I know my own impression is that it's a vast, lonely forbidding type existence, great expanse of nothing, that looks rather like clouds and clouds of pumice stone, and it certainly would not appear to be a very inviting place to live or work.
- Apollo 8 Commander Frank Borman, describing the moon while orbiting it on Christmas Eve, 1968
If ESPN used a different score graphics package going into and out of commercials, this game might be known as M0N0. If those in charge of scheduling had made this a road game for Northwestern, we'd have N00M, which doesn't give you much to work with, or N0M0. But that is not what last year's Michigan-Northwestern game is. It is M00N.
M00N is a sad game, and some of that tragedy comes from the advantage of hindsight. Winning didn't save Michigan's season or Brady Hoke's job, as they followed this with a home finale loss to Maryland. Losing didn't inspire Northwestern to a turnaround; even though they beat Notre Dame a week later, the Wildcats missed bowl eligibility by losing to a depleted Illinois team in their last game. That's the bad news.
The good news is every astronaut gets astronaut ice cream. Let's check out today's flavors.
SLOW CHURNED RUNNING GAME: We take Northwestern's ground attack and thin it down to the point where it only averages 1.85 yards per carry. That number does not include sacks; if it did, we'd be into negative numbers and nobody's figured out how to make ice cream from the cold vacuum of space yet.
STRAWBERRY SHORTFIELD: You'll absolutely need the sweetness of fresh picked berries to counterbalance the fact that Michigan starts eight drives from its own 40 yard line or better and winds up with a grand total of seven points to show for them. Not wanting to be left out, the Wildcats start with the ball in Michigan territory three times in the second half. Those drives yield zero points and negative 11 yards.
ONE CONE IN MY POCKET: A specialty flavor, inspired by this Brady Hoke nervous tic.
It doesn't appear to be a scratching technique, so my only theory is that Hoke's worried about his reputation for clapping all the time and has developed this method of keeping his hands apart.
BLOCKY ROAD: For Northwestern fans, the main advantage of this flavor is not having to play with Michigan's offensive line.
The Michigan version is the same, except you don't have to play with Northwestern's.
DOUBLE THIRD DOWN CONVERSION: Actually, we're out of this flavor, because the Wolverines one this game despite converting one third down out of twelve. I barely know what to do with that fact, Northwestern.
Son of a bitch! What the hell happened?
- Apollo 10 Lunar Module Pilot Gene Cernan, after nearly crashing into the moon's surface during final testing of the module
Let us take a moment to discuss the quarterbacks present for M00N, Trevor Siemian and Devin Gardner. Each had appeared in at least forty games before this, and each was heading towards the end of his college career. Both ended 2014 with more interceptions than touchdowns thrown, their overall passing numbers far worse than what they'd put up a season earlier.
Though they play the same position, Siemian and Gardner have different roles to play on this doomed expedition. The latter is the Reluctance Specialist, because I firmly believe Devin Gardner just wanted the whole season to be over at this point, and I don't blame him for that a bit. 2014 turned people who just WATCHED Michigan into fatalists. Actually playing for the team must have been unimaginably hellish.
Gardner's final line: 11/24, 115 total yards, and two interceptions. These are the numbers of a man who acknowledged he had to be present and then tried his best to do little more than that.
Siemian, on the other hand, has been assigned the task of Foolhardiness Engineer. As we've discussed, he has no running game, and hardly anything resembling an offensive line. In many complex machines, failures in one or two systems tend to avalanche and cause problems in others, which suggests Siemian's odds of passing successfully are low. But the Foolhardiness Engineer doesn't care what the odds are.
It is my firm and true belief that Siemian was not trying to throw the ball away here. He wanted this to be a completion -- an impossible, astonishing, game-changing completion. Trevor Siemian threw 49 passes against Michigan, and in his mind they were all capable of greatness. Whether you call that naivete or hopefulness, that is an essential element you need to get to M00N.
My secret terror for the last six months has been leaving them on the Moon and returning to Earth alone; now I am within minutes of finding out the truth of the matter.
- Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, just before Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong descended to the lunar surface
Nobody's set foot on the Moon since 1972, for reasons ranging from shifting fiscal priorities to changes in geopolitics. I think there is another factor: the Moon is a terrifying reminder of how random and improbable our planetary existence is. The other lifeless objects in the Solar System can be explained away because they're either too close or too far from the Sun. But the Moon is right there. Why is it so different from Earth? How is our planet a biological cornucopia while the Moon is barren? The Moon just sits there, silent, reminding us that planetary life is the exception and not the rule. And that, in part, is why we haven't gone back.
Technically, Michigan and Northwestern departed M00N's surface in the middle of the third quarter, when De'Veon Smith scored a touchdown. But the atmosphere of M00N (and what a toxic thing that is) would not be left behind until the final whistle, a marker that became dangerously close to slipping away when Northwestern drove 74 yards in three minutes and scored a touchdown to make the score 10-9. Pat Fitzgerald could have called for an extra point and gone to overtime. He didn't, and later chalked that decision up to being aggressive. Possibly, he remembered the pain of losing in triple overtime to Michigan at home a year earlier.
I prefer to think that Fitzgerald looked at Foolhardiness Engineer Siemian and Reluctance Specialist Gardner and made the only decision he could.
To go the hell home.