Sunday, November 26, 2006


His face was a heap of creased cardboard, pale and lifeless; his voice wavering and troubled, like he was calling from a phone booth in the middle of a rainstorm. Lloyd breathed into the microphone with brisk exhales, as if his mouth was too close to it and he didn’t really give a shit that it was. It was like he’d never done it before; he was in a different place that night. I saw the video recording hours after it happened, long after the rest of my family had gone to sleep. But Bo was dead and Michigan had lost a football game, and the coach we’ve all turned to for answers had no one to turn to himself. I guess you could say I was in a different place that night, too.

Most of his press conference wasn’t much of a press conference at all. It was as if Lloyd was leaving one last message on Bo’s answering machine. And in knowing Bo would never hear it, and the futile hope that if he pleaded Bo would be able to, Lloyd spoke faster and with less control. You could tell it hurt him too much to swallow, so he talked as if he could escape the pain, rambling and never swallowing. It was as if once he stopped, he knew he’d have to hang up the phone forever.

With the Friday he had, you could say that November 18th, 2006 was one of the worst days of Lloyd Carr’s life and no one would call you a liar. But in some strange way, this kind of mess is everything we asked for. Not the score, or the way it happened, but this was the cruel, ruthless, steel-eyed nature of sports; we build our lives around this – willingly. And in our perpetual quest for redemption – for Bo; for the last Michigan team that lost to Ohio State, and the one before that, and all the others – we walked up to its face undaunted by our potential fate. We risk new pain for the thought that we can erase the old; that’s how this works. And when your year has been pulverized and you’re only left to wonder, it seems like such a foolish waste.

It was an unfortunate game in that there was nothing to blame the loss on but those who we’ve excused for failure the entire season. There were bad calls, but none that hurt Michigan. There were turnovers, but none that Michigan committed. In the end, Michigan was simply beaten by a team I had convinced myself didn’t exist – a better one. And I was reminded of something Keith Jackson once said, after Kordell Stewart completed a fairly significant touchdown pass to Michael Westbrook with zero seconds left in the game. He said, “There are no flags on the field. Only despair for the Maize and Blue.” That was just it – Ty Law was helpless on that day; just as I was helpless eleven days ago, just as Leon Hall was, and Lloyd Carr, too, bewildered, exhausted, answering someone’s questions.

I’ve heard that Ohio journalists call Troy Smith “Robo-Troy” when he’s behind a microphone; he’s programmed to exude almost no emotion. He’s known only as he is with a jersey on. He’s the nemesis that slays his enemies as a routine, and then licks the blood from his sword. But Mike Hart, he’ the knight in peasant’s clothing who never seems comfortable at the roundtable. He resents the super strata of football players he’s begrudgingly a part of, because that’s not really who he is. The robotic Goliath of the football world and the little kid that won’t let anyone push him around. And yet fate lets the robot become the hero. It wasn't the way these stories were supposed to end.

But these sports inflict pain with no remorse. The nightmares don’t always give way to a gentler reality, because sometimes the nightmares are reality. Michigan should have won 24-12. Bo’s death should have been one of the most honorable acts of martyrdom of our time and not just a somber coincidence. Steve shouldn't still have a haunted soul. LaMarr’s eyes shouldn’t still be so tormented. Prescott shouldn’t have to exemplify only the agonizing portion of the human experience. Mike shouldn’t have to fight for a second chance when he’s spent a lifetime fighting to be given a first chance. Michigan had a thousand reasons why it deserved to get what it wanted, and yet it didn’t; Lloyd didn’t. Those guys would all be forgotten, fighting to be remembered. And so I cried, because when you realize history has been made at your expense, you can only root for the headlines to be kind.

A few days before the game, Bo was talking about Lloyd. You could tell that he liked talking about him, liked defending him. “He's done a marvelous job. Here we are 11-0. Our team from this year to last year is night and day.” Bo had protected Lloyd until everyone had forgiven him, and then he decided to let Lloyd handle things by himself. A few days later they were 11-1, and in perhaps the most fortunate moment of Michigan’s season, no one forced Lloyd to stand during his press conference.


Blogger Maize n Brew Dave said...

I've made it through every one of your articles over the last year without welling up, but this one hit me.

Stunning work Johnny.

2:28 PM  

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