2011 Michigan football moments to remember: Two for the road and a mutually beneficial decision
There's little debating the Michigan football team's two most important wins of 2011.
The Wolverines' 40-34 home win against Ohio State and 23-20 overtime Sugar Bowl victory against Virginia Tech will likely always be the two most memorable wins of 2011. Which one is more important, though, is a different debate for a different day.
There were plenty of up and down moments before, during and after both games.
Here's what still sticks out to me the most:
Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com
When: Jan. 3, 2012
Where: In the trenches, Mercedes-Benz Superdome; New Orleans
What: The crowning jewel of Brady Hoke's first season at Michigan ended in New Orleans with one swing of Brendan Gibbons' left foot.
It featured a heroic effort from standout receiver Junior Hemingway, and a resilient attitude that became the calling card of the 2011 Wolverines.
But, with all due respect to Gibbons and Hemingway and Hoke, and even the pass-catching skills of long-snapper Jareth Glanda, the two players that don't seem to get mentioned for their performance that Tuesday night in New Orleans were Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen.
They were two defensive linemen that, until 2011, were heading toward a career legacy of being mainstays on one of the worst defensive units in Michigan history.
When the year began, Martin was anointed one of the faces of the team by earning a spot alongside David Molk and Kevin Koger as tri-captain. But, before too long, Van Bergen seemed to take a ceremonial position as a fourth leader.
Whenever Michigan made players available to the media on the Monday after a Saturday game, Van Bergen and Martin were there. Win or lose after a game? Van Bergen answered questions. Good, bad, ugly and in between -- Van Bergen and Martin talked about it.
And when it mattered most in New Orleans, Van Bergen and Martin were at their best.
Their combined signature moment of the game came late in the second quarter, when they combined to stuff Virginia Tech quarterback David Wilson dead in his tracks to complete a goal line stand -- and keep Michigan out of a two-touchdown hole.
For the game, Martin and Van Bergen -- who needed crutches to walk onto the media stage after the game -- combined for 14 tackles and a sack in their final game as Wolverines.
Their careers weren't perfect, but neither was Michigan's defense on that day. It didn't much matter, though, as two of the brightest faces of the program's "Team 132" went out on top.
"This one cements our place in Michigan history for a long time," Van Bergen said afterward. "Team 132 will be remembered, no doubt about it."
Notable: Speaking of playing on one foot.
Michigan's offense was borderline miserable throughout most of the 2012 Sugar Bowl, and things could have actually been worse if Molk hadn't fought through some severe foot pain.
The senior center had severed a tendon in his right foot -- an injury that would later deal a heavy blow to his NFL draft stock -- causing him to lose feeling and putting his final Michigan game in jeopardy.
Backup center Rocko Khoury took the field for the first series, a three-and-out that featured one high snap and two fumbled snaps.
That was all Molk needed to see.
“I don’t know if I was fighting for my life. I still had one leg,” he said in the Michigan locker room after the game. “C’mon, I can squat a ton. One leg’s good enough.”
It was good enough for Michigan, too.
Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com
When: Nov. 26, 2011
Where: Media room beneath Michigan Stadium
What: Denard Robinson is a lot of things. But retrospective and open with the Michigan media herd is usually not one of them.
Even so, moments after leading Michigan to one of its biggest regular-season victories in a decade -- a 40-34, seven-game losing-skid snapping win over Ohio State -- Robinson took a moment to reflect.
Without even being asked the question, he summed up a rather up and down calendar year in four words.
"I'm glad I stayed," he said.
When Michigan opted to fire Rich Rodriguez after Robinson's sophomore season, the dynamic signal-caller could have left. And few could have blamed him.
He was brought in to run the spread-option offense, and no matter who Michigan opted to hire, the style of play that made Robinson a star in Ann Arbor was never coming back.
But, he opted to stay. And under Hoke and new offensive coordinator Al Borges' hybrid spread/pro-style scheme, Robinson spent just about every second of the 2011 season under the microscope.
He threw too many interceptions. His footwork was a mess. He made too many rushed decisions. Should be play wide receiver? What about running back? Can he even take a snap under center?
Against Ohio State in the regular-season finale, though, there was no microscope. His play was way too big to fit under it.
Robinson had perhaps the most efficient showing of his career on arguably the biggest stage of the season.
His final numbers against Ohio State: 14-for-17 passing for 167 yards and three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He rushed for 170 yards and two scores on 26 carries.
In total, 337 yards, five touchdowns, zero turnovers and a whole bunch of postgame smiles.
Robinson's glad he stayed.
It's safe to say Michigan is, too.
Notable: As back-and-forth as the Michigan-Ohio State game proved to be, the scene after the game might have been just as memorable.
Shortly after Courtney Avery's game-clinching interception and Michigan's subsequent kneel-down, the Wolverines stormed the field, gathered in a circle and celebrated with a "grenade" like display.
Ohio State players weren't thrilled with the move.
"Karma is gonna be a (expletive) for that little 'celebration' at the end," Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman tweeted afterward.
Michigan travels to Columbus on Nov. 24.
Kickoff, as always, is set for noon.