rundown of Michigan's riser
Hanging Ain't Today
I was standing in front of a big group of people in a bar in midtown New York City, and I knew that the year before I had wandered in in a suit and told them that this would be an off year for Michigan football because the quarterbacks were probably bad and the offensive line probably worse. That sounds right from 10,000 feet, but I'd splashed an Alamo Bowl logo up at the end of the presentation when I should have put up a map of Tajikistan underneath the title MOVE HERE IMMEDIATELY.
So I had a slide at the beginning that noted some of the things I'd been very wrong about the year before, and I noted my errors, asked for forgiveness, suggested that football was a crazy game, and promised them less than I'd promised the year before but more than they'd gotten. That seemed to go okay.
Around here, I asked Paul to splice together a bunch of highlights and set it to a song that seemed particularly apropos and posted it on the eve of the season. To call it hopeful sells it short. A bunch of good plays strung together that ignores last year's woe is hopeful. One that acknowledges them and then flashes to color when the good stuff kicks in is closer to an explicit promise.
It's not a surprise that as the season has dragged along, the team an increasingly unrecognizable piece of roadkill grinding away the remnants of a jaw along the highway of the Big Ten, that more than the occasional comment or email references "Sometimes When You're On" as a source of gallows humor. Sometimes there's no humor and the emailer is just lamenting the hope that has transubstantiated into misery. That's considerably worse.
Kennedy is dead and I'm sitting here telling anyone who will ask "things are going to be all right" and now, finally, it's not working. And deservedly so.
In 2002, I was in Ireland for the summer. I'd graduated from undergrad and had a chunk of money saved up from summers spent interning at engineering firms and my girlfriend of over a year had broken up with me in slow motion and I thought I'd have an adventure. I planned on working. A friend of mine had spent a chunk of time in Ireland working IT when jobs were available for anyone with working knowledge of a screwdriver, but the Celtic Tiger had imploded dramatically with the rest of the tech world in 2001 and I was reduced to wandering around wondering why the hell I needed a resume to pick plates up and put them other places. Surely there was some sort of spatial reasoning test that could be done on the fly.
So I didn't work. I rented a room in a Galway house shared by a bunch of marine biology students—when The Abyss was on TV, the rig-envy was palpable—and screwed around. One of the things I did was watch every game of the World Cup, because why the hell not? Ireland was in it after a famous upset of Holland, not that I knew about this, or how infrequent Irish World Cup appearances are, at the time. I got up at eight in the morning—impressive to me, at least—to watch them tie Cameroon in their first match.
The second match day was a huge, nerve-wracking one with the US taking on Portugal and Ireland staring down the Germans and freaking Oliver Kahn, the robot goalie. Kahn would become a personal sporting bête noire over the course of the tournament, a man worthy of his last name. He would win the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player, the only time in World Cup history that the award has gone to a goalie. And his team didn't even win. He was good.
The USA could really use a win in their first match; Ireland just needed a draw with Saudi Arabia the last game on the schedule.
I debated heading down to the pub at eight in the morning, but eventually decided against it mostly because it was a twenty minute walk. But the US scored, and scored again, and scored again, and with the game 3-1 at halftime and my house abandoned I said "screw it" and spent halftime scurrying downtown. I watched Jeff Agoos score a spectacular own goal while nursing a pint of cider* in a moderately full pub. The USA won and that was well and good. For everyone else, it was a small moment of schadenfreude in before the main event.
So here's the main event: Ireland goes toe-to-toe with the Germans, putting more shots on goal but unable to crack Kahn. In the 19th minute enormous robot striker Miroslav Klose puts the Germans up, but from that moment on they're on the back foot. Ireland presses to no avail. Kahn seems everywhere. He makes three insane saves to keep Ireland off the board. I loathe him. I hate his incredibly German hair, and his insane excellence.
Then it's gone. Ninety minutes are over and they're just kicking it around in stoppage time. Ireland has made their desperate substitutions, sticking creaky old Niall Quinn, a 6'4" battleship of a target forward, out there in the vague hope he can get his head to the ball. In the 92nd minute some defender boots the ball upfield as people do at the end of the game when there's no time and no hope. Quinn finds this ball and flicks it down to an onrushing Robbie Keane. That bastard Kahn is out, though, out fast and in position and Keane has to shoot after one touch and the shot actually deflects off that fucking bastard Kahn…
You have no doubt experienced some variety of sports pandemonium in your life, but you probably haven't watched an entire country take the day off to drink next to the river. In the immediate aftermath I remember hugging some guy who looked like he was from Pakistan. I was instantly recognizable as an American, so maybe that made sense. Ever since, I've rooted for Kahn in his losing battle against preening Jens Lehman, and maybe that makes sense, too.
On Wednesday, Ireland missed the World Cup on the most flagrant handball since Diego Maradona.
It has not been a good fall. Since Michigan scraped by Indiana, the team they are vying with for outright possession of the Big Ten cellar, I haven't watched Michigan beat any team that plays at scholarship parity with them in two different sports. Football hasn't beaten a I-A team since September 26th. Hockey is currently languishing at 4-6 after consecutive sweeps at the hands of Miami and, of all teams, Michigan State. In that series, Corey Tropp scored in a game that finished 3-2. Hell, the one hockey game I've listened to on the radio this year was the dismal 2-0 defeat against Fairbanks to open the year.
It's been hard for me. In the past my strategy when sports were more pain than they're worth has been to disconnect as much as possible, but that's obviously not possible any more. So I've seen everything that's happened the last two years somewhere between four and eight times.
But it's been hard on everyone else, too. Johnny emerged from his slumber to write something beautiful about Brandon Minor…
On Saturday he will be there. Maybe not on Thursday or on Friday, but you don’t prepare for the deranged violence.
…and this is how life repays him:
David Molk (knee)
Brandon Minor (shoulder)
He sent me one of the semi-annual IMs we exchange to ask me what percent chance I put on Minor playing. I said "I don't know," and that was that. This is life at the bottom.
Everyone who's joked or not joked about "Sometimes When You're On" is hurt because their expectations have not been met, because they hoped for more. I've played a role in that, and for that I'm sorry. There are days when two minnows come up against world powers and win, or tie their asses off, though. When I went to RBUAS I saw that Jake and Mike and Chad had given way to a new era, however brief it will be:
A beautifully futile gesture. Johnny had the old guys up there forever, and it wasn't hard to figure out why. But what I said after the Notre Dame game still holds, even if it's cast in a different light by the events that followed: this is Michigan now. Though they're still plainly deficient, they'll be there Saturday. I don't know if things are going to be all right anymore. But I'll be there, too, and God help anyone who talks about "heart" within earshot.
Saturday contains itself. For three hours, let hope bloom, and think about the consequences afterward.
*(Don't judge me. It was before noon and somehow Bulmers has this marvelous nutty tinge if you get it from the tap in Ireland. I've had the stuff stateside and it suffers far more than Guinness does.)