- Mitch Galloway
The Oct. 17 Big Ten game between Michigan and Michigan State was all but over. The Wolverines were up 23-21 with 10 seconds left. The game was finished; the Paul Bunyan Trophy was already headed toward or in Michigan's locker room, according to reports.
The Wolverines had the ball on fourth down in a one-step-and-punt situation.
But then the carpet was rolled out underneath Michigan's Blake O'Neill. The ball, looking like a hot potato in O'Neill's limp arms, plummeted to the ground.
As the ball rolled on the carpet for a few seconds, smeared with sweat and turf beads, soon rolled out the hate mail, the death threats and the negative salutes to Michigan's No. 12 player -- the guy who made the costly mistake.
No fans were laughing at this gaffe.
It was a mistake, yes, but no one died on the field; Michigan wasn't losing its program after the loss. Yet this didn't stop the hate mail from rolling in.
Are you kidding me? These threats were as useful as Michigan's preparation for the punt. I mean, really, Coach Harbaugh? An all-out MSU blitz when two of your players were split wide as gunners didn’t induce a need for an audible of sorts?
No. I guess not. Instead, O'Neill is playing the antagonist. In every game there is a winner or a loser -- unless you play soccer, hockey and even the NFL with the scoring of ties, or baseball and its postponements -- and every moment of a contest is scrutinized to the most minute detail.
We, America, are a starving country -- a country hungry for gladiators on a rectangular, 100-plus yard field.
These gladiators face the Bartman of unfortunates, and the magnified glass is pressed on their faces so hard, so relentless and so unfair that people have to wonder how they even breathe.
But athletes must bask in this criticism.
That’s why Michigan Athletic Director Jim Hackett sent a rebuttal to those stupid tweets -- to those sophomoric fans.
There was this pending outlook after the game. Instead of being 6-1 and on a playoff-bid run, the Wolverines were now 5 and 2, with a reason to boo.
Michigan will recover and so too will O'Neill.
He responded earlier this week about the event and the hate mail.
"I don’t know if there was a healing process, you make errors in a football game, you learn from them and you sort of move on,” O'Neill said in a Detroit Free Press article on Oct. 21. “Great to have them (his family) here to look over and go, ‘Hey, could you have done better there?’ My brother and dad played football growing up so they know the situation.”
But for every one lousy fan who bombarded O'Neill with nasty messages on Twitter and other social media formats, there were the hundreds of others supporting O'Neill and the unfortunate outcome.
"Been very interesting, a lot of support from the Michigan fan base, from teammates, even the people back home that a game over here could get all the way back to Australia, but it did,” he said. “It’s been overwhelming the support I’ve received.”
This situation with O'Neill wasn't quarterback Mark Sanchez and the inimitable "butt fumble." No. Those fans were laughing at that gaffe which was featured more times on ESPN than Tim Tebow. Just barely, however.
Instead, this was school-yard bullying, this was steal-your-lunch-money abuse, and this was being a ginger unfair.
To dissatisfied Michigan fans, get over it. There’s another game this week to shout about.