Monday, November 13, 2006


And so they find themselves with everything to play for and nothing to lose, on borrowed time, with house money, in God’s hands – rugged riders on a trite voyage so familiar to us all: hopes gone long ago, souls worn to dust through a half-decade of ridicule and scattered in Autumn’s afternoon gusts by the collective, jaded, sigh of a loyalist nation, only so it could all to be captured after everyone swore it couldn’t be. After we’d given up; “Michigan’s not the same Michigan anymore,” after we’d accepted that. But here they are, the first guys you’d want to be there for you, in the last place you thought they’d be. Somewhere, years from now, I may wake from sleep as a brunette’s blue eyes take the air from my lungs; I may lay shirtless on warm beaches and watch fuchsia sunsets with foreign booze on my lips; I may leave footprints in Mars’ red dirt, but give me a Michigan win on Saturday and you can save your inquiries as to which moment I’ll favor.

I’m done caging my optimism. I’m done suppressing my hopes. This is the team I’ve waited for since 1997, when I was just a naive adolescent unfamiliar with the idea that championships don’t happen every year. In high school I used to create flaws in the girls that were too pretty for me; that way it was easier to convince myself I never wanted them in the first place. Well this is sort of the same thing, only I’m with the girl, and she doesn’t have any flaws. I suppose there aren’t any playmakers among the safeties, and DeBord does seem overly reliant on Mario and Mike, but that’s sort of like saying this girl of ours isn’t perfect because her cuticles are fraying.

One year ago – September it was – we listened to Lloyd, with whatever might the old man had left, try to distract us from the simple fact that another season had come and vanished before we had any chance, any reason to give a shit. “We lost a game, but we found a defense,” he said after Michigan had lost to Notre Dame. He lied to us; it was the season that was lost, not just a game. Months later, we realized Lloyd probably knew it back in September, too. But those days have passed, and were it not for how efficiently underwhelming most of the last decade has been there would be no hesitancy in falling for this team. Somewhere halfway through Wisconsin two forces met: the temptation to believe in this team - this dominant, satisfying team - and the memory of last year’s scorn. Weeks have passed since then; Michigan has not lost a single game this season. So the only question left to be answered, then, is when you realized this was a team worth remembering.

You can almost picture football players as emotionless characters, perspiring between the columns of a pantheon, catching lightning bolts between their teeth and tying them in knots with their tongues – immortals that just live in a mortal man’s world for three hours at a time. Football has always been a cold game; violently physical yet mostly devoid of intimacy. They’re the kind of people that fight for you but never really represent you; hired hands to take care of matters none of us are capable of. But this Michigan team is different than that; it’s a compilation of the kind of people we know, people we like for more reasons than just because they play for our team.

There’s a 5-8 running back who sat in a barbershop chair four years ago declaring to anyone who would listen – no doubt with a vehemence that mandated the barber stop cutting altogether and wait for Mike to finish what he was saying – he’d be starting at Michigan by his fourth game. There’s a secondary that plays chess in its spare time, its victors proud to win even such a quintessentially intellectual game; a quarterback that mumbles and sweats on the podium every now and then, perhaps as daunted by where he’s taken his team as we all know we would be. There’s the star wide receiver that has nothing resembling a post-game persona. It wasn’t until he almost single handedly outscored Notre Dame that the media could do nothing but drag him to the podium and ask him what the hell he just did. When someone asked him how he kept such a low profile on campus, Mario replied, with an unconvincing smile, “I wear a hat." One defensive end used to wake up in the middle of the night just to help his injured roommate walk to the bathroom; the other has a tattoo of Woody Woodpecker on his left bicep.

Two linebackers have mohawks; one of which supposedly lost his girlfriend to Maurice Clarett; the third was a one-star recruit from Grand Rapids, currently the best linebacker in the country, who so nervously shrugs his shoulders during post game interviews you’d think he never heard a reassuring word in his life.

And then there’s Steve Breaston, the wide receiver who never says much and always says it softly; once quick enough to catch falling raindrops between his fingertips, now an underappreciated talent vilified by the ignorant; engulfed by his own shadow, the one cast by an epic freshman season when there was quite possibly no one in the country as good as he was. Who cares that Steve has 31 combined touchdowns and first downs this year, while Ted Ginn has only 28? He’s just a day-dreamer who writes poetry and collected comic books growing up; he wants to be a teacher after college, because, as his brother says, he gets along well with kids. He’s a goofball who happens to have some of the rarest football talents of all, and it’s impossible to read anything about him or listen to anything he says without feeling like he often wonders if he’d be better off without football. I’ll never forget after Mario had caught The Touchdown last year against Penn State, on a play that Chad said was designed for Breaston. Mario got the glory, but Steve didn’t care; he was the first one chasing Mario once the game was over.

Steve caught his first touchdown pass of the year Saturday, it was on a deep route he’s never really been very good at. But as he caught it his body almost slowed to a walk; the ball held carelessly in his right hand. He jogged to the end zone as if something had been lifted from his conscience. I watched the replay again today, and I couldn’t help but think everyone else that saw it felt the same thing. It gave me goose bumps, like listening to a concert audience chant the chorus to a song in unison.

“Sometimes I sit back and think I’m someone else when I write, not a student-athlete but just a normal person," he said. “What would he be going through? I think about what is going on back home.” And then things happen, like when Kirk Herbstreit calls Steve a worthless player, only to have Steve sit silent and motionless when the reporters asked him about it days later, moments after Steve had proved Kirk wrong by scoring two touchdowns. “I've heard far worse in my life,” Steve said, when pressed in a follow-up question. “I'm not mad about it. I'm not. Because I know what kind of player I am and what I contribute to this team. I don't need that as my motivation.” Maybe it’s because when you find a player who seems to care so little about himself that you’re inclined to compensate for him and care a little extra, but I’ve never identified with anyone – not Braylon, not even Charles – never wanted to identify with anyone, the way I have Steve.

History has shown us that Ohio State defines these players. There was Charles, beckoning an anonymous cameraman to follow him – where, no one was quite sure, but with Charles, you knew that it was somewhere special – after intercepting Stanley Jackson’s pass in the back of the endzone. And there was Braylon, standing in a sea of worshipers with a single red rose clenched in his mouth – not gently, as if with any regard for thorns that may have existed, but deliberately, possessively, because it was his rose, dammit. And after all, isn’t beating Ohio State about enduring pain for the sake of tasting sweet triumphs anyway?

I think Steve’s endured enough for a few moments of his own on Saturday.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read your posts often, but never felt compelled to write anything until now. You are one hell of a great writer, that was freakin' gorgeous. Gave me goosebumps. Go Blue.

"...those who stay will be Champions"

6:55 AM  
Blogger Maize n Brew Dave said...

With one exception (the boxing piece), this is probably your best piece of the year.

Awesome. The part on breaston was as good as it gets.


9:53 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I hope so too Johnny. Unbelievable work, I can't say enough about it.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff.

3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Johnny, its fitting that Steve Breaston is your favorite player on the team. Because if MGoBlog is the Mike Hart of the Michigan blogosphere, you ARE Steve Breaston.


3:34 PM  
Blogger Johnny said...

Brad, that's one of the nicer things anyone's said to me. I have only the team to thank for giving me something good to write about. I truly appreciate all the comments.

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


That was amazing. I'm a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan, myself, and until last year they had caused me more heartbreak and misery than any other sports team could have caused for a fan. But something changed last year, they were a different team. A team I didn't recognize. They waved Terrible Towels out the windows of their charter flight to the Superbowl, they donned Bettis throwbacks (even USC alum Troy Polamalu) as a sign of solidarity. And I was convinced in the deepest parts of my soul they would win and erase the years of heart break and close calls.

I just got done trying to explain to my roomate how I have the same feeling about last year's Steeler team as I do this Michigan team. You nailed it. All I would have had to do was read your words aloud and he'd have understood.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Bill in Birmingham said...


I have enjoyed your blog for a while now and love your writing. But this piece really moved me. As someone who is now far away from Ann Arbor geographically (in Alabama) and time (graduated in 1981), your piece described beautifully how I feel about this team. They make me proud to be a U of M person. As does your piece. Thanks.

5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well said. we love them because we are fans. we empathize with them because we've all had a 7-5 season in our own lives. we respect them because they've never lost their will to be the best. that's why they, as kids full of hope and potential, came to Ann Arbor.
"Those who stay will be champions"

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too am enamored by Stevie B. I'm a senior this year, and from Western PA as well. I used to cheer against Stevie B in HS when his Wolverines would completely demolish our amateur squad.

There is no one on this team I respect more, and that's saying a lot, given giants such as Woodley and Hart.

I used to think they only made movies of seasons and teams like this one.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow.. I think I have a tear in my eye.. but Johnny you sure ..have a way with words... Seriously think about pursuing this as a career... no jokes at all.

I love your posts, You ARE the Bob Ufer of Michigan Blogoshpere!

Go Blue!

9:56 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

I disagree. Don't pursue this as a career. I'd hate to have your writing covering any team besides Michigan.

(Unless the poster meant to pursue writing about Michigan as a career. Then, yes, by all means.)

4:06 AM  
Blogger Chris of Dangerous Logic said...

And when you're famous, we'll all be able to say "We read him when he was 'just' another Michigan blogger."

7:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: Brad. That's also the nicest thing anyone's said about me.

7:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome piece. Between the collective prose and analysis of bloggers like yourself, Brian, Vijay, and others, it feels great knowing that when nothing seems to be going right at work, I can go online and read something about my team that makes the day seem that much better. Keep up the great work!

8:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn it! What a great piece. The Breaston part got me all teary eyed.

I love listening to Breaston's press conferences because he's always so respectful to his team, his teammates, his coaches, the other team, and the game. I hope he does well in the FA. Ten first downs?

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brought tears to my eyes as usual. you're amazing! teek

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perfect. Great work.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Johnny/Brian,

You both deserve a lot of praise, the two of you especially have made this autumn of mind-blowing perfection even more memorable. Having places like this to go to read words and look at pictures about Michigan instead of the commentary-on-a-stick from the major outlets is absolutely priceless. I hope whatever inspires you to do this continues for a long, long time.

OK, sorry everybody, shameless tonguebath over.

5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tremendous. I'm in a class on British Romanticism @ UM, and this piece was just as poetic as any of that Byron or Keats business. You don't normally run into sports writing of this calibur.

That is, unless you read

That's a joke, by the way.

7:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is amazing! It sends a chill up my spine just thinking about it! It truly embraces what it means to be a wolverine! Thank you for writing it!

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just a 15-year old kid in high school (in Ohio, no less), but probably the biggest 15-year old Michigan fan in the world. I haven't read your blog before, but I know I will from now on. This captures perfectly the spirit of this season, and of Michigan football as a whole. It could not have been said any better. After reading this, I KNOW we will win Saturday. I will take great pleasure walking into school Friday , amid all the ignorant Buckeye jeers, already knowing Michigan will emerge victorious.

7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude this piece is dope.......i live in michigan and i am a huge wolverines fan. Breston is my far my favorite player on the team cause i play the same positions that he does. Breaston by far does not get the respect he deserves...god gifted talent of speed...
nice work...

8:31 PM  
Blogger Cali.Michigan-Fan/Student said...

This is the best blog post that I've ever read. Some nights, when I have nothing to do, I read this post over and over because it's more of a poem than anything else. You have an ability to say what everyone thinks in their minds, but aren't able to put into words. This is a feeling that every Michigan fan has had, and it's an understanding why this is our team, always. It's an old post, but it's one that I'll always read, even on a hot summer night.

3:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So I'm like...two years late. Oh well.

Steve is probably one of the sweetest guys I knew while at UM....I know he would be so incredibly flattered by this posting. =)

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautifully written.

11:31 PM  
Anonymous casino software said...

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11:26 PM  

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