Friday, August 29, 2008

Let me steal this moment from you

I used to go to summer camp with a kid named Kevin who was three years older than I was, and when everyone was drying off after swimming the girls used to hang around his towel. His favorite sports team was the University of Michigan football team, so mine was, too.

I remember one time he had an ingrown toe nail, and one day I hit a home run in kick ball and he didn’t. He wasn’t invincible – more of a prankster than a rebel – but he was cool and independent enough that liking the team he liked seemed to be a wise decision socially. I was eight years old, and aside from some fleeting success as a little league shortstop, my most notable life achievement was kissing my next door neighbor on the cheek during truth or dare. It’s not like I had much to lose. One afternoon, he stood on a table and used a broom as a guitar and lip-synched “All Along the Watchtower,” and none of the counselors even got mad at him. That’s the reason why I like Jimi Hendrix.

About a year ago I found out Kevin has a beard, lives in Oregon, and reads a lot of Gabriella Garcia Marquez. He wears flannel, goes for long rides on his bicycle, and sometimes he’ll end up in the middle of nowhere in particular, taking pictures of his dog lying under a shady tree. When I asked his sister if he still liked them, she said she wasn't sure. If he still cared at all, she’d have known; he used to like them that much.

I know one of the kids at camp liked Alabama but in my memory, when we all argued about college football, the rest of us either liked Michigan or Notre Dame. The arguments usually ended when one half walked one place and one half walked another, and about 17 minutes later we were all friends again. We were eight or 11 or 13 years-old, and at the time, this seemed incredibly important. Some people are prone to self-loathing, nostalgia, and hopeless, mythic romanticism. Some people like Notre Dame. This is still incredibly important to me.

I find myself listening to The Chromatics’ cover of Kate Bush’s “Running up That Hill” a lot lately, thinking about Michigan. Not ambivalent, but definitely melancholy and a little detached. You want to trust sports, to know that they’re honest, that – at least cosmically – there is a little chivalry. But it's not that way at all. I still feel scorned, so forgive me if I don’t seem as excited as I should be.

Last November I sat and watched Ryan Mallet throw incomplete passes against Ohio State in the rain. I put my hands up to my face and my middle fingers in the corners of my eyes, so that my dad wouldn’t notice, and I didn’t stop crying. Michigan was 8-3 and was about to be 8-4. I shouldn’t have cared so much, but I did, because this was all Mike Hart and Chad Henne had left.

That’s why one day before the renaissance, or The New Era, or whatever you’d like to call it, it’s a struggle to not be conflicted or sad, or to believe that the world is fair and that sometimes, even if it seems completely insignificant, people like Mike get what they deserve.

I watch him on the Colts now. He still runs like a cartoon character – his legs a whirlwind of dust and chaos and he doesn’t really end up getting anywhere. He finished one run without a shoe on his left foot, and another without his helmet. To him, strength still seems to be defined as half desperation, half vengeance.

But he’s more mechanical now; he doesn't smile like he used to, he isn’t as self-indulgent. His cuts aren’t as risky – more just graceful, cautious lunges. He’s a professional now, measured and stoic and less eccentric. He looks stronger, and too focused. It used to just be a playful resentment for the institution, but now he seems like he respects it. It’s like the NFL has tranquilized him.

Maybe I’m making this all up, and this is the same way he was before he learned to spin the world on his finger the first time. But maybe I’m right, and when he was real, when he was at Michigan, he never got much besides the adoration of a bunch of nostalgic kids like me who can’t let go.

Mike, Jake and Chad risked their dignity and only left with a little of it, but they came back in the first place by choice, because of something bigger. As for the guys that are still here, Trent and Jamison are mostly quiet and patient and had no place else to go. And no matter how jubilant and grateful Terrance might seem, he knew how much money could be made by coming back. I don’t hesitate to say that wins this year won’t be as satisfying as wins last year were. Not enough of these players have suffered yet.

Donovan Warren and Brandon Graham already have the surging yet tempered egos that superstars come from, and Greg Matthews possesses a Steve Breaston-esque humility. These are players I am thrilled to root for, but for now, it feels like I’m being unfaithful. I want Michigan to win, but I wanted them to win more last year, or even in 2006. Maybe that makes me sound strange and disillusioned, but it’s the way I feel.

I guess it’s the reason some widowers keep their dead wives’ old bathrobes around the house. It's sentimentality and blind, ignorant hope that you can love the same thing the same way forever. Some people never move to Oregon.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You need a hug. Shoulda written about this when it happened last year though.

7:47 AM  
Blogger Credit said...

Stay with us Johnny. There will be new heros to watch, new players to take our breathe away, and new warriors who will endure against long odds before long.
I remember how I felt when I was a kid and saw Michigan take the field without Rick Leach for the first time. I remember when I was in school sitting in a packed TV lobby in East Quad watching Bo announcing that he was retiring. I remember as a middle aged guy closing the door to my office and crying my eyes out when Bo passed away. All of those times it felt like it would never be the same. But it was, and when it is, when new fans come around, people like you who tell stories so well will be needed to tell younger fans about Henne, Hart, Long and other players.

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"credit" stated it so eloquently as only another Michigan fan could. Be patient and continue telling your stories...

9:40 AM  
Blogger Josiah Roe said...

Johnny, my wife asked me this morning why I was so quiet, not racing around in my usual "first game of the season" frenzy.

Well, you summed it up quite well. Steve, Mike, Chad, Jake, Bo, and Lloyd, they've all got a little piece of my heart.

I don't regret it.

I still want them win.

Here's to hoping for new heroes.

9:42 AM  
Anonymous tbliggins said...

This season will be very weird, on so many levels. The system, the expectations, the faces - but gd I felt the same excitement when they ran thru the tunnel. The day I stop getting that feeling when they come out is the day I will stop watching the games. And I hope that day never, ever comes.

Also, did you really have to include the Crable hit?

1:12 PM  

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