You're scared and you're thinking that maybe we aint that young anymore
Mike shook his head for six seconds consecutively and I started to think maybe he’d become someone else. “If Jake didn’t come back I wouldn’t be here right now.” The reporter stared at him and didn’t blink. “Not at all?” he asked. “Nah…not at all.”
Mike was still shaking his head. I guess we should have known better. He said it with an almost inflated conviction, as if perhaps his tone of voice was a misrepresentation of what he felt in his heart. But he said it anyway; I realized later that he had his reasons. The reporter looked at his notepad and pretended to write down something important enough that he didn’t have to look Mike in the eye. I guess when you leave the ring after boxing with God, it’s best to do it with a towel over your head.
For a little while I wondered if he had finally outgrown this place, if he didn’t want to be here as bad as I wanted him to. He’ll never lose his exuberance or his swagger, yet talking about leaving
But then I started thinking about how it’s August 17 and I’ve heard that he’s in the best shape of his life, that he’s faster than he’s ever been. He says things like “If it's a close game, I’m not coming out.” When they ask when the coaching staff first put that that much faith in him, he says “Probably halfway through my freshman year.” He says that this team has the best chemistry it’s had since he’s been here. And when he talked about how close he came to leaving, he fought to keep the smile off his face the same way he did after he said
I like to tell myself most of what Mike said about staying was calculated. No matter how we pretend otherwise, we had finally found something we didn’t think he could overcome – playing in the NFL. To everyone, Jake made a monumental sacrifice to come back, and
I doubt he went to
“Me, Jake and
When Mike first got here the crown slumped off the front of his head and hid his eyes. He was King but he still knew himself as Prince – just a little boy sitting in a throne who took the job because we didn't have anyone else to give it to. But now he pops grapes into his mouth one at a time, slowly, nodding to the executioner to drop the guillotine while peasants like us applaud wildly. We’d do it no matter who he was, but we smile without regret or hesitation because he came from us. He is us, a man of the people. Still the same posture, juvenile, courageous, indignant. Not impolite, just that there’s no one he’s trying to be, no one to impress; this is who he is.
Killing Harbaugh wasn't impressive, or really a surprise. He’s always had the confidence, the who-cares-about-death, heaven’s-had-their-eye-on-me-for-years mentality. Because deep down it doesn’t really matter what General Studies means. This was about fighting for
This is his last year of sitting in fancy hotels to talk about why he’s so good at football. He showed up late in Chicago and we make a story about that. He knows we’ll wait for him. Lloyd never seemed like he was worried Mike would leave, and I can’t say I ever really was either. I just get the feeling Mike loves what he's become enough to know it's worth hanging onto for one more year. At least, it’s easier to sleep at night thinking that way. Maybe he doesn’t believe in the specific
He’s grown to understand how much he's worshiped, how much leverage he has on our hearts. I think it's his way of making sure we don’t stop appreciating him. He taunts us with what we might have lost. And so he leaned forward in his chair with his right arm resting flat on the table, anxious, bored, almost too good for this, like Stymie from the Little Rascals sitting in detention just waiting to be dismissed. He had a neighborhood to run.
“People know me; they know what I can do. They know what pick I’m gonna be, from this year to last year.... I’m a consistent guy, they know that...I’m not a 4.3 guy, you know, they know exactly what I do, what I bring to the table.”
There’s no attempt to dispute who he is or what he does. “I’m a faster guy than I think people realize, I have a lot of skills I might be able to showcase at some point in time.” He doesn't say things like that. Saying it would concede that there's something to be ashamed of, that there's some person he’s been trying to become for all these years. And what is so rare, so empowering about the way Mike defines himself is not that he's small, or slow, but that that’s the only person he'd ever want to be. He’s satisfied with being human. He cracks his bloodied knuckles. Come and get it. And there’s a look in his eyes when he talks to you about it, this “give me a Coke with crushed ice and whatever is in your wallet for what I’m about to tell you - I know it's not much for three years worth of moments you'll remember till you're buried in a hole in the ground, but I guess you can owe me one” look.
Do the coaches ever try to rein you in on the field when you start talking? “They try, but you're not gonna calm me down. I’m probably the cockiest guy ever on the field, that's just how I am.”
And you just sit there, you laugh a devious laugh because he's ours and no one else’s, and you're the only one who knows why that means so much. You think about what you have, and what you want, and how for one more year they'll be the same thing.