We've all got our favorite memories. We've all got that that moment that morphed us from fans into fanatics. It's that play, or that game, or that player, or that celebration...the one we point to when a lesser fan inquires about our passion, when they wonder why when the boys run out to touch the banner, there's only one place we can be. We use that moment to try to impart our passion on to them. We invite them to games, hoping that they will experience something that will become their moment. Because we are always looking for others to share in our bliss as well as our burden.
I attended my first game 27 years ago. It was against Northwestern. I don't remember much about it, other than we killed them. I was 8, which in our group of tailgaters makes me a late bloomer. In our group, you will usually see Michigan take the field before you're baptized. At the time, the only sports team I cared about was the Detroit Tigers. The next day, the Tigers won the World Series, and I remember running out in to the street in front of my grandmother's house in Wyandotte, yelling and cheering. I had kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings spanning from spring training to the clincher, cutting out every box score and every article. I was hooked. And I remain a fan to this day. There's a game on in the background as I type this right now.
Fast forward to 22 years later (to the day), and the Tigers had, against all odds, clawed their way back into the postseason and were facing the Oakland A's. It was the first time any of us had faced the scheduling conundrum that occurs when your baseball team is in the playoffs, and your life's passion is playing regular season football games. We were at Penn State for game 4 of the ALCS. We were tailgating, watching sporadically on the RV television's poor signal. We left the tailgate and were walking to the stadium when Magglio sent the Tigers to the World Series with his walk off 3-run homer. One of the greatest moments in Detroit sports history, and I didn't even see a replay until Monday. But Michigan beat Penn State 17-10, and in our world, Michigan victories are all that matter. The win moved us to 7-0, on the way to 11-0 before The Game of the Century and the Rose Bowl debacle left us at 11-2. The win also bumped us from #4 to #2 in the country, eerily similar to the way the 1997 victory in Happy Valley did.
That game from 1997 is my moment. Beaver Stadium, empty other than the Maize and Blue faithful that had made the long drive to the middle of nowhere. Empty cement seats providing reverb of the small pack of us chanting "it's great to be a Michigan Wolverine." So much buildup, so much hype, and perhaps the only time I can remember when Michigan entered a big time game, in a big time situation, and just absolutely dominated their opponent.
Dominating victories bring us together. Close victories bring us together. Comeback victories bring us together. But the truth is, it is our defeats that define us. College Football is the number one purveyor of "misery loves company." And when your team has a storied history, when it has reached the pinnacle of the college football world, when it is looked at as "elite," misery is what you can expect to experience before season's end. Only one team will end this season happy. There's a lot of great programs out there, programs with huge, loyal and passionate fanbases, and they are all going to be disappointed. Yep. We're probably going to lose to somebody we shouldn't have, and it's going to ruin everything, and you're going to be pissed all week. And then you'll be back on Saturday, ready to do it all over again.
You'll do it because you're waiting for the game they win over a better team, for the victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. You'll do it to see Denard, or the next Denard. You'll do it because the tailgate is your support system, the stadium is your basilica, The Victors is your battle hymn. You'll do it because Desmond posed, Woodson pointed, and Daydrion Taylor left it all on the field.
It doesn't matter who the coach is. It doesn't matter who the players are. It doesn't matter if we're running the spread or shotgun or I-formation or the 4-3 or 3-4 or 3-3-5. All that matters is Michigan. All that matters is winning.
We're all here, together, just waiting for the next one...that next moment.
This season, Tailgater Stephen will be attending his 175th consecutive Michigan game...home, away and bowl. Bubba has missed only one in that same stretch, and I will be crossing the 150-game milestone. Crazy? Perhaps.
I'd skip game 7 of the World Series to see Michigan play Rice.