“He had trouble with the snap.” That sentence has become the East Lansing equivalent to Mike Hart’s misguided “little brother” comment in 2007. Let’s explore what’s happened to both players since the famous punt malfunction that drew death threats for Blake O’Neill.
What has happened to these two famous footnotes in college football history since?
Hart admits to being “mouthy” at age 21 when he pinned the unflattering label on Michigan’s in-state rival. He’s on record as saying he wished he never came to Michigan and criticized Jim Harbaugh when the current UM head coach was leading the Stanford program. After a short stint in the NFL as the Indianapolis Colt’s 6th round draft pick, Hart continued his football career as a coach. Whatever heat there may have been between Hart and Harbaugh must have cooled. Hart was on the sidelines in East Lansing this weekend in his first season as UM’s Backs coach 14 years after his infamous remark.
“I’ve said a lot of things in my life,” Hart told the press recently. “You guys know that! Youth, inexperience. I think that people say things when you’re angry, and I’ve learned not to say things when I’m angry, I’ll tell you that.. Me and Jim have been great. It didn’t just start when he hired me. We’ve had a relationship before that — he didn’t just call me out of the blue. We’ve talked over the years since he’s gotten here. We’ve texted about the Ohio State game, we’ve played the same teams they’ve played. We’ve had a relationship. There’s no animosity, we’re good, we’ve been good.”
Now a contrast.
O’Neill is now a Senior Advisor for Reputation and Brand at the Montreal office of Rio Tinto, a London based mining company. He earned a master’s degree at Michigan after undergrad studies at Australia’s RMIT University. And he earned our respect for his interaction with the press after the snap incident.
“What we always said is if you have a bad kick, you have to flush the toilet. I think the big thing is, American football is an incredible thing when you look at the sheer interest on the game. That’s one of the great positives of a school like Michigan. A guy like me from Australia can go out there and play in front of 100,000 people. If you boil it down, mistakes happen every other play depending on the position. That’s the beauty of football, you do the best to nip and tuck and learn your craft as best you can.”
As for his own unique contribution to the canon of perennial smack talk, O’Neill continues to keep things in context.
“My prevailing memory from that time was the sheer outpouring of positive messages and support. Emails, letters, kids at school drawing pictures for me. That’s great as a player, especially a foreign player who was in for a year, to receive that.”
“These kinds of rivalries make college football exciting and fun and the firebrand football we like to watch,” O’Neill said. “I have no problems at all being part of stoking that fire.”
Two years after that unforgettable afternoon, O’Neill told the Detroit News he was grateful for the “whirlwind experience,” for the opportunity to live and learn in Ann Arbor and for the friends he still treasures.
Scott Sypniewski, the center who delivered the knee-high snap that caused the “trouble,” was part of O’Neill’s fantasy football team in Australia. When O’Neill introduced him to the group, Sypniewski broke the ice. O’Neill told The News, “He said, ‘Hey guys. I’m the guy who snapped the ball to Blake that he decided to drop,’”
Time will tell how the career trajectories of Mike Hart and Blake O’Neill play out. But for my money, the philosophical punter from Australia knows how to put failure in perspective and is destined for success in whatever field he ultimately chooses.
It’s a life lesson in character and class with gifts for all of us.