Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Where The Wagons Stopped

I wasn’t quite sure how they did it but it was over, or over enough. A small young man wearing several white sweatbands occasionally turned in a circle as he looked up at all of us from the inside of a chaotic mass. His mouth was open but he didn’t say much. He didn’t have to; he waved his arm and we knew what he meant. “Yeah it looked a little grim but I already told you, we’re going to be alright.” There were still 11 seconds left but we’d been waiting a while for this. Don’t mind if we start a little early.

About a minute later Michigan had won, and most of the players stumbled into Rodriguez and patted his shoulder as they ran along to be apart of the steady demolition of the idea that Michigan was nothing but a bronzed relic left to remind us all of what once was. Lately it involves climbing onto a brick wall to sing a song with a hundred thousand people as they reach to grab someone’s hand, or jersey, or any proof that this is really happening right now and that we are here to see it. We’re trying to remember how this goes.

Eventually, Tate found Rodriguez and the coach hugged him like he’d spent the last two days at sea floating on half of a shattered wooden plank. Rodriguez told him something, probably that he was proud and to hell with those sons of bitches. But I think he wanted to say thank you for rescuing me when I was drowning; it was starting to look bleak for a minute and, oh yeah, that touchdown to Greg was nice, too.

“In the middle of a storm, they're calm,” Rodriguez would say later.

In the beginning, I wished Tate Forcier was on a different team. I hoped that his confidence was just a way of overcompensating for deep feelings of inadequacy (that he wasn’t tall enough, wasn’t strong enough, wasn’t Clausen enough or maybe just because his ears were too big) and that he would consider transferring as soon as Michigan recruited someone else. I thought he was scared or at least wanted him to be.

From a young age he was privileged in a way most people never are. There were private quarterback instructors, a frighteningly narcissistic website, aggressively-involved parents and his smug disregard for anyone who dare challenge him. Maybe I envied him but most of all I think I just resented that he had everything a 17 year-old could want and had to tell us all about it. When there was a chance this spring that Greg Paulus might play for Michigan, Tate wrote on Facebook, “I can give a damn what Paulus does. If he wants to ruin his career and come here its fine with me cuz hes about to be my backup.” I didn’t want to have to root for someone who would quickly become universally reviled if he played for Ohio State or Notre Dame.

He was confident in an absolute way; as if he was preordained long ago and knew he only had to wait for his day to come. Well, after Saturday I guess I shouldn't say that he isn't. His day has come. There will be many more that will be his, some pried from the grasp of teams that were better in every way except that they didn’t have him. He is barely six feet tall and built like someone who delivers newspapers on a bicycle. But he is not scared.

It was 34-31 and it looked like this:

It’s a little difficult to completely embrace Tate, considering we have all known guys like him before. Ones that were “totally sick at beer pong, bro” and have probably spent hours calculating the most obnoxious angle to position their backwards baseball caps. But when he got here he vowed to revive Michigan’s downtrodden program and so far he has. He has expertly combined cavalier impulse with restraint and a wizardly understanding of the offense. His mechanics have been constantly refined since his whole journey began and he identified a cover zero like the blind read Braille. But some things are innate, like a five year old prodigy who can complete rubix cube in 18 seconds or play “Come Sail Away” on the piano by ear. And after it’s over, he shrugs his shoulders as he struggles to explain it all to us. I do it because I do it. I never learned how.

If there is anything the pleated-pant, vinyl-record waltz of the Lloyd Carr era taught me, it’s that there are few truly valuable things in this world, but you honor them with a devotion bordering on religious fundamentalism – a good mentor, a good cigar, and someone who gets shit done when he says he’s going to. Tate said he was going to do some things and he has. For now, that’s enough.


Anonymous DY said...

Why are the Forcier boys standing with Emilio Estevez in that photo?

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

awesome post.

great pic to end it, too.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous tf said...

Johnny, I always love reading what you have to write. I must admit to being surprised at the level of dislike you apparently felt for Tate. Yeah, the website was a bit much, and yeah, being groomed since birth to be a quarterback is a little strange and scary (didn't work out so well for Todd Marinovich), but otherwise, he seems like a pretty normal kid to me, just one who possesses nerves of steel (if he has any at all) and tremendous ability on the football field.

9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Manny, good work

5:14 AM  
Anonymous STW P. Brabbs said...

To be fair, Tate's personal page on his website is less obnoxious than the site as a whole. Though you can't escape the fact that it is, you know, on a website that's devoted to him, he devotes the entire front page to thanking everyone from his coaches to his families to the MMB.

I'm guessing that Papa Forcier is basically Uncle Rico, and considering that, Tate is about as normal as could be expected.

6:59 AM  
Anonymous 10th Yr Senior said...

Awesome post, though I was thinking Martin Sheen more than Emilio.

7:29 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home