It was as if Denard Robinson had sold his soles to pile up nearly 1,000 yards and two final-minute victories against Notre Dame the past two years.
When it came time to settle up, the cost seemed almost too much to bear. The one who silenced the thunder, tamed Touchdown Jesus and turned the Four Horsemen into mule riders reached for the magic one more time, and came up with a handful of sawdust.
There would be no other-worldly 502 total yards this time around in Notre Dame Stadium. A fourth-quarter comeback loomed there for the taking, but Michigan's senior quarterback ran out of golden moments against the Golden Domers.
This time, the miracle turned to mud.
Robinson fired four interceptions, on four straight first-half throws. He coughed up a costly fumble inside the Notre Dame red zone. The turnovers took almost certain U-M points off the board, and set up the Irish for the scant few they scored.
In short, Robinson hit rock bottom, in his own assessment.
"Oh yeah, this is the most disappointed I've ever been in myself," he said. "In the 22 years I've been living, it's the most disappointed I've been in myself."
A moment later, he added: "This was the worst game of my career."
It was unquestionably the biggest turnaround he's experienced against any opponent. Robinson spent the past two years inhabiting Irish nightmares, a sort of hard-charging hobgoblin from which Brian Kelly's crew couldn't escape.
Robinson drew a spotlight gleaming brighter than Notre Dame's helmets in those final-seconds dual dustings of the Irish. Now, a different sort of glare trained itself on him.
The senior stood against the wall in a cramped hallway off the tunnel entrance to Notre Dame Stadium. Surrounded by cameras, microphones and digital recorders, he tried to explain what he himself found nearly inexplicable - how it all fell apart so resoundingly.
In the home locker room, another proud and accomplished performer breathed a sigh of relief. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame's irresistible force at linebacker, secured exactly half of Robinson's four interceptions.
He also secured something that meant far more. He earned a win over the Wolverines, and the scourge of South Bend.
"I mean, he's gotten me the past two years, and in total, Michigan's got me three years, so I'm just glad on my last one, my last hurrah, I was finally able to have something to celebrate, you know?" Teo offered.
Robinson knows. He's been there. He's rejoiced deep into the night over victories against Notre Dame. This time around, he felt the other end of the shillelagh.
Brady Hoke certainly didn't spend any breath upbraiding his senior quarterback. Asked if he ever considered replacing Robinson, he issued a terse "No," and pointed instead to what No. 16 has accomplished in better moments.
"The guy has done a pretty daggone good job being a quarterback at Michigan and made some good throws in the first half," Hoke said. "You know, it's just better decision making, and move forward."
It's a move that can be made, with championship-level results, over the next 10 weeks. As far away as any such considerations seem, with the Wolverines sitting at 2-2 and a pair of night terrors under their belt, Michigan's season didn't end in the tidal wave of turnovers.
It said in this space months ago the Wolverines could stumble to 2-2 in the non-conference season and still strongly challenge for a Big Ten championship in a seriously flawed league. Nothing has changed. In fact, the Big Ten's bumbles along the way have only fueled the notion that the title can be secured by someone stepping forward to grab it.
Michigan, and its quarterback, took a giant step backwards in the wee hours at Notre Dame Stadium. But they realize there's a season beyond September.
"I want to say sorry to everybody who watched Michigan football, and whoever follows Michigan football," Robinson plaintively pronounced. "I want to say sorry. It won't happen any more. I'm going to be accountable for the rest of the season, I'll tell you that much."
When asked what that means, he jumped in before the question ended.
"I'm going to do whatever it takes to win," he vowed. "Whatever it takes for the team to win, that's what I'm going to do. I don't want to feel like this anymore."
None of them do. They rejoiced together the last two years, when Robinson led the final-seconds comebacks that devastated the Irish. They all stewed in the misery when fate demanded payback.
Now, they've got a choice. Robinson has clearly made his.
"We never give up," he assured. "You'll never see Team 133 give up. We're going to keep fighting. Every time we get a chance to step on the field, we're going to keep fighting. We'll never stop."
Notre Dame stopped Robinson's birthday celebration dead in its tracks. But there's a bigger present to open, and it will go to whatever collection of Big Ten mistake-makers turns it around the quickest.
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