I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow?
Out of this stony rubbish?
Son of man, you cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats....
Seductive entry, dense middle, long return
In this erratically satisfying endeavor known to us as sports fandom, the gamble for retribution and the hope of a better tomorrow so often also has a mighty hand in our undoing. The risks are quite understood, but they’re the reason loyalty to a given team comes to mean so much in the representation of our being. We rejoice in the fact that, effectively, our lives’ welfare rests in the fate of a band of honed athletic specimens; it comforts us to know that no matter our own destination, faith in something so entirely separate from our own lives will always exist as an escape. It’s a confirmation that if nothing else, we have at least this to give us an identity, to provide solace when nothing else might. Billions would consider it blasphemous to proclaim, but sports – its characters blessed with these mythical abilities – are very much a religion.
To rely on some supreme entity above to provide a beacon of guidance hardly seems much different than kneeling before a television set on a Saturday afternoon and relying on Steve Breaston to return a kick 50 yards and restore faith that the world as we know it is a kind and honest place. This is not to anoint a man who has most certainly done more to inspire confidence and eviscerate peril in my own life than any force in a religious dwelling has. But if a religion is merely the chosen manner to live your life, if it is to embody a suitable set of ideals, to provide hope, is that not the same as a chosen football team that might happen to symbolize the same?
If a portion of religion is a collection of tales to be wary of, or to assuage fears and doubts, was the Miracle on Ice not just a modern-day David and Goliath story? Was Rockne’s “win one for the gipper” speech not told to pay homage to a fallen comrade? Eighty years later has it not become a symbol of inspiration, of honoring someone dear to us? Does Mike Hart’s ascension from the lowly dregs of upstate
I had never taken much time to consider something like this before. Too many communion wafers, too much Sunday school, too many prayers, maybe. But something happened after the Title Game that made me wonder. The game had been over for a few hours, and someone on an
Certainly life itself can’t be reduced to things so trivial as winning and losing, but in the simple lives we lead, this is what seems to matter. “Living and dying” with a given team has grown to be a cliché, but there is, of course, reason the saying exists at all. It is the rising and falling to those two ends which parallel religion as well. Sports are nothing if not an unmediated forum to champion one’s beliefs. Like the doctrines of a religion, so much of sport is the thrill of fighting for their honor, of defending yourself, and defending these men who you’ve convinced yourself are worth such a lifelong dedication to. Without fighting for them, fighting for your religion, you call your reasons for living into question.
To say the very least, I haven’t handled the culmination of
And so the year, blissful as it were, becomes not fond memory, but moments of temporary, jubilant detachment from one’s doomed fate. Obliterating Notre Dame from the collegiate landscape did not foreshadow victories over future despised and envied foes, but rather, in a clash of similarly antiquated football institutions each stalked by different ghosts, it was an unfamiliar high carried through late November on the wings of unbridled optimism – that something so definitive must have confirmed the transition from Old Michigan to the invigorating pastures of this New Era. I say this with unwavering confidence:
English’s defense was exploited in the exact same manner against Southern Cal as it was
On this day, it was as if all of Southern California held the top of
This loss to Southern Cal was more numbingly disappointing and crippling to
Witnessing a sporting event in which your emotions are squarely invested is standing at the gallows with a noose around your neck and a black hood over your face. The strength of the stool and the kindness of the executioner are determined by the caliber of the players we watch. We can do nothing to fix the outcome, only to wait for some dusty hero to ride from the shadows and shoot us down from the rope, or somehow stop Dwayne Jarrett from brazenly wagging his finger in their face. Either that, or we hang. I will never remember Steve as a savior in that regard, not the way Mike or Mario are. But for one moment, against
The return was a microcosm of Steve’s entire being. Breathtaking - but only to an extent - then restrained, only to go to the opposite end of the atmosphere to preserve immortality just a little longer, and finally, when he's been run down and his fate is sprawled before him, one last, desperate thrust into the unknown to appease, sacrificing himself for a greater good. Mike Hart once said, “As long as we win, Steve could have zero catches, zero yards and eight fumbles, and he'd be happy. All Steve wants to do is win. That's why I love him so much.”
Braylon's strides were always absolutely perfect; he was a refined physical device almost obligated by the universe to conquer the wills of men. And Mario possesses instinctual abilities he's almost unaware of, like a cheetah that simply runs as fast as it needs to catch its prey. But Steve, he always holds the ball too loose in his right arm, his left arm flails a bit, long strides, body closer to the ground, full of expression; he runs as if he's conscious of the reasons that he's running, conscious of the impact of everything he does. It's a captivating fusion of the desire to satisfy an audience and the fear that he might not be able to. Monday was the last time I will ever see you, Stevie. But if you knew who I was, you’d never have had anything to be afraid of.