Here you go...delayed due to SARS...
The bottom. The ground floor. This has to be it.
Rumors swirl of transferring players, we endure lost recruit commitments, and the rabid fans need to "get a life." All of it takes center stage with The Game approaching, and the media is enjoying picking at the carcass of what they perceive to be the end of Michigan Football. If perception is reality, then this whole thing...the coaching change and everything that has taken place following it...is an epic failure. Eight losses with an impending ninth. A ship that can't be righted. They say it's over. They suggest starting over.
If you were there, and stayed there, and did not move from your seat until Nick Sheridan's final pass sailed out of bounds, you have completed the final challenge. This is the worst it can ever be: an awful team that does things specifically intended to hurt you playing a meaningless game against Northwestern in weather not fit for man nor beast. With multiple infuriating million-year-long media timeouts in the fourth quarter. That they lose.
If you put up with it (and far, far fewer than the announced 107,000 did), you are hardcore. You have a black belt in fandom. You get the Fandom Endurance III merit badge. If anyone ever questions your Michigan allegiance, you can just say "I was at the 2008 Northwestern game" and they will have to step off. If they fail to do so with sufficient obsequiousness I'm pretty sure you can cave their skull in with your finger.*
It will be sewn to my vest next to the "turnover endurance in a deluge" badge from Notre Dame and my "hook and lateral" badge from West Lafayette. All year, even as indifference crept in, I came up with excuses at every turn. Reasons to attend were manifested through little things that I hoped to see each Saturday...and this damn consecutive games streak. Nearly every time, I returned to my car having not seen any of those hopes come to fruition. If I was lucky, I'd have a good bar burger, a well planned tailgate, or a fond fairwell to a crappy domed venue to soothe the pain.
In happy times, describing the deep rooted feelings of your fandom comes out in simple terms. We rule! You suck! We are going to kick your ass and there is nothing you can do about it. Watch as we dominate. That's why in blissful situations we ask for someone to dig below our surface and put into words that which we cannot, i.e. "they should have sent a poet." But in these times, times of loss and despair, everybody becomes a poor man's Johnny. We are all in deep reflection. Our pain pours out on to paper not only to entertain our readers, but to help ourselves. Fan sites become journals that help us cope with the situation.
Normally at this time of year, I find myself watching only ESPN. Bowl matchups and game breakdowns. Who are we gonna play if we win? Who are we gonna play if we lose? I used to hate having to wait the weeks for the SEC championship game result to tell me who the opponent was going to be on New Year's Day.
Now, I just hate. And I haven't seen Sportscenter in over a month. I've watched Hoosiers three times. It's available on demand on Encore if you have Comcast. Lately I've been chasing it with Michigan - Ohio State : The Rivalry (now out on DVD) and an occasional spattering of the second half of the Wisconsin game and last year's Citrus Bowl. Why Hoosier's? Because the parallels are mind blowing. It's the tale of a coach that brings in a new system to a town with a rich tradition. He plays the tail end of an opening game with 4 players just to prove a point. Early on, the town tries to fire him just because he's an outsider. He goes on to break down a group of athletes to their core, teaches them fundamentals, loses early, then builds them back up into champions. He is even forced into playing Indiana basketball's version of Nick Sheridan, Ollie, who after turning the ball over nails two underhand free throws to send the Huskers to the championship game. This is the Disney ending to the RichRod era of Michigan Football that I expect someday, so let me know when Jimmy Chitwood shows up on the recruiting boards.
Fortunately all of this self-loathing has ended for me. Disappointment and dissatisfaction...that was yesterday. I teared up for the 20th time when The Rivalry showed Bo "taking one last look at Michigan Stadium" just two days before his passing, and realized what a small and insignificant data point a single season is. Just as Ohio State football, no matter how hard they wish, did not start with Jim Tressel's time as head coach, Michigan Football did not end with the hiring of Rich Rodriguez. This is one season. One season with the most important game left to be played.
So I reach one last time, further than I thought possible to reach, and grasp one last straw of hope. Saturday. November 22nd. 39 years to the day (page 28-29) that Bo created a miracle to spite his mentor (1969).Â 11 years to the day that Michigan took down the Buckeyes for the 3rd consecutive time on the road to a National Championship (1997). November 22nd. November 22nd. November 22nd.
For the rest of us - it's time to get up. Get your ass off the mat, wipe the blood out of your eyes, pop your shoulder back into place, and go out to get hit in the mouth once again. There's no shame in getting your ass kicked. Only in letting your ass get kicked.
It's Ohio State week. Fuck them.
We say goodbye to the seniors, and then we say goodbye to eachother. Saturday's tailgate theme, perfectly appropriate with the weather forecast, is Soups and Stews. The patented sausage and cheese chowder will make an appearance. Tailgating note: The Grill has been moved to storage, so burner space will be limited. If you are bringing a soup or stew, you might also want to dust off your portable stove.
It will be a very long layoff with no bowl game, so we will have our annual post game banquet. Drop me a note if you plan to attend. Those "in the know" know where it will be. You can also drop me a note if you think you need to be added to those that are "in the know." Confused? Me too.
See you Saturday for morning darkness with a side of flurries!
Something that year to year we pine for, that we count the seconds to, that we hope never ends, will come to a close in just 10 days.Â It's been the kind of season that has had us all looking for the fast forward button.Â Get me to 2009.Â Get me to 2010.Â Show me that the right decision was made.Â But if we had access to that button, we would have missed that which has made us grow, to appreciate the past more than ever, to appreciate victory like never before.Â If what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, then we endured life support from September 28th to November 7th.
If that date range was the meat, then this season was certainly sandwiched on a couple of nice pieces of bread.Â The Wisconsin miracle, regardless of its statistical insignificance, meant something to all of us.Â The claiming of the jug that with Minnesota off the schedule leaves it in Schembechler Hall until 2011 showed that this team is capable of manifesting a throwing out of the record books...and perhaps that things are moving in a direction more sideways than down.
A group of seniors that returned and endured despite the shift in leadership, that "stayed," will leave here without becoming what would be defined as "champions." Without a bowl, they will end their careers earlier than any player in 33 years. They now play for their younger brothers, for the future. On Saturday, they will fight for the promise of a better day. They will muster up the courage and the drive to inspire the underclassmen in their final contest as Wolverines at home.
Their opponent, whose rich tradition can be read in seconds in the "ring of bowl games" up in Ryan Field, will come to Ann Arbor as overachievers. At 7-3, they have already qualified for the postseason Michigan cannot get to, and few expected them to be at this level this season. The bowl game they play in will be their 7th...ever. EVER. And despite that fact, and despite Michigan's performance at the Metrodome, the Northwestern Wildcats will come in with all the confidence. There is still a scent of Maize and Blue blood floating around The Big House, and everybody wants their piece of the seemingly weak Wolverines. The Wildcats want revenge....for previous beatings, for being an afterthought in college football, for their lot in life. They want to take away the last chance for these seniors to get the elusive third victory walk to the maize clad student corner of Michigan Stadium. To sing the victors one last time, to feel the admiration of those who always wanted to believe in the present, and that believe in a future where just being in the presence of Michigan is worth a touchdown or two in fear points.
And that's why Saturday is so important. It will be a send off for those who won't get to be a part of what we all believe will be something extraordinary, and that will play with the same vigor as if they never lost.