to use Robinson, which can result in this thoroughbred being used as a plow horse.  In fairness to both sides, Robinson didn’t pick these coaches and their preferred NFL-style offense, and they didn’t pick him, because they prefer the drop-back passer, in the Tom Brady mold.  That’s not Denard.

But it’s not true that he has a weak arm.  I’ve seen him, screwing around after practice, drop to one knee on the goal line, and launch the ball 65 yards.  And when the coaches let him roll out of the pocket, which is what he was recruited to do, his accuracy and touch increase dramatically.  To see the contrast, all you have to do is watch the first three quarters of the 2011 Notre Dame game, when Robinson was utterly ineffective in the NFL set, and the fourth quarter, when the coaches let him loose, and he lit up the Irish defense for 28 points.

But all these points obscure a far bigger one: How lucky Michigan fans, students and alumni are to count Denard Robinson as one of their own.

Denard grew up in Deerfield, Florida, the son of good parents, but he lost a brother when he was just ten, and then a talented cousin went to prison for armed robbery.  Denard realized he had to make better decisions – and he has.

When other schools offered him money and cars and girls and his sister’s tuition, he decided instead to go to Michigan, where he was offered a scholarship, a chance to compete for the starting quarterback position, cold weather, and long, expensive flights for him and his parents.  He took it.

Robinson backed up Tate Forcier throughout their freshmen year, the 2009 season.  But the following spring, Robinson outworked Forcier to become the starting quarterback in 2010.

Since then, he has broken just about every Michigan record for quarterbacks, a batch of Big Ten marks, and  a few national records, too – and he still has ten or eleven games to go.

It’s not just what Denard does, but how he does it, that makes him so special – something he demonstrated on the second play of his college career, when he dropped the snap, then started running the wrong way.  When he stopped and looked up, he saw a rush of defenders coming right after him, in a bad humor.  And then, just as suddenly, Denard seemed to remember he was the fastest man on the field.

What happened next was something Michigan fans should long remember.  From a dead start, Robinson simply took off, flying past would-be tacklers like they were treading water and he was driving a jet ski.  Touchdown – the first of 39 rushing, so far, and 85 total.

Robinson probably wouldn’t have gotten into Michigan without football, but he’s made the most of it.  He goes to class, every day.  He studies every night.  He prefers bowling to beer drinking.  He often quotes his parents: “Denard, they can take football away from you, but they can’t take your education!”  He will graduate on time – and he has been unfailingly kind to every single person he has encountered during his time in Ann Arbor.  You will simply not find a finer young man.

I’ve seen more than a thousand Michigan players, but only four singular talents: Anthony Carter, Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson, and Denard Robinson.  And that’s more than most teams ever get.

So, my advice to Denard Robinson’s critics is simple: enjoy this young man being on your campus and in your stadium while you can.  You might not see another one like him the rest of your life.

* * * * *

Like this story?  Please feed the blog, and keep ‘em coming!

As always, feel free to respond, but remember: I’ll run it if it’s not profane or insane, and you include your full name.

Radio stuff: I’m back to my original normal of 9:05 Friday mornings on WTKA (semester’s over!), and sticking to my new normal on Michigan Radio of 8:50.  And yes, there will be a quiz, so “stop what you’re doing, and listen!”

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnubacon. WE CRACKED 5,000 THIS WEEK!  THANK YOU!

I’ll also be leading a caravan to South Bend for the Michigan-Notre Dame game, which you can follow on my Facebook public messages or on Twitter.

“Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football” can be ordered now, in hardcover OR PAPERBACK!

26 Responses to “In Appreciation of Denard Robinson”

  1. James F. Epperson says:

    I totally, totally, agree. Good column.

  2. Jack Christiansen says:

    The kid is an awesome athlete but what impresses me the most is when you see him in the student section at a UM basketball game. He looks like he is truly enjoying being a collage student. To bad more super stars can’t remember collage is suppose to be fun not just a pipeline to the pros.

  3. Thanks for this read. I couldn’t agree more. I will be very sad to see him go. Was sad and happy reading this. While I am excited to get back to Michigan Football, I
    cannot imagine watching Saturdays without the Denard excitement he’s brought the last 3 years. Knowing you’re NEVER out of a game with him under center!

    Go Blue!

  4. Dr. Ed Kornblue says:

    John,
    You have portrayed Denard perfectly! And yes, we Michigan fanatics are very, very fortunate to have him as our QB, and student-athlete. Denard is an excellent role model for our program.

    I commend you for writing such a positive portrait of this young man….one of the best columns of the year.

    Go Blue!
    Ed

  5. Pax Figioli says:

    Right on Bacon. My eldest son is five years old and he wears his Denard Robinson jersey every Saturday. Robinson is the only Michigan quarterback he has ever been aware of. As his father I see that as a great thing. To watch Denard Robinson play is such a thrill and to watch him as a person makes it so easy for my son to understand what a Michigan Man is. Denard Robinson – thank you from one extremely appreciative father. Go Blue!

  6. Colette Hemker says:

    Denard Robinson is truly the epitome of a Michigan Man! After reading his speech from the Big Ten luncheon, I was so impressed I immediately decided I wanted to read it to my campers in Ypsilanti. At camp I talked a lot about choices and the resulting consequences, good and bad and Denard talked a lot about his choices in the speech. Additionally, I knew that many of the kids can relate to him (even though many didn’t know who he was!). I’ve never heard 50-plus campers so quiet with such rapt attention. I’m proud to be an alumnus from a school that has fine folks like Denard Robinson in their program and it’s not just for his accomplishments on the field. And that, my friends, it the Michigan Difference!

  7. Bob Anderson says:

    I could not agree more. Denard is a great athlete, but he is a better human being. He is humble and kind, and I feel blessed to have been able to follow him during his career. Great article!

  8. Chris Augdahl says:

    Agree with this blog. I have been saying this for the past year. I put Denard Robinson in my favorite michigan players all time along with Desmond Howard, Tyrone Wheatley, Charles woodson.

  9. John F. Kwant says:

    Once again, you speak/write truth. Thanks for keeping us cognizant of our blessings!

  10. Great piece. Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.”

  11. Erick Johnson says:

    A wonderful column, John. I hope it will help some of the whiners among us Michigan fans to lighten up a bit. We are hard to satisfy, but we have so much to be thankful for. And I am particularly thankful that Denard chose Michigan.

    Tomorrow, Rich Rod, the subject of your excellent book last fall, and his team will face the Oregon Ducks, the school my kids have attended. It will be a great game. I did not like some aspects of Coach Rodriguez’s style or the vibe that he sometimes gave off that too much was about him, and not the team and university. He faced some real difficulties at Michigan, but I was happy to see him be let go. I wish him well at Arizona.

    But, I am also very thankful that Brady Hoke and Michigan chose each other and we have moved on to happier times. GO BLUE!

    Erick Johnson
    LS&A, ’74
    Portland, Oregon

    • Erick Johnson says:

      I still agree with John’s piece on Friday, but the John U. Bacon Curse may now have been established and if so it’s far more powerful than the Sports Illustrated Cover Page Curse. ;-)

  12. Frank Shipp says:

    Well done.

  13. Martha Stange says:

    I agree, John. As much as I enjoy his displays of football magic on the gridiron, the times Denard most made me smile was watching him at the UM basketball games, in the middle of the Maize Rage. This Michigan football royalty was dancing, smiling, getting bumped around and just being another student/fan. I don’t recall seeing many other Michigan football “greats” acting so humble, so unpretentious, so accessible.

  14. When Denard was a freshman, he volunteered with me at my mom’s school for adjudicated youth. He was not in the class at UofM that my mom’s students were guest speakers in, but decided to come along to her school with some other players to inspire change in boys that were headed down the wrong path and he was just a few years older than. Denard played catch with the boys, chatted with them, answered all their questions (even the tough ones about football), and offered his own advice on life. He, undoubtedly, made those students’ day, challenging them to be better men. And, from here on out, the students can say they met a great and true Michigan man.

    I will not only miss watching Denard on the field, but will forever acknowledge how he touched those students’ lives, and also mine. GO BLUE!

  15. I hate to ruin this Denard Robinson love fest, but I can’t wait for the bum to leave. Yes, I called him a bum. I have nothing against him as a person. It is his football talent and the almost constant deification that I have a problem with.

    This piece is written as a love letter to DR. What a puff piece! The writer states “And that, to one caller, was the problem: “I’m sick and tired of living and dying with Denard.” In other words, Robinson was too good for that fan’s taste.” Perhaps that person felt that depending so much on DR makes Michigan a one trick show. Shut down DR, you shut down Michigan.

    The biggest thing that I have against him besides being a barely reliable passer is that he is DickRod’s boy. We all know that hiring DickRod was the biggest mistake in Michigan football history. The best thing was when he got fired. Arizona will learn that hiring him will be their biggest mistake too.

    Let’s get something straight, DR isn’t a quarterback. He is a running back who can, on occasion, complete a pass sometimes to a teammate. I can’t wait until next year when Michigan will get a REAL quarterback who can complete a pass. I don’t understand how this writer can honestly say that that he doesn’t have a weak arm. His passes look like wounded ducks. The man can barely throw a decent pass. We are constantly being told to give him more time to learn how to throw a pass. By someone’s senior year as a QB and having spent almost three seasons as the starting QB, they should know how to throw a (decent) pass. Also, DR should give up the pipe dream of being a QB in the NFL.

    As for the name calling by the previous poster, to each his own. I have been a Michigan fan as long as they have been a Michigan grad.

    • Mr. Ford,

      I respond to you and Mr. Kramer’s points below.

      Thank you for writing, but in the future please keep the obscene name calling out (as the guidelines for responding make clear above). It’s not only not necessary to your argument, it weakens it.

      As for the name calling you mention, I’m afraid I’m not clear to what you are referring.

      Thank you.

      -JUB

  16. Brad Thompson says:

    Great article as usual. Even after last night’s terrible game, I still agree that we’re blessed to have such a wonderful student-athlete at Michigan. To see him enjoying himself at other Michigan events and just being a regular M student/fan is great. His smile lights up the entire arena.

  17. Matt Kramer says:

    John – In light of Denard’s five turnovers last night and his single handedly losing the ND game, did you care to revise these gushy comments?

    • Matt,

      Thank you for reading, and writing.

      Since you asked a question, I’ll give you my answer.

      First, let me know what line or lines you find “gushy.” I may be just a little biased, but honest praise — based on ample evidence — is not a valentine.

      True, Denard had five turnovers (four interceptions and a fumble, with Vincent Smith throwing another). And he played arguably his worst game at Michigan — and took more than his share of the blame for it, in an emotional post-game press conference — if anything, I would argue the coaches have at least as much responsibility for that loss as does Denard.

      As I wrote, “In [Denard's] defense, oftentimes it seems the new coaching staff is uncertain how best to use Robinson, which can result in this thoroughbred being used as a plow horse. In fairness to both sides, Robinson didn’t pick these coaches and their preferred NFL-style offense, and they didn’t pick him, because they prefer the drop-back passer, in the Tom Brady mold. That’s not Denard.”

      If that last game does not underscore that observation, I’m not sure what would. Since Robinson first became the starting quarterback in 2010, his effectiveness has declined every year since. Is he “single-handedly” responsible for that?

      As I also wrote, “But all these points obscure a far bigger one: How lucky Michigan fans, students and alumni are to count Denard Robinson as one of their own.” If Robinson’s conduct during and after the game — when he never pouted, blew up or blamed anyone but himself — does not reinforce my observations about this young man’s unusual character, which is the piece’s most important point, I’m not sure what would.

      Of course, Matt, you’re not alone in your observations. I just don’t share them.

      But again, thanks for reading, and writing.

      -John

  18. James F. Epperson says:

    John, you bum! You jinxed him! It is all your fault! (Just kidding …)

  19. >First, let me know what line or lines you find “gushy.” I may be just a little biased, but honest praise — based on ample evidence — is not a valentine.

    What line or lines? Why don’t you try the entire article! I have never seen such a puff piece in my life!

    1. “I’ve seen him, screwing around after practice, drop to one knee on the goal line, and launch the ball 65 yards. And when the coaches let him roll out of the pocket, which is what he was recruited to do, his accuracy and touch increase dramatically.”

    >Since Robinson first became the starting quarterback in 2010, his effectiveness has declined every year since. Is he “single-handedly” responsible for that?

    Yes. Stop making him into something he isn’t. Which is a real good quarterback. He is average QB. His running is among the best around. His passing is barely adequate. His decision making, which should be better after three seasons, is questionable. You talk about his arm strength. Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell also had real good arm strength.

  20. Doree Senesac says:

    Did u see this John, from Rodney Towles/BigTenTalk FB:
    (maybe not as you have NOT accepted my ‘friend’ request!)
    This is from a fan’s perspective n not as eloquently written as your piece n mostly just refers to DRob as a player on the field, but nice nonetheless…

    “BRAVO!!! Via Rodney Towles/BigTenTalk:
    “Boy that Denard Robinson sure sucks. What did he have like 5 turnovers?
    Terrible. I mean when you think about it, what has he really done at Michigan?
    Well besides becoming the only player in NCAA history to rack up over 1500 yards passing and rushing in a single season.
    Has more rushing yards in a season than any other QB EVER. Has the most 200 yard passing/rushing games in NCAA history. Holds the Big10 record for rushing yards by a QB.
    Holds the record for total offense in a game in the Big10 and @Michigan. Most rushing yards on the road of any player EVER at Michigan. Hell he even has a record in Notre Dame stadium. Despite all the great players to ever play there, he has the record for the longest run from scrimmage.
    And not to mention countless player of the week and Big10 season awards…but besides that the guy sucks.
    Michigan fans should be ashamed of being represented by such a lousy player. LOL…NOT!!!!
    The fact is, Denard is a true Michigan legend.
    Every Michigan fan that has ever saw him play will one day be telling some little kid about the time they saw shoelace run for 6. And although he’s not perfect…he’s still ours. If we’re gonna praise him when he’s up, we GOTTA LIFT HIM WHEN HE’S DOWN. I got his back 100 %. He’s made me proud to be a Michigan Wolverine. And I can’t wait to see his dreads and shoe strings flapping in the wind again!! Keep your head up Denard!!
    Big homie has got ya back!!!! ][\/]["

  21. Mike Strickler says:

    I have been a Michigan fan for most of my 55 years and Denard Robinson is as much a Michigan Man as I’ve seen play here. He bleeds maize and blue and he stayed when he knew there would be an uphill battle ahead. The sheer enjoyment and love of the game and Michigan he displays every week on and off the field should be emulated by every player and student on that campus. Thank you Denard for some of the most exciting Michigan moments I’ve ever seen!!!!

  22. I have never been much of a football fan. I love athletics and sporting events in general, but never really understood football and never lived anywhere where it was a really big deal until I moved to Ann Arbor. Attending the University of Michigan and living in A2 taught me to love attending football games. However, Denard Robinson has taught me to LOVE college football. I actually care about learning more about the game because of how exciting he is to watch and what a thoroughly fantastic human being he appears to be.

    Thank you for this fabulous piece.

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