Thursday, November 20, 2008

Breaking Silence

Earlier this year I came to the conclusion that this blog was cursed. I became convinced that by simply mentioning a favorite sports team I could potentially doom them to a year of outright suckitude and, as a result, I've avoided talking directly about sports as much as possible.

Of course my college football team, the Michigan Wolverines, has since gone 3-8 and are a 20-some point underdog against the 10th Ranked Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio State this weekend and the Lions are, well, the Lions.

So much for the curse.

Today I thought that since Michigan's struggles this year have clearly been well out of the hands of this blog, and since Michigan's likelihood of beating Ohio State this weekend is in a word slim (though not completely out of question goddamnit!), why not break the silence and reflect on the experience of the past football season?

Just a warning, this might be a long one since we're talking about three and a half months worth of pent-up sports-talk here.

Being a college football fan is a stupid, stupid thing.

Objectively speaking, it is silly to get so rabidly upset or rapturously euphoric over the movements of a weirdly shaped brown leather ball over a big field covered in fake grass made from ground up tires. Yet, college football has the power to turn the most erudite sophisticate into a blithering loudmouthed idiot. This is, somehow, part of the beauty of the sport.

It has been a very odd year for the Michigan fan. In years past, I would watch a Michigan victory and worry that they hadn't won by enough, that despite the win there were still apparent weaknesses and deficiencies, an exposed Achilles heel that would keep Michigan from winning that Rose Bowl game or making it to the National Championship that was our birthright as Michigan fans.

Then came the first game of last year's season, otherwise known as the great terror of 2007.

And now here I am, over a year removed from that awful day, elated over any victory Michigan can get. I was happy for days after Michigan beat Minnesota this year.


Of course, since last season, Michigan has changed coaches, changed coaching staffs, changed playing style, changed the stadium. They lost all but one starter on their entire offense. Their quarterbacks were all incredibly young and had never played a snap of college football prior to this season. Their offensive line was patched together with anyone who might be able to hold a block. Their defense consisted of a good D-line, mediocre linebackers and a secondary capable of both brilliant and mind-numbingly awful play.

At the beginning of the year, we all thought, "Who knows? It could work."

This is a team consisting for the most part of underclassmen and you get the sense in watching the games that sometimes the whole thing could completely fall apart if not for Rich Rodriguez, the new coach, willing them from the sidelines to keep playing.

No, there was bound to be pain. We Michigan faithful have had to endure losses to Notre Dame and Michigan State and the jeers of their fans. We've had to endure a season's worth of ridiculous articles from the likes of Drew Sharp, writer for the Detroit Free Press and I have to believe one of the most loathsome sports columnist ever to write for a major publication.

I watched the last part of the first game at a bar with my friend. During the final five minutes or so, some douchebag in a Cubs hat came up to me and said, "I'm sorry for your loss." "Well, game's not over yet" I said affable, to which he replied, with a smug look on his face, "Are you kidding? Your whole season's over," laughed, and then punctuated it with a "Michigan sucks" for good measure.

Of course, at the time the Cubs had yet to exit the playoffs without a single win, so I had nothing.

With all this angst, the Michigan fan base has been tearing itself apart. In fact, without the help of my favorite Michigan blog I might never had made it through.

And yet I have to say, despite all of that angst, that I haven't enjoyed a season of football this much since I saw my last home game as a student.

Why? Am I a sports masochist?

Who knows? Maybe. I'm still a Lions fan after all.

I'm not completely sure why this is. My theory is that this year, instead of irrationally asking perfection and inevitable disappointment from a slew of NFL bound seniors, I'm looking for flashes of talent and portents of the future from a group of kids who are not really ready to play yet but damn it they're playing anyway.

I don't know what to expect anymore. There's no Mike Hart, Michigan's all time leading rusher and graduate from last year's senior class, to run 100+ yards per game regardless of who they're playing. I could tune in and watch Michigan give up 48 points to Purdue of all teams, or I could tune in and watch a former walk-on quarterback, an interception machine from earlier in the season, play the game of his life in Minnesota. I could watch them lose pitifully to Toledo or make a stunning second quarter comeback against a nationally ranked (at the time) Wisconsin team.

Who knows?

This Saturday Michigan will play the hated Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio. They will play with their patchwork offensive line and their slew of freshmen and what's left of the defense and they will most likely lose. In fact, they may lose by a lot.

But then again, who knows?

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