Friday, September 07, 2007

I don't want to say goodbye to you, so I'll just say goodnight

It was a while after my hands went numb, after Mario stumbled and caught that plummeting 46-yarder like it was clothing an angry girlfriend had dropped from a bedroom window eight stories up. After I drove home with the radio off and sat in the driveway for half an hour, I watched a bunch of people interview Mike.

When they turned the camera on he was leaning so far away from the podium they had to reposition the lens just to get him completely on screen. The same people he stood in front of now had asked him this question a few weeks earlier:

“When did you first meet Chad?”

Chad actually came to my hometown for a camp...we met briefly, it was like a hi/bye kind of thing. He was a big shot, I was a big shot.”

Now he was just a kid standing in the corner of a funeral parlor while his best friend lay in a casket across the room. It was Michigan that was dead. It didn’t seem to make sense talking to anyone, because not a soul in that room had an idea what he just lost. No one did. It wasn’t just a championship, or the nine months he spent waiting for this, or the next three months, which don’t mean much now. He lost his last chance to make something of a career he’s been begging us to pay attention to.

But he showed up anyway and he listened to a bunch of people pretend to care what he was going through. Never before had he spoken as if what happened on the field intimidated him, or revealed something that made him question himself. But he didn’t even try to argue this time. Not that anyone would have listened, or believed him even if he did. The story had already been written, and there was no place in it for sympathy. There was an underdog tale Mike was no longer the protagonist of.

He’d spent the last three years both motivated by the hope of vengeance and a culminating triumph, and confident that it one day he’d get both. Now he just stood awkwardly and stared around the room while intermittently wiping the sweat off of his forehead.

At times he was almost consciously somber; not that he wasn’t as devastated as he seemed, but that it was too much to grasp at that moment. He knew how bad it felt about an hour before he got to the podium and how bad it'd make the hours of his life that followed. But for now he still smiled every once in a while. It was as if inside him was the consciousness of what just happened, the impulse to fight back, and the frustration that for the first time in his life he didn’t know how to.

Jake kept grabbing at his collar and looked as if he could crush bricks into dust with his clenched fists. Chad never showed up to the post game, or the press conference on Monday. Lloyd, he stood there like a man lost on a lonely island – too tired to even grab a piece of driftwood and carve “save me” into the sand on the shore. As if all he could do now is wait for the natives to eat him alive.

You can blame Lloyd for retiring a year too late, or Ron English for being everything Jim Herrmann was and we swore Ron wasn’t; you could blame Chad for losing control and never figuring out how to get it back. But next year, when there’s a new head coach, new running back, new pair of wide receivers, new left side of the offensive line, two new defensive backs, and the only thing familiar to you is the feeling that you’ve been defeated before the game has even begun, just try to remember how much this season should have meant to us. It's gone, and that's what we'll remember. It doesn't matter whose fault it was.

A few seconds after Minor fumbled they showed Mike walking up the sideline with his helmet in his hand. Like he’d done it before and he almost wanted to laugh because he was about to do it again. Maybe he was hurt, maybe he wasn’t. But he ran for 115 yards in the fourth quarter and had the guts to talk to us after it was all over.

This is a kid who calls himself H20, because “he can run like water,” and in every one of his last 12 games he’ll be fighting for a consolation prize. So if you want to know what hurts me most about the game, what burns holes in my heart, it’s not that I watched Michigan lose. It’s that there are no more seasons left for Mike to save.


Blogger Andy said...

Those who stay will be champions...

7:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God damn, that last paragraph, along with the picture, might just be the saddest thing I've ever come across. I feel for all the kids on the team, but most of all for Mike: No matter how bad it got, he just tried to shoulder more and more of the load. I wish we could field a team of 22 Mike Harts.

Or at least let him kick that last field goal.

8:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo Johnny! I've been waiting all week to read your thoughts on this disaster. As always you have a unique way of looking at what just happened and in a way we all can relate to. Like I've told people all week, I feel like they just cancelled christmas. The anticipation, expectations, and excitement of the whole summer, gone in the blink of an eye. As UM fans this feeling will return in future seasons, but for Mike & Co. it's all over.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Jonathan M. Weiss said...

This past week all I can think of is "In Mike Hart's senior year?" in Tony Soprano's voice the way he says "At my mother's wake?" to Christopher during the season 4 intervention.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Reed said...

Johnny, I felt all those same things you said. Of course, I never could have written it that well... I can't help but keep going to back to Mike Hart. That touchdown run was supposed to be him winning the game for us. But everyone else let him down.

Some of my friends wanted Hart to go crazy at the podium and bang his fists. But even if he feels that, he can't do it. He did his job. He saved the day. Any reaction other than what he gave us is a big F You to his teammates, and never in a million years would Mike Hart give his teammates a big F You.

Thanks for the post.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I blame you for how upset I was after the game. You previewed this team so well and gave us such a connection and insight into the team that my anticipation and belief that this team would be something special was enormous. But, in your usual fashion you convey the way most of us feel with writing that we can't put on paper. So, I won't blame you too much. Great article and keep up the great work.

11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't cry about it until I read your post...thanks...

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

bullshit. maybe he should have played the 2nd and 3rd quarters. hurt? played damn well in the 4th for being hurt..

another case of thinking they could win without trying.

11:21 PM  

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