Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Love vs. Porn

I wanted to believe otherwise but despite finding an heir to the throne, this team is not ready yet. It is still young, still an infant. Sometimes it makes a building out of little wooden blocks without knocking it over, or says “I love you” for no reason at all while sitting in the back seat during a long drive home from your grandparents’ house, but most of the time it just stumbles around drooling on itself. It keeps falling over until it can stand. And then it does. Darryl Stonum fumbles twice and then runs 65 yards across the field for a touchdown.

Most of the time it takes a little while to turn a program around, no matter how hypnotic four wins, zero losses, and a freshman who seems oblivious to the fact that he’s 19 years-old can be. For more than a decade Michigan was just formidable enough to keep believing in, even when that meant having a season crushed by the stark reality of how mediocre it was becoming, and that we were at least a little aware of it all along. This is what starting over feels like, I guess. It’s perplexing and exhausting but with the evolution comes satisfaction. Like Martavious Odoms spending a year fumbling punts to become someone who can disappear for quarters at a time only to emerge with the ball in his hands and Michigan in second and manageable.

Eventually they will worry about different things. What a decent signing bonus should look like or how in four years they went from a High School All-American to someone standing on the sidelines with a jersey that might as well still have the tags still on it. Eventually, everything comes to an end. But in the beginning there is only the frenetic assault on every man, idea and perception all at once.

On Saturday after it ended, they were resigned but optimistic. Last year Brandon Graham said that Michigan would beat Michigan State, and when Michigan lost, he said this: “As you can see, we stuck with them all the way through the whole game. What are they 6-2? Whatever their record is. That don't mean nothing. They got a lot more to do, try to beat us and try to get on top. I still feel you know, they won, but ... I still have no respect.”

But this Saturday he said, “I wish we could get it back, but you know, my hat’s off to Michigan State. They came out there and played. We went out there and played hard, but they started early.”

It was still light out and he had a pair of headphones around his neck. He twisted his hips and looked off into the distance, a little distracted. He had things to worry about other than pretending Michigan was still a member of the elite. He spent last season in denial but now he was willing to accept the fact that Michigan could be bad and that he could be a part of it. I think I felt a little bit that way, too. This hurts but we were lucky to even make it this far, and anyway, we’ve felt worse before.

And so he walked up the sidelines during the Notre Dame game, alone, reciting “can’t nobody fuck with me,” because when you’ve lost just about every meaningful game you’ve ever played in, you have to remind yourself, every now and then, that you are, in fact, not one who can be fucked with.

This is why some men work at a kiosk in the mall or at Verizon call centers and why others commission clandestine projects to create an atomic bomb and thwart a fascist regime hell-bent on world domination. And why some are handed the ball with 92 yards to go while a stadium and me and you and probably a coach look on with veiled despair and no hope besides “Well, you've done it before. Let’s see how this turns out.”

This team does what Tate wants in ways Ryan Mallett could never dream of. Mallett was a carnival freak uncomfortably implanted in an offense where everyone already had a defined role. Some players recognized that he was quite obviously The Future, like it or not, but he seemed completely indifferent to the concept of solidarity. He was good in brief intervals but it soon deteriorated into arguments with wide receivers, many tales of his drunken exploits, and a coach who told him directly how little he liked him.

Since Western, the defense can charitably be described as erratic; the offensive line has crumbled since Molk got injured and sometimes can’t even snap the ball properly; and on Saturday two running backs ran into each other. But there is progress, there is a quarterback, there are the occasional reminders of last season’s craterous impact with our hopes and dreams, and the thought that this is something different. Brandon Minor can’t find anywhere to run so he stands by Tate’s side like a bodyguard instead.

“I don't really know where it comes from, but it helps the entire offense when you see him playing like that. You want to push a little extra,” Mark Ortmann said.

Things were bad for most of the day, and then they weren’t. Tate ran into things stronger and angrier than he was and at the end of a 92-yard drive, when he could barely breathe and needed to hold onto something just to stand, he reached down to grab a fumbled snap and found Roy Roundtree running somewhere out there in the rain.