By Rob Staton
My wife is usually enthusiastic when I show her highlight reels of college football players. It’s not boring at all and she definitely doesn’t wish I would stop doing it.
Years ago, I asked her a simple question: “Have you ever seen a man run harder than a bear?” She said no. So I showed her Christine Michael.
This was a special moment. Once she’d gotten over the initial confusion that there was a football player named Christine, it was one great big visual slice of excellence. Michael ran with the explosive panache of a train combined with one of those big fireworks you see in cartoons.
The year is 2012 and we’re at least another four years away from Twitter deciding running backs don’t matter. Michael has 12 touchdowns for Texas A&M — combining incredible lower body power and girth with the speed and acceleration usually saved only for the very best runners, like Justin Forsett.
Suddenly — and cruelly — Michael is hauled out of the A&M line-up.
One wondered at the time if Kevin Sumlin decided he’d had enough of success and wanted to find out what it’d be like to coach Oregon State.
Per sources, here is the actual exchange between player and coach:
Sumlin: “Christine, I’m going to bench you for the rest of the season. Don’t be alarmed when you hear reports in the media saying you’re in my doghouse. You’re not.”
Sumlin continues: “…It’s just I’m a big believer in destiny and last night I had a dream that you will deliver greatness to the Seattle Seahawks.”
(Michael nods again)
Sumlin, mused: “….The thing is, the Seahawks are suddenly the hottest team in the league. They have star players like Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson and Jeremy Lane. So there’s no way for the prophecy to be delivered unless I do something totally reckless like benching you for the rest of the year. And not because you keep falling asleep during meetings or are really inconsistent because you aren’t. This is all because of my dream last night. Yep. The dream. A&M will suffer* but I’m a players coach and you need to be in Seattle.”
* Texas A&M went on to beat Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl 41-13 that year but that’s another story.
Come draft time, the college benching provoked a fall into round two. Were teams put off by the doghouse stuff or simply intimated by Michael’s raw masculinity? I’ll let you be the judge of that.
The Seahawks were able to land their man after a dangerous and unnecessary trade back in round two.
Finally, Michael was a Seahawk. What the team didn’t know at the time was they were getting perfection.
Sadly, perfection can sometimes be a bad thing.
In a cruel twist of fate, Michael was actually too good for the NFL. He ran too well in practise and poorly sourced rumours have suggested certain members of the LOB had a meeting with Pete Carroll to ask Michael to tone it down. He was just too tough.
Increasingly members of staff resorted to referring to Michael as ‘champ’ around the practise facility. One offensive lineman (who can’t be named for obvious reasons) complained he hadn’t been given a cool nickname and demanded to be called ‘the big man’ immediately. Nobody called him ‘the big man’ and it led to resentment and accusations of favouritism.
Pete Carroll also felt compromised with his new dynamic weapon. He wanted to save Michael for a special occasion. A bad source says the player was often referred to as ‘Secret Weapon Blue Metal Z.’ The plan was to introduce Michael into a game at a critical juncture. He would then use his explosive lower body power and menacing propensity to celebrate after every short gain to exploit an ill-prepared opponent.
Unfortunately, the Seahawks were the class of the NFL in 2013 and 2014 and no such moment occurred due to their dominance. This left the players and staff frustrated.
The defining moment of Michael’s career came in Super Bowl XLIX against New England. Many have second-guessed the play-call that led to Russell Wilson’s heartbreaking interception. Should they have run the football with Marshawn Lynch? Was a pass right?
Sources close to nobody suggest the real issue was whether this was the moment to unleash Michael into the game. After several seconds of dilly-dallying about whether to run Marshawn or Michael, Darrell Bevell is said to have yelled in frustration, “Fine! We won’t run either of them then!” He opted for a pass and the rest is history.
A lesser player wouldn’t have provoked such a moment of indecision. Maybe the Seahawks would’ve simply run Marshawn had they been relying on 2008 T.J. Duckett as the alternative and not the man affectionately known as ‘champ.’
You could argue the Christine Michael era will forever be summed up as such — he was so good he cost Seattle a Super Bowl.
And people wonder why he was released…