ANN ARBOR - The saying, Hollywood could not have scripted a better scenario, may never ring truer than with Saturday's colossal collision between Michigan and Ohio State in Columbus. And, an inspirational movie seems to have played a bit role in motivating the upstart Wolverines to position themselves to be a part of the historic blockbuster.
To help the Michigan players rebound from a dismal 7-5 season, coach Lloyd Carr showed them clips from the boxing movie Cinderella Man. The team would watch highlights of their previous game and Carr would end the session with scenes from the movie that details the fall and then resurrection of boxer Jim Braddock.
"That movie means a lot," said senior LaMarr Woodley, who leads the nation's third-ranked defense with 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. "No one believed in him. No one believed he still had it. That is the same thing with us. But now we're proving a lot of people wrong. We're not that same team from last year and we're fighting to get to the top."
Last season, Michigan finished with its worst record in 21 years. The much maligned Carr also fell to Ohio State coach Jim Tressel for the fourth time in five seasons.
"When I watched that film, there were so many things in that movie that really spoke to team," Carr said. "It really is a story about a guy who is trying to provide for his family. It's a team-oriented film even though boxing isn't a team sport. There's competition. There's scene after scene where there is a lesson."
In the film, Russell Crowe stars as Braddock, a real one-time champion who suffers through a string of losses and is completely down and out. But Braddock makes one of the greatest comebacks in boxing history.
Michigan quarterback Chad Henne said the film helped himself and his teammates put last season behind them and ascend to the No. 2 ranking in the polls after starting at No. 14. The Wolverines (11-0 overall, 7-0 Big Ten) play an OSU team with an identical record at 3:30 p.m. at Ohio Stadium.
"Coach Carr just wanted to get us to believe that we are the team that we need to be. That we're not the same person we were last year," said Henne, who is 27-8 and ranks second in UM history with an average of 207.5 yards passing per game. "It's a movie he has been showing us all year. It shows that we worked tremendously hard to get where we are right now."
Right tackle Rueben Riley said Carr has been more interactive and joking a bit more this season.
"He wants us to go in there with the mind-set that it's business, but it's also fun," Riley said. "Oddly [the movie] has fit perfectly. Coming back from a very uncomfortable season last year to having things go the way we want this year, that's our Cinderella story."
Carr's players said the longtime coach was unfairly criticized for last season's swoon and he deserves more credit for the turnaround.
"We want to go out and win for coach because of all of the flak he was getting for last year," said left tackle Jake Long, a candidate for the Outland and Lombardi awards. "We want to win this for him. He is a great coach and a great guy. He makes everyone around him better. He cares for you like you are his son. Everyone was down on him and saying he's not a good coach. That fired the team up and we wanted to get the respect for him and the team back."
Much also has been written about Carr's 1-4 record against Tressel. But the winningest coach in Michigan history, Bo Schembechler, said calls for Carr's dismissal are "hogwash."
"Go back through the history of the Michigan-Ohio State series. There have always been spots in the series where one would win two or three in a row. That's just the way it is," Schembechler said. "I think we should go back and look at Lloyd's record. I don't care whether he beats Tressel or not. He's done a marvelous job here, and here we are at 11-0. Our team from last year to this year is night and day. I mean, this is a proud, confident team."
Woodley said Carr, who has a 113-34 record at Michigan and is fifth among active coaches with a .769 winning percentage, shouldn't be blamed for last season's losses.
"When someone talks bad about your coach, it's like someone is talking bad about one of your family members. You want to prove them wrong," Woodley said. "He's a great coach. But it's up to the players to do the job. He can't go out and play the game."
Toledo native Willis Barringer, who played at Scott High, called Carr as "uppity" as he has ever been in his five years at UM. He said Carr is always upbeat.
When asked what he would say to someone who says Tressel has Carr's number, Barringer quipped, "He should call him sometime then."
Riley said his team's ability to finish off opponents, just as Braddock did in the movie, has been the biggest difference this year.
"Everyone wants to win for the team, and coach Carr is part of the team," Riley said. "We definitely want to win it for him."
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