Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett is standing between Wolverines punter Blake O'Neill and the social-media scorn from Michigan's own fans. O'Neill mishandled a snap on the final play of the Wolverines' 27-23 loss to rival Michigan State on Saturday, resulting in a game-winning 38-yard fumble return for a touchdown that kept the Spartans undefeated.
The letter appears to have worked.
According to the Detroit Free-Press, social media feedback for O'Neill has turned somewhat more supportive since initial reactions. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio expressed his support for O'Neill as well.
"I have empathy for that because we've been on the other end of that stick, as well. I don't know that it's my place to reach out. I will say this: This is a game," Dantonio told WDFN radio, per the Free-Press. "This is the entertainment business that we're in. ... But it is a game, and other people need to realize that."
Lost in O'Neill's gut-wrenching miscue was that he had pinned Michigan State inside its 20-yard line three times previously in the game, and recorded the second-longest punt in school history (80 yards).