Mike Lantry, 1972
Some things shouldn’t be written about. They deserve far more than words could ever accomplish, regardless of how eloquent those words are or the sophistication of their arrangement. Then there are things that exceed even that. Things that make you want go, “screw it, I have to at least try and write something. If I don’t my brain is going to explode. Also, if I write about it, maybe I can make sure it’s true and actually happened. I don’t ever remember writing something down in a dream.”
That’s how last night is for me. I need to do write about it and hope that I can do it 100th of the justice it deserves, so that maybe one day I can look back and remember just the amount and consistency of the emotions I felt. This will probably be disorganized and random; a kind of mind drain that doesn’t care how it all comes out, as long as it comes out. I just need to get as much down as possible, hoping these thoughts don’t escape me before I can write them down. On with the show.
The day itself deserves its own diary, but that’s for another time or another person. Suffice it to say, Ann Arbor was flooded with excitement, from the first moments of College Gameday to the opening of The Big House’s gates, the city glowed. Walking up Hoover towards the woman about to be taken to her first night time ball and showed off for all of the nation to see, the sun silhouetted the crowds as it set over Main Street.
Fast forward to the pregame, and the excitement was reaching a fever pitch. When Desmond got Legended (kind of like being knighted), it made you wish there was something you could do besides cheer, that there was some other way to honor a great player and great man. Yelling at the top of your lungs just wasn’t enough. A few months ago when the whole “I should have my number retired” (not a direct quote) stuff was going around, I was a little disappointed. I knew Desmond loved him some Desmond, but I also knew he was a team player who loved our great university, and I felt disheartened that he would ask for such a thing. Yesterday, as he did his best Lou Gehrig impression during his speech, all was forgiven. He was a man truly grateful, acknowledging how blessed he was for every opportunity the team and, perhaps more importantly, university, gave him. A very rough paraphrase from what I remember is:
Every experience I had at this university, from the Diag to Schembechler to (5 or 6 more campus locations) has made...me....the man....I am....today.
His pearly whites glowed as he couldn’t hold back tears of joy and gratitude. What a fantastic start.
Then, in remembrance of the horrific tragedies from a decade ago, the whole crowd joined in a chorus of God Bless America. I’m pretty sure the band was playing the song on heartstrings, or cutting up onions, or releasing a massive dust cloud into the stands. A beautiful moment for a terrible tragedy.
When the game started, my biggest fears seemed to be coming true. Throughout this week, when asked about my predictions, I always cited a nervous feeling that ND would go up a couple scores while Borges tried to get a feel for the gameplan and our offense tried to settle in. That’s exactly what happened. The pom-pom I held had its handle slowly reduced in size as I slowly bent it and broke off pieces in frustration. Some girl behind me kept yelling “Oh no! He’s going to throw again,” every time Denard dropped back. I wanted to yell at her or just show her some highlights from our 2008 offense, but refrained. In truth there were times where I felt similarly, the dreadlocked, dilithium-powered powder keg of a big play looked very human at times. This did not feel like 2010 ND. All was not right.
Then Hemingway said, “pardon me, sir, but I have a ball to catch and a touchdown to score. It would be easier if you weren’t in the way, but instead I’ll have to jump through Michigan Stadium’s non-existant roof.” Adrenaline spike. 114,000 strong came alive again, individual maize plastic strings tied together rocking in unison to a chorus of The Victors.
Halftime was weird. There were people in costumes from a horror movie covered in flashing lights, some of which worked, some of which didn’t. I sat down and tried to relax, hoping my pounding headache would subside, because it every time I yelled on a defensive series, it got worse. A long day of drinking things that, while they contain water, make it their job to deprive your body of every drop of it apparently does awful things to the front part of your brain and makes it feel like it’s trying to escape out your forehead. Who knew? Yelling apparently doesn’t help, but dammit, I had a job to do. And that job was to be fan number 114 thousand-something who believed that an extra yell from me would make Tommy Rees stop correctly checking out of plays when reading blitzes or make Michael Floyd want to just sit down and take a break for a minute. Jesus Tapdancing Christ, Michael Floyd. But, I digress.
Normally I’m very good at remembering the exact sequence of plays and all major events in a football game, but I think I blew a couple fuses. The next thing I really remember was Jeremy Gallon pretending he was in fact, a gallon rather than a pint. We were clapping, screaming, jumping up and down on a surface small and slippery; the biggest 5 foot nothing player you’ll ever see had given us hope. Also, Jeremy Gallon, I know you’re not reading this, but I owe you an apology. Whenever ND punted I did my best Smalls from The Sandlot impression when he sticks his glove in the air and Benny the Jet bats a fly ball right into it. “Please catch it, please catch it,” I would implore in your direction. I’m done with that. That was last year. You’re a different player, and you showed an incredible amount of heart. No more finger crossing from me. Apology to imaginary reader over.
Somewhere in the fourth quarter, during a TV timeout, I remember turning to my alum friend who was in town visiting, telling him to break out his cowbell again. He of course kept it after he graduated, its large dent still there from when I shoved him over in last year’s Illinois game in celebration. He picked up his drumstick, striped in alternate maize and blue tape and rapped out a “Go Blue.” He went through the appropriate number of verses, but I wanted more. “GIVE IT TO ME AGAIN!” I yelled, doing my best Dan LeBetard impression. The mood was right and I watched as people around me nodded emphatically when he struck it up again; they wanted more too.
Writing this is a lot more difficult than I anticipated - my thoughts are just so scattered. In truth, I’m not even going to touch the breakdown of Roundtree’s Braylon impression or Vincent Smith going HAM or any of that. What I will say now is that the next time anyone ever tells you that the Big House is a “wine and cheese” crowd, tell them to kindly shut the hell up. When Seven Nation Army came on, that place absolutely erupted. I’ve been to my fair share of college football games, including big time SEC matchups, and while I won’t say it was louder last night, I will say I don’t remember anywhere else being louder. I had goosebumps on my goosebumps. Anyone in a 10 foot radius of me got repeatedly throttled or hugged or high fived throughout every glorious or disheartening or breathtaking moment, and nobody cared. Why? Because they were all doing the same thing. Controlled, glorious, fantastic chaos. Want to say something negative about our crowd? How many stadiums stay brimming with tens of thousands for what, an hour after the game?
As I walked home, I just kept thinking about how people years from now will still talk about the 2011 Notre Dame game the way that talk about the most legendary of moments. The walk home could’ve been for 5 miles, for all I cared. I floated back. As I hydrated at my apartment to go celebrate fully, someone across the street was playing House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” On loop. For at least a half hour. And the only reason someone would’ve called the cops to complain was if they turned it off. I’ll never watch a Wisconsin game the same after that.
Trying to end this feels like trying to wrap up that game, which is an impossible task. It’s futile. Describe colors to someone who can’t see. Read every book ever written. Capture a unicorn. All pale in comparison to the difficulty I’m finding trying to write this. I guess there’s really only one thing to say. It’s great. To be. A Mich-i-gan Wol-ve-rine.