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.