national champs baby
The Black, Burnt Dirt And Grass
4/9/2011 – Michigan 2, Minnesota-Duluth 3 (OT) – 29-11-4, season over
There's a track on the Robert Earl Keen live album I've listened to incessantly since I was maybe a junior in college in which it's just him introing a song with a story. It's about how he went to the second Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic. Keen lies that he was "about 27 years old" at the time and had a date—his first date ever. He had so much fun in "the Willy Way" that he had to go take a nap.
He woke up from his nap to hear a man on the PA announcing that there had been a fire in the parking lot and that 40 cars had burned up. The first winner: RHP 997. Now, you might wonder why Keen and I remember that so well. In Keen's case it's because it was his car. In my case it's because I've listened to this story hundreds of times.
Keen's obviously devastated by this news, but his date laughs. Keen reminds her "we don't have a ride"; she responds "I do." Keen is introduced to Tarzan and Adonis, who promise to "take care of her, man." She departs. Keen is left with not enough of a car to carbon-14 date and no date when just a few hours ago he having the best time of his life.
He sits down.
He sits down on the grass. On the burnt grass, the black, burnt dirt and grass, and he weeps. "Big, old, giant tears."
I don't know, man.
I've got a post in the hopper titled "the bottom" that details the stunning descent in Michigan athletics that started when Bo died the day before Football Armageddon and to my eyes stopped on January 17th when Greg Mattison was hired away from an NFL team to coordinate Michigan's defense. Since then the basketball team exceeded anything approximating reasonable expectations, Jim Tressel and Ohio State seem to have started a long, ugly process of implosion, and the hockey team deflected its way to a 50-50 shot at glory. We are finally on the way up.
That doesn't mean they are. Hagelin and Scooter and Hunwick just saw something slip through their fingers they'll never get back. I guess Hunwick has a shot next year but a quick look at the roster shows a team that should be happy to extend the tourney streak—in all likelihood this was it for Tiny Jesus. I'm trying to decide whether this is actually worse than last year. At least last year promised this year; right now it's hard to see Michigan back here for years, like when Boo Nieves is a sophomore and whichever 2013 forwards stick might be awesome. Next year's impact help is playing in the OHL.
So I'm not sure when that shot will come again. Maybe it will be next year—hockey is bizarre that way—but despite a season as frustrating as a conference championship can be by the end I was deeply, deeply invested in Hagelin and the kids who gave him a flag and our 5'7" third-string walk-on goalie with a story the Air Bud producers would send back as too hackneyed. The hours after the North Dakota game were one long shuddering as my body gradually remembered things other than pure terror, and to lose—to frankly deserve to lose—after that was like all the horror described last year but with more finality. That happened and won't happen again and it wasn't enough.
Keen goes on to room with Lyle Lovett and carve out a career as a minor country star who doesn't have to give a crap what Nashville thinks, but being a musician doesn't come with eligibility restrictions. I spent Saturday thinking of all the guys who came and went during Michigan's long championship interregnum: Cammalleri and Comrie and Shouneyia and Hensick and all the other brilliant 5'8" guys college hockey makes into gods. Jed Ortmeyer, who has more work ethic in a finger than I do in my entire body and once killed two St. Cloud players in the first five minutes of a tourney game at Yost. Jack Johnson. Milan Gajic and his magic ability to not score spectacular goals. Jason Ryznar and Craig Murray always seeming way better than they were. Al Montoya sitting in the penalty box. Brandon Kaleniecki living inside the goalie's jersey. Jay Vancik convincing me he was an NHL player. Bob Gassoff, who I once screamed "why even give him a stick?" in the general direction of.
I wrote about the fans and thought I'd write about them after—I guess I am, but not in the way I wanted to. Today we add Caporusso and Vaughn and Hagelin and Langlais and Winnett and Rust and Hogan to the list of people to valorize at some point in the indeterminate future.
As Keen was dripping onto the grass some guy from the festival came up and said "the least we can do is let you meet Willy," but Willy had to go jam with Leon Russell. Many years later he recorded one of Keen's songs as part of the Highwaymen—this is all in the story.
At some point Michigan is actually going to win another goddamned national championship and some of this will be redeemed. Not all of it, though. Shawn Hunwick is never going to do that again, and nothing's ever going to match the Swedish flag and my complete failure to get people to replace all words in the goal cheer with "bork" when Hagelin scores. Things come and go; this one has gone and I'm stunned at how much I miss it already.
Seriously, No Bullets
Why this is so early in the morning. You see, Rudy, the fiancée's dissertation is due today and it's like 350 pages and I edited all of it and at one point there was a sentence with three different serial commas in it and my head exploded and I haven't actually gone to bed yet. So 1) early post because I decided it was now or never and 2) I am going to bed and will see you tomorrow and will bump Tom's weekly when I wake up this afternoon. kthxbye.
Okay, one. Congratulations to Duluth, who got a deserved win. I don't know what it was, but they spent the entire game turning Michigan's defensemen. Were they just blown out from the North Dakota game? I find that hard to believe when they had two days off and Duluth also played, but I hadn't seen anyone get around Michigan's D with that consistency all year. Since that includes UND and some other very good teams I wonder if the semi just took too much out of them.
It's impossible to be mad at a team with no previous titles and so many guys with awesome beards that don't match their blonde hair; congrats.