The mark of a gentleman is that he behaves like one even when he doesn’t feel like it, and Lloyd Carr didn’t feel like it as he ran off at halftime of the Michigan-Ohio State game. For a moment, in ungentlemanly fashion, he let mood dictate behavior. An ABC reporter fired a question about why Michigan had just run out the clock when it had three time-outs left.
Carr glared at him.
“Why would you ask a dumb question like that?” he said.
When the reporter tried again, Carr ignored him and walked away, shaking his head as if the guy were an idiot.
Now, that was wrong. It was rude. But it happens. You are not always at your best when the camera flicks on. The mark of who you are is how you own up to it. So let it be noted here that Carr, the day after, did just that.
“I sincerely regret my behavior yesterday to Todd Harris,” he said over the phone from his Ann Arbor home Sunday. “I was rude, and that was inexcusable.”
He wasn’t reading from a statement. He was talking. He was genuinely sorry. And, more to the point, he had already told his team the same thing. Listen, men, I shouldn’t have done that, he told them. You don’t act like that.
“I expect a lot out of my players,” he said, “and it’s only fair that I live by the same standards.
“Was it a fair question? Yeah. It was a fair question. I could explain why it bothered me, but that wouldn’t excuse it. What’s important is that I shouldn’t have behaved that way. It was wrong.”
Now, this might not be the kind of thing you would expect to hear from a coach the day after he beat the archest of his arch-rivals, the day after a glorious, bloody victory in a 100-game war.
On a day like that, you might expect a coach to howl and holler and wave the carcass of his vanquished foe and dare anyone to question anything he does.
Carr isn’t like that.
It is something Michigan can be proudest of.
And now for the quarterback
John Navarre, similarly, showed the depth of his character this weekend. For several years, the Wolverines quarterback had been the whipping boy for frustrated Michigan fans, who not only anguished over their school’s failure to contend for the national championship, but bemoaned its back-to-back losses to Ohio State.
Navarre, during this time, was more like a Lions quarterback, blamed for everything, a human frustration receptacle.
So when he helped deliver the convincing victory Saturday — his last regular-season game for the Wolverines — Navarre could have pounded his chest. He could have told the media to kiss his butt, that he had nothing to say.
Instead, he spoke thoughtfully and, at times, tearfully, of what it meant to win Saturday’s game, and to leave college with a Big Ten title.
“The reality was I was going to be defined by the game,” he said Saturday, “so I worked harder and prepared harder, and so did this team. I wouldn’t be at any other place than this, and I wouldn’t want to share it with any other group of guys.”
You know what they call that?
And now for the Rose Bowl
Let’s be honest: The pressure of college football is like a vat of boiling tar bubbling inches beneath your feet. The things Carr and Navarre deal with these days are different than they were even 15 years ago. Sports talk radio is pervasive; it creates a Greek chorus that can echo endlessly with criticism. And the Internet is a whole new source of venom, with cowards able to hide behind anonymous yet worldwide insults.
After Saturday’s victory, Carr called those types of attacks on Navarre
“despicable.” On Sunday, he elaborated: “When you’re a coach, you expect to deal with those things. But I really feel it’s wrong to hold college athletes to the same standards and scrutiny as we do professionals.”
He sighed. I see this stuff taking a toll on Carr. Over the years, he looks more tired, he sighs more often, and I get the sense he has to focus harder on being the gentleman who once came so easily to him.
This is life under the magnifying glass: The flaws seem bigger, the heat gets hotter.
So Michigan fans should really savor Saturday. For one thing, U-M seemed like the only school in America delirious to win its conference and go to a bowl. Players weren’t arguing for BCS points. They wanted Pasadena.
Besides, who knows how much longer Carr will want to put up with this stuff? He said Sunday, “I loved every minute of the last seven days,” but football is a lot more than that one week, and incidents like Saturday’s halftime eruption may be more telling than they look. This game just wears you out.
Michigan 35, Ohio State 21. It was a good run for the roses. And who thought a game so steeped in blood and guts also could teach a few things about men and manners?
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He will sign copies of “The Five People You Meet In Heaven” at 7:30 tonight at Borders in Grosse Pointe, at 11:30 a.m. Friday at Waldenbooks in Novi’s Twelve Oaks Mall and at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Waldenbooks in Auburn Hills’ Great Lakes Crossing.