Thursday, September 20, 2007

merchant of dreams

Where were you three weeks ago when I finished my burger and handed the waitress a $20 as I left the bar? (Because when you realize your year’s over four months early, it doesn’t make much sense asking for change.) Where were you two weeks ago when I started to do my laundry during commercials and wished there wasn’t a game to watch when I came back?

Maybe you’re still gone. But 38-0 will keep me from looking for you for a couple more days.

For a few hours on Saturday, I forgot about everything else. Everything that went wrong, everything that might still be wrong, everything that we thought disappeared last year but still grins and wags its mangled finger at us. There is still no championship to speak of, nothing significant worth proclaiming. But for a day, for one afternoon, not a single thing went wrong. If they are to salvage anything, if they are to turn this apocalypse into a kingdom of rubble, they’ve certainly given us a worthy beginning.

I watched Brandon Graham destroy an offensive line like a bully smashing a kindergartner’s Lego castle to pieces. I watched as Shawn Crable taught us to never stop holding out hope for vindication, and listened to him talk about preserving shutouts afterwards. I watched Johnny Thompson tackle like a shopkeeper throwing the broom down in front of his deli and tackling a thief trying to make a run for it with an old lady’s purse. Both passion and desperation at the same time. I saw the coach we wished we still had any reasons left to defend stand at the podium with a movie star he’d smoke cigars with later that night. And for a third straight week, Mike had not only transcended the pantheon of great men, but he didn’t even acknowledge that he had. He still had work to do. It was simply his job to save us.

After he lost to Oregon he said this:

“I wouldn’t rather be a part of any other team right now. I wouldn’t want to be on a USC national championship team. I wouldn’t want to be on a West Virginia national championship team. I’d rather be on this team right now that’s 0-2.” WHY? “Because I’ve never been a part of something like this. In my life. It’s gonna test me, it’s gonna test the seniors on this team…it’s gonna make me a better person. And I know we can turn this around….I don’t regret anything at all. I’m glad I’m on this team. This is my team. I’m the leader of this team. It’s something …I’m honestly glad I’m here right now. It’s crazy to say, but deep down, the whole time at the end of that game, I was thinking to myself I wouldn’t rather be on any other team right now. I wouldn’t rather be getting paid. I wanna be here. HAS THE NFL THING CROSSED YOUR MIND? Not at all. It’s crazy, like, not at all. I’m glad to be here. This my team. I wanna lead team to victory. At the end of year when everyone says ‘wow, they really turned that around,’ it’s gonna be my team. Just like it’s my team now.”

And yet again we saw someone who didn’t just play for us, but someone who thought like us. This was his mess – our mess. And in some absurd, freakishly soothing way, we both held onto it tighter even as it gave us so many reasons to let go. Right now this team belongs to no one but those it matters most to. A hundred reasons to hate it, and yet we don’t. Sometimes, if you can manage to get beneath the pain, it feels pretty incredible to realize you love something that much.

Sometime during the game on Saturday they showed an interview with Mike that ABC filmed a couple days earlier. They asked him what his biggest flaw was, and he told them that maybe he talks too much. It was the first time I had ever heard him say that – at least, as if it were a shameful character flaw, rather than as a harmless, almost endearing act of self-aggrandizement. He looked sad and exhausted, and he had just questioned who he was, even though “who he is” has made us question for the last four years everything we know to be true about the game.

But after the game was over, he smiled the same way he always did. More restrained, no sweat on his forehead, a t-shirt instead of a suit and tie, but a smile all the same. I recognized that man.

“I was just telling the team, I lost the taste of winning for a while. We got that victory, I got that taste back in my mouth, and we wanna keep winning.”

There was focus, there was composure, there was relief. For the first time, there was a season.


Blogger susieandrew said...


7:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yet another post that both warms me and gives me chills. Beautiful.

8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pictures match your words so perfectly. Much like Mike Hart is the perfect leader for this football team.

9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on point.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's interesting about Mike Hart is his eyes. When they lost, he had these wide open CRAZY EYES. Eyes that you'd see on someone who was about to rip your head off if you looked at him the wrong way. And then look at him after the ND win. His crazy eye look was gone.

12:27 PM  
Blogger T-Storm said...

Brilliant as always. This one makes me wonder if it's better to get the occasional gem from you or if it's worth wishing for more regular posting. I think the sporadic posts make finding new ones that much sweeter.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic, Johnny. Just perfect.

8:28 PM  
Blogger Kurt Maier said...

I love your writing.

10:36 PM  

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