Sunday, July 27, 2008

An appreciation of life.

I'm not sure if you can tell when you read any of my blog posts...but sports are a big deal to me. Too big a deal, you could say. I live vicariously through the teams I cherish the most. During the fall, my religion, my holy obligation, is Michigan football. I can legitimately say I have turned down sex to watch a Michigan football game. The karmic gods evened the score with me for that one in the most horrible of ways - Notre Dame 17, Michigan 10 in 2005.

(Side note: sex after your team loses, while not as good as after your team wins, is still very nice.)

The dog days of summer are dragging on. I try to watch a YouTube video of some highlight of the Red Wings' championship each day. I laugh when I read Lions' news on MLive. I scowl when I read the latest trade rumors involving the Pistons. I indulge my self-loathing side when I watch the Tigers slip further behind Chicago.

But in the end...all roads lead back to Ann Arbor.

Sometimes I watch some of Wolverine Historian's videos on YouTube. Sometimes I browse MGoBlog's archives. I obsessively browse Rivals and Scout for recruiting news and daydream about high school kids - people now YOUNGER than me - picking Michigan as their college destination. I do whatever I can to get a fix. If Michigan football was as deadly as heroin, I would've been dead before I turned 13 years old. But it's not as deadly. It just happens to be as addictive.

All the while...I wish that I had been born ten years earlier than I was. I was born on Wednesday, October 26th, 1988 - four days after Michigan beat Iowa and three days before they beat Northwestern. I overlook the fact that I was born during Notre Dame's championship season and dwell on the fact that I was born during the midst of a season that ended with Bo's last Rose Bowl win.
My earliest memories of Michigan football - faded with the passage of time and the blurriness of a young boy's mind - are from 1997, the glorious year we all look back on and remember with a twinkle in our eyes. I reportedly watched the 1995 and 1996 Ohio State games intently, but there is nothing in my mind. There is no memory of sitting on the couch in my living room watching the television as Tim Biakabutuka ran for 313 yards and Tai Streets beat a fallen Shawn Springs in Columbus. The most vivid memories I have of Ohio State are all ones I want to forget.

I wonder what it was like for Michigan fans that were my age in the mid 1990s. Was it as enjoyable then as it is to reflect upon now? The sweet taste of beating Ohio State, which seems completely foreign now, was it as sweet as remembering it years later? Do we now understand what Ohio State fans went through in the 90s? Do we anguish abotu Marquise Walker's drop as they anguished about Shawn Springs' slip? Was the agony that OSU fans felt in the decade of Cooper as terrible as the pain we feel now?

For coaches, monumental rivalry games are tricky. You have to find the balance between complete obsession and naive dismissal. If you obsess about one game all year and then lose it (see: Michigan State 2007), is there a more deflating feeling? On the other hand, if you treat it as "just another game" and then lose it (see: John Cooper), you face the wrath of all who follow you. Jim Tressel has successfully found that balance. He never puts all of his eggs in the Michigan basket, but he puts enough in it to make sure all of his players realize its significance. We, as Michigan fans, seem almost contractually obligated to spit at the very mention of his name, to dismiss him as a cheater. His track record points to two things: one, dubious behavior has indeed followed him throughout his coaching career, but two, nothing has ever stuck.

People like to point out that the NCAA has no guts, that their nuking of SMU in 1987 which effectively ended that program's competitiveness ended the NCAA's ability to completely control those that made money for it. The NCAA's Death Penalty is just that: it's a death sentence for any program that is stupid enough to break enough rules to warrant it. Alabama came close in 2002 when they were caught red-handed literally trying to buy a player. The NCAA lowered the hammer on them, and still there were cries of outrage that the Tide got off easy because it's one of the NCAA's golden schools.

The truth is - and even I say this skeptically as USC continues to operate with impunity despite pretty damning evidence that Reggie Bush swam in cash under their watch - if you cheat, the NCAA will bust you, and some form of sanctions will be dealt out. The fact is, despite all of Clarett's allegations, Troy Smith's 500 dollar handshake, all the innuendo that spreads throughout the internet, Ohio State hasn't been busted yet. The deranged Michigan fan will say it's because the NCAA is looking out for one of their cornerstones. The depressed Michigan fan will say it's because nothing of substance is actually happening, and Ohio State just owns us.

I happen to fall somewhere in between deranged and depressed. I have my own theories about what actually happens in Columbus, but so does everyone else. What I can say is what Ohio State has done since 2002 is damn impressive, and yes, I understand what Ohio State fans felt during the Cooper years - helplessness, fury, jealousy, frustration, depression. It's amplified nowadays, in the world of the interweb and recruiting websites. Each day, I browse The Fort, Michigan's premium Rivals message board, and each day I see some chicken little squawking about the "4-star recruits" that are flocking to Columbus, or lamenting about Michigan continuously striking out at Glenville High School in Cleveland and Gateway High School in Pennsylvania while Ohio State thrives.
On the left: Gateway WR/CB Corey Brown. On the right: Glenville OT Marcus Hall. Brown is a top 250 player nationally and committed to Ohio State a month after claiming that Michigan was his leader (his commitment to OSU was not a surprise; OSU had already scored a commitment from his teammate, 5-star linebacker Dorian Bell). Hall is a top 100 player who plays a position extremely coveted by Michigan. Like every other prospect out of Glenville, he is considered a heavy lean toward Ohio State. Hall says he has a top four of Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois and Florida State. There are several conflicting factors in Hall's recruitment:

  1. Despite a heavy Glenville pipeline (14 commitments since 2002), Ohio State is stacked on the offensive line. The left tackle position, which Hall prefers and is projected to play in college, seems destined for Mike Adams, the #3 overall player in the country last year (according to Rivals).
  2. Ted Ginn, Sr, coach of Glenville, is an avid Ohio State fan.
  3. Ginn, Sr. once declared, "'Our relationship with Michigan is dead, but [Michigan Coach] Lloyd Carr is the one who has killed it,' Ginn Sr. told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. 'It's disgraceful.'" I have heard that since the retirement of Carr and hiring of Rich Rodriguez, the relationship has been mended somewhat, and that Ginn and Rodriguez are at least on speaking terms.
  4. If Hall does go against the grain and commit to a college not called Ohio State, Illinois would seem to be a strong possibility; the Illini snatched receiver Cordale Scott out of Glenville last year.
  5. USC is also on Hall's list, but haven't offered just yet. USC is also loaded on the offensive line, but they have a history of snatching high profile recruits from faraway states.
Football season is still over a month away. For the first time in forever, Michigan fans have a fear of the unknown. We have no idea what to expect from our Wolverines when they take the field against Utah. One minute we can read about all the losses, and all the inexperienced players in key positions in an entirely new offense. The next, we can read about chips being put on their shoulders and the apostles being appointed to lead the team and the fire being put in their bellies by Barwis. Throw all that in a pot and mix it up, and you get a big old question mark. There's no way to tell what's going to happen. Is it possible that they come out breathing fire and they sack Utah's QB ten times and win by two touchdowns? Yep. Is it possible the offense looks dreadful and out of sync and turns the ball over and barely scraps two yards per carry and the team has to fight for 10 points? Sure.

The unknown is a scary thing, my friends. It's human nature to fear what we don't know or understand; it's a basic defense mechanism. If we don't understand it, we assume it has the potential to harm us, so we resist it. But I am pleading with Michigan fans: Have patience. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the empire we all envision and dream of Michigan football becoming won't be either. There are going to be spectacular swings this year, a perverse amalgam of wicked fast players scoring touchdowns that will dazzle us and frightfully inexperienced guys making mistakes that will haunt our dreams the following night.

Henne is gone. So is Hart. And Long. And Manningham and Arrington. Lloyd is gone too. The era of Schembechler ended in a fitting way in Orlando in January. But end it did. Michigan fans, heed my call: do not be afraid if we lose to Notre Dame. Do not be afraid if Penn State and/or Michigan State ends the streaks we hold on them. Do not be afraid of Ohio State beats us and the drunks in Columbus crow about it not mattering who coaches Michigan.

Just sit back and enjoy it for what it is. It's Michigan football, in the caterpillar stage, learning, feeling about, waiting for the opportunity to fly as a butterfly; in this case, a really kickass butterfly trained by Mike Barwis to fire death rays at the Big Ten.

The storm will come. It is brewing. Snake oil is being spread throughout the country, as high profile recruits get a taste of Rich Rodriguez operating the Michigan football machine. Will they all bite? Of course not. But the time will come, and once it does, not a soul will be able to hide from it.

So for now, appreciate it. It's an appreciation of life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great post. First of all, I am an avid OSU football fan, living in Florida (imagine my angst!) but for my limited "Blog-Surfing" time, my keyword search is "Michigan Football Blogs" Although many of the various posters on UM sites are quick to point out how fanatical OSU fans are, they pale in comparison to the UM fans. For sheer reading enjoyment, I turn to UM.

Which brings me to the raison d'etre of this post. I feel your pain! You have described exactly the feelings of the Buckeye fan in the 90's. I also know that as the pendulum swings, I will get to experience that all again! Damn!

But, I am not so sure that it will all be because Bevis...I mean Barfus...whaddever is the end all that so many posters think (hope?) he is. I mean, come on! Has no S&C coach ever pushed his men to work so hard? If that is all it takes, then his teams would always be champions. Is it his great knowledge and skills PLUS RickRods fantastic coaching/inspiring/play-calling abilities that creates success? Well, that certainly didn't do it when it meant the MOST and WV allowed OSU to "Back Into" the National Championship game.
I know that everyone blames the players, but they certainly had the ability and skills to defeat a lesser team.
My whole point is, I think that the same bloggers (you NOT included) who place so much hope on Bemis...Barkass...whaddever, will also be screaming the loudest if/when UM has a bad season. (I really hope you don't because I truly enjoy the GAME...and have not enjoyed it as much when OSU dominates...I just want to win. :-)