He earned his nickname before he got to Ann Arbor, but Denard Robinson‘s moniker of “Shoelace” will surely live on in the football history of the Michigan Wolverines. Robinson is one of the men who won’t be coming back to Ann Arbor next season for the Wolverines and with his exit, so is a bit of Wolverines football history.
From the moment he first stepped foot on the field at The Big House, I knew that this guy was going to be something special while wearing the maize & blue. His build, his athleticism, his speed, all of it created a kind of quarterback that would catch the eye of Rich Rodriguez (the man who recruited him) and who would give the Wolverines a quarterback who could really run right around the time that kind of QB began to take over college football.
Robinson wasn’t just a flashy player, but a yards machine during his nearly three seasons as starting quarterback, doing it through the air and on the ground. In his first game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Robinson wracked up over 500 yards of offense by himself and scored the game-winning touchdown in the final minute of the game with his feet. He would continue to perform in this manner through the rest of the 2010 season and ended the season with over 2,500 yards passing and nearly 2,000 rushing yards. Truly, this was an emphatic statement by Robinson that he was the deserving starter for the Wolverines after winning the spot from Tate Forcier before the season. And it also made his name a household one in Ann Arbor.
The one thing I will always be thankful to Robinson for is staying with the Wolverines after Rodriguez’s firing. He could have taken his talents elsewhere in 2011 and there were teams that both wanted and could have used those talents. But he stayed, and his staying gave new coach Brady Hoke a great quarterback from the moment he returned to the school he was a coordinator for years before.
Robinson continued to excel in 2011. The numbers were a little down, but with more pieces on offense that he could work with, as well as a tremendous offensive line anchored by center David Molk, Robinson was able to guide the Wolverines’ offense more than doing everything himself. The result was the most wins Robinson would have in a season as quarterback as well as the Wolverines’ return to the BCS with a Sugar Bowl win over the Virginia Tech Hokies.
And of course, there’s Robinson’s greatest gift to the university he played for: a win over the Ohio St. Buckeyes. The 2011 installment is still the Wolverines’ only win over their nemesis since 2003. The 40-34 victory was a vintage Robinson performance. His passing was at its best on this way, going 14/17 through the air for 167 and three touchdowns. This went along with a great rushing day that included a 41-yard touchdown scamper and totaled 170 yards on the ground.
It’s really a shame that Robinson’s final months on the field for the Wolverines weren’t better. The elbow injury in late-October as well as Devin Gardner‘s fine job replacing Robinson at quarterback guaranteed that when healthy, “Shoelace” wasn’t going to be back on the field behind center. However, that’s not how I choose to remember Robinson, and it’s doubtful that many Wolverines fans will remember him that way. No, they will likely share my sentiment about the man who helped make a team relevant after a few years of being anything but.
More than that, he was simply fun to watch. And when you have a quarterback who is fun to watch every week win more and more, he becomes something more than that a fun player. Considering where the football program was when Robinson first came to Ann Arbor and where it is now, you have to credit Robinson in some small way for helping to make it happen. He may be the most entertaining quarterback the Wolverines have ever had, and that’s a fitting legacy for the college days of the man known as “Shoelace.” I will miss him in that uniform, but time does march on.