One word. Termendous
The Story 2011: Mitigating William Caines
It was the best time I'd ever had at a Chili's. Nothing whatsoever distinguished it from an average visit to Chili's. The beer was light American lager. The chicken was a bit dry, the cheese the usual half-step up from stuff you'd get in a great red-labeled cube. The waitress was a cheerful slab of the Midwest, and the bill was perfectly reasonable. I grinned and laughed and fought off bouts of body-encompassing tiredness.
An hour or so before I'd sat in Notre Dame Stadium as everyone else filed out. Once they were gone the next twenty minutes were filled with intermittent bursts of laughter. Those weren't enough, so I punched my friend in the arm. The punching and the laughing were good, as they forestalled a short circuit.
When the band marched out, we thought that was our cue. I grabbed one of the souvenir mugs as we exited. When I got home I crudely carved "28-24" on it with a steak knife. It's in the closet. Our walk back was half-accompanied by the band. We met a goodly chunk of my family walking the other way, exchanged excited greetings, and then went about the business of getting out of town. We got to the Chili's just as the adrenaline wore off and the stomach reasserted itself.
A few minutes before everyone filed out Denard Robinson zinged a skinny post to Roy Roundtree on third down and finished the job himself. In the first half Robinson had snuck through a crease in the line, found Patrick Omameh turning Manti Te'o into a safety-destroying weapon, and ran directly at me until he ran out of yards.
He knelt down to give thanks, and that felt inverted.
The next morning sun poured through huge windows in Goshen, Indiana, as I collected items for that week's Video of All Varieties. I'll usually watch some but rarely all unless I'm trying to suck the marrow out of a particularly savory victory. Notre Dame 2010 was one of those. I watched Martin and Van Bergen and others talk in the tunnel afterwards. I watched the highlights, watched the presser, got to Denard, and…
So this thing you dared not hope for starts to coalesce just from the things that happen on the field, and then yesterday morning I was struck by a sense of profound gratefulness when I watched the MGoBlue video of Denard's postgame presser:
I love how he smiles all the time and wears his heart on his sleeve and goes "AHHHH" when someone mentions Roundtree blocking for him and seems about as amazed as everyone else as what he's doing. I love how he drops to one knee after he scores in a way that seems genuine in a way I couldn't comprehend until I saw it. I love that if you ask him he'll sign your forehead. I was going to let my skepticism overwhelm, to wait until it was obvious that 2010 was not going to be 2009, but I lasted two games. I'm in the tank again.
Though Denard turned out to be human (somewhat, anyway) I am still in the tank for him. This offseason a small child in New York City wrote Denard about what it means to be a leader and Denard sent a letter back with a picture:
I need this person to be successful. This is such a relief.
It's no secret I've been one discontent blogger ever since the Mississippi State game transpired. In retrospect a lot of my criticisms don't make sense. I thought Michigan should keep Rodriguez after the Ohio State game and fire him after the bowl; I ripped David Brandon for not firing Rodriguez before the bowl if he was going to do the deed. I knew Denard Robinson was the most awesome dude ever and I still assumed he'd transfer. When I interviewed people for the Tim/Tom opening I asked each of them if they disagreed with something I'd written in the past year or so and asked them to argue about it with me; seven of the ten sought tactful ways to remind me that I'd posted "We Are ND*" above the press release announcing Hoke's hire. One just said I'd embarrassed myself with my pettiness. This turned out to be less useful of a question than I'd hoped since by that point I agreed.
That discontent is an overreaction to a real thing. We're going to get the last great Rodriguez blowup in about a month when John U Bacon's Three And Out hits shelves. It's going to put an inbred culture on display. If Michigan doesn't learn from these three years they'll eventually find themselves right back where they were in 2008, obviously behind their greatest rival with nowhere to turn.
Meanwhile, the athletic department has done an about face from the open Rodriguez days back to a culture of paranoia. I kind of liked it when Rodriguez reached out in a futile attempt to win hearts and minds; now it seems we've returned to the days when the fans were tolerated at best.
In place of openness we get marketing. I am increasingly worried that Michigan is drifting towards the bread-and-circus model you see not just in pro sports but at Michigan State, Ohio State, and especially Penn State where the allegiance of the diehards is taken for granted and the fringes are courted with fireworks and rawk music. I fear the day that Brandon unleashes the fandom bread bowl upon us.
I hate that I hate parts of the stadium experience now and fear those moments will expand rapidly. Never has Notre Dame fandom looked so rational. In this environment there's a risk you disconnect from the program in small or large ways. I've talked to a lot of people for whom that's the case. I don't know—maybe it's just getting older.
Denard overwhelms all reservations. He is pure. He grew up poor in a place infinitely far away from the manicured lawns and Whole Foods of Ann Arbor but came to Michigan because they said he could play quarterback. He says he never thought about leaving when Rodriguez was fired. Michigan is never going to recruit anyone like him ever again.
And there are so many guys like him on the team: Vincent Smith, who is 5'6" and is featured in every insider email I get as the scrappiest grittiest toughest guy the coaches love. He's from Pahokee, which may not exist in five years and will never, ever have another kid commit to Michigan. Roy Roundtree and his Donald Duck impression. Ricky Barnum, whose mom was really sick when he was a freshman and who thought about transferring but stayed. Ryan Van Bergen, who committed to Carr and stayed through Rodriguez and wondered where the alumni had been the last three years. Craig Roh, who runs up and down the stairs in Haven Hall if he gets to class early. David Molk, who drops f-bombs in press conferences that no one minds. Taylor Lewan, who has a mustache tattooed on his finger to impress the ladies. Troy Woolfolk and his werewolf alter-ego. Jordan Kovacs, student-body walk-on. Kevin Koger, twitter handle "KogerNotKroger."
Lewan, Van Bergen
There are no Pryors here. Each of these guys has endured the last three years of crap more gracefully than the university or I have and is still here, trying to set right what started going wrong a long time ago. Whatever reservations I have about the program and its direction are overwhelmed by a fierce desire to see these kids win. Rodriguez may not have been able to keep half the kids he recruited, but the ones who stuck around… man. Denard is their king.
In the course of doing this every year I look at the previous year's preview; last time around I linked to a couple of fantastic pieces. You should read Orson's again just because you should. The piece by Brian Phillips on Pele and David Foster Wallace's Federer essay, though, is relevant to our interests.
In the midst of describing one of these Federer Moments where sport allows us to transcend the limitations of our own bodies, if only vicariously, DFW circles round to the cancer-stricken nine-year-old ceremonial coin-tosser at Wimbledon, William Caines. This is going to be one long blockquote without a paragraph break. I think it's important, though:
I’ve always wondered what Wallace meant by circling back around to talk about William in the middle of what is for the most part a genuinely happy-seeming celebration of Federer. The image of the cancer-stricken child seems to have no part, that is, in the enthusiasm that motivates the essay, and yet the edge of unease it introduces brings a powerful and not unreligious strain of skepticism into the pseudo-theology of Federer. Clearly no athlete and no delight in sport can answer the “big, obvious” question about what could possibly justify a tiny child suffering a devastating physical illness. If Federer is there to reconcile us to the fact of having bodies, Wallace hints, then the reconciliation he offers has limits and outside those limits is a large and unanswerable despair. I called the awareness of this despair “not unreligious” because while it may seem like a mere challenge to belief, a sort of renegade anti-Federer atheism, the feeling that seems to follow it into the essay seems to me to have more in common with the longing for bodily mortification that is often a weird corollary of profound religious experience. That is, if we begin with a sense that something is intolerably wrong, and the power of Federer or Pelé is to make us feel that that thing is actually right (or at least tolerable), then William introduces a larger sphere of consciousness in which we realize that the reconciliation was flawed and the thing is actually wrong and intolerable after all. But that second, larger wrongness, as I read it in Wallace’s essay, and this may be unfair, because again, William is only a tiny grain of doubt within what is generally a really positive piece of writing—that second, larger wrongness doesn’t stem from an apprehension that the reconciliation Federer offers is false, it stems from an apprehension that the reconciliation Federer offers is incomplete, that it doesn’t go far enough, it doesn’t stick. It only lasts a moment, and then you’re left not knowing when God will take you up again, which is an anxiety that actually bubbles up at times in the writings of the saints. And that seems to be a condition in which a heightened consciousness of mortality, one that may well express itself as a yearning toward suffering and breakdown, is hard to escape.
If we are being very generous and very convincing, DFW-level, Brian-Phillips-level convincing, this is Denard Robinson in the Michigan zeitgeist. Something is intolerably wrong and the Denard reconciliation is incomplete and we are going to have to accept that, like the Hart reconciliation was incomplete, and just take the Denard Moments as they are—as parts of an imperfect whole. Our compensation for the things that have happened is just this, the last few words of the thesis statement of the Federer article:
…just look at him down there. Look at that.
So you hired the other 2, amiright?
now it seems we've returned to the days when the fans were tolerated at best.
After seeing fans the last 4 1/2 years, whether you loved Lloyd, Rich, Hoke or hated any combo of the three....can you blame them?
A little secret - guys like Denard may be great to fans, because well, they're just great guys...but behind closed doors they read, or hear because someone certainly tells them, what is said or written about them. And it's usually negative, and harsh. Very much the "get a life" attitude. And how quickly they're turned on, from the head guy to the kicker, they realize fans don't really love them, they love what they can do for them*. And so yeah, they're not thought of very highly. So tolerated is a great word for it. You're not at all wrong for liking what Rich tried to do better. It's not worse. It's just not the reality of the relationship quite often.
*Understanding there may be an except for the magic that is Denard
I agree that in this age of media and information, there's no way that those guys can't be disillusioned with the fans that support them. But, it really is a coexistence that ends up working for everyone. They have to tolerate us because without us, there would be nothing for them. As I've gotten older, I don't get as emotionally connected to the players. They provide me entertainment and distraction and I provide them with an avenue to an education and potential professional career. As long as everyone keeps some perspective, it's all good and everyone wins.
DB and the AD merely tolerate us fans.
Your take from the players' perspective makes sense too, now that you mention it.
I meant it as a program - from AD to Coaches to Players to Support Staff. I never get the sense of a lot of love for the fans, who want to tear them to pieces for every decision they don't agree with, or every missed kick (from scheduling games we don't like, to "let's not renew the kicker's scholarship to make room"). It's not universal, but there's enough of it, and it's loud enough, that I just see, and think people can see, why they're wary to put their faith in those that build them up...but are also very willing to tear them down.
Very good stuff, though I must admit some of it seemed a little over my head, but the purity of Denard is a concept I hadn't really thought through, and it rings right. I'd be interested to see a post sometime of something you refferred to quickly here, which is the parts of the Stadium experience now that you hate yourself for hating (I think I got that right.) Also, am still unclear as to why you label the ND experience, or at least fandom, as "rational" -- I'm not saying I disagree, I just am not sure what leads you to that conclusion. All in all, great post
The ND experience is "rational" because when it comes to die hards vs. "fringe" supporters, the gameday experience favors the former. No rawk music drowning out the MMB, etc. Although we're all understandably excited for the night game this year, this would also be unheard of in South Bend (for now...).
And used to happen, but hasn't for a long time. But will be again.
The last one they played? Vs. Michigan, 1990. The 3x5 card game, as I recall.
This is what I get for not refreshing my browser before posting. Beat me to it.
For trying to do some work at work between reading and posting.
"3x5 card game"? that's not ringing a bell at all, and that's unusual for me.
There was a 4th and 1 play for Michigan's O that the chains came out. The refs couldn't tell if it was a first down, so they took a 3x5 card down the pole and slipped it between the ball and the chain pole. 4th down was not converted and ND got the ball back on downs and went on to win the game. Never before or since have I seen refs use a 3x5 card to determine whether or not it was a first down. Forever known as the 3x5 card game.
i can't believe i blanked on that. </hang head in shame>
not even kidding.
Actually, ND has played plenty of night games in their stadium. They haven't in a while, but I know they played at least two of them against Michigan in the late 1980s-early 1990s (Mike Gillette missed a FG to end the game; Elvis Grbac throws an INT to Michael Stonebreaker two years later in Jon Vaughn's coming out party two years later.)
Did I mention that it was two years later? Because it was.
Actually, ND is playing USC at night this year (whatever week we are on a bye). My girlfriend (ND Alum) is super pumped as are all her friends, FWIW.
johnny would be proud.
as usual. i'm so often reminded why this is the best blog in the world.
p.s., to the person who said you'd embarrassed yourself with your pettiness, remember, IT'S A JOB INTERVIEW. but you do have to admire the cojones.
p.p.s. i've had some good meals at chili's. try the fajitas, they SIZZLE.
I don't believe you were being petty. I think you believe you were shortchanged.
My fandom, much like yours, is now with the guys more so than the school (hopefully I will come back around). I want them to win. They have been through so much.
This, exactly. I'm still a student, but I hate the football program right now. I hate how RR got railroaded, and nothing that happened to him seemed fair. I hate that the players and boosters expected so much when 3-9 probably would have been pretty close to happening anyway. I hate how "major violations" happened. I hate that MSU has won 3 years in a row. I hate that as soon as I started watching from the student section the band was played over multiple times by rock music, and that the Big Chill, while awesome, had a curly fries mascot running around the stadium. I hate that the absolute best candidate we could find for our coaching position is a guy with a sub-.500 career record who would be indistinguishable from anyone elsee except he coached here before, and that being a "Michigan Man" seems to trump all.
However, these players are mine, to put it in an awkward emotional term. They are students, just like me. They are my age. I have watched them grow, from when Tay Odoms was a freshman dropping punts, but still a tiny fireball throwing better blocks than anyone I've seen. And Roy Roundtree doing his Donald Duck impression on national TV. And Devin Gardner's tweets. And Denard. I am more attached to this team than I ever have been and ever will be. No matter what success or disappointment comes from the 132nd football team, I will always remember who they were. I wish them all the best. Go Blue.
I don't disagree with you about how awesome our players are, but I feel like a lot of posts talking up how "likable" the team is over-blow it a little. While the team is likable I think it is more noticeable when we've had 3 shitty years on the field. People are looking for something to cling to as positive and the players' personalities stand out.
I'm not saying its a bad thing, but we've had great players with great personalities and great character at Michigan for as long as I can remember. This team isn't different in that regard. I think it stands out more b/c of the negativity that has been around for 3 years.
Its easy to be likeable when things are good. Being able to survive the last three years while still displaying a hard work ethic and good attitude is unusual. Michigan hasn't been this bad three years in a row since before Bo.
haters gonna hate.
I'm no longer a student, but I couldn't have said it any better. Frustrated at all that's transpired, but I love these guys.
I have a feeling I am going to regret asking this, but I just honestly cannot see in this post what you are upset about. It's a generally positive piece and if you are going to hate on this type of piece which is very typical Brian, I question why you even choose to read any of his articles at all.
Then make that case. I expect that might create useful discussion. Or you could trot out internet cliches. Your call.
Well first of all I think you misread my question as to why you still read Brian's articles. I completely understand obviously why you would come to the website for all the relevant information that it can provide on Michigan football. What I cannot understand is why you would waste your time reading Brian's articles if you are going to misconstrue every single Brian piece into a Rich Rod love ballad. Additionally you completely miss the point on what Brian is concerned with losing concernig the Michigan football experience. Not wanting Michigan football to turn into a February NBA game or a AA baseball game as far as promotions and such has absolutely nothing to do with supporting Brady Hoke and believing he'll win football games(which Brian does if you look at his predictions from MSP)
Dude, you're trying to be rational with one of the douchiest posters in the community. Good luck with that.....
...is that there are lots and lots of other, as you say, "sights" that write about michigan sports. there's even a list of them on this very page. feel free.
Seems like you love basketball even more, if your signature means anything.
"They're trying to destroy what I love" (this being the ghost of Rich Rodriguez)
Is that what Brian said in this post? I thought that he said this:
I am increasingly worried that Michigan is drifting towards the bread-and-circus model you see not just in pro sports but at Michigan State, Ohio State, and especially Penn State where the allegiance of the diehards is taken for granted and the fringes are courted with fireworks and rawk music.
I sort of associate RR with the rawk music; it wasn't all his doing, but neither did he scream about how horrible it was like Brian did.
We are not ND. Thank God.
We'd really better have a good season.
bold, with candor, and well-written. kudos for your honesty.
Brian is officially Michigan football's version of Glenn Beck.
Please do expand on this horrible analogy. Actually, don't.
Pointless, trolling, and a ridiculous and outdated analogy. If you are embittered and have no point, you ought to be funnier than the most overplayed internet quote ever (see earlier Billy Madison comment) and whining about Charlie Sheen for some reason.
they could do no better than to read your stuff and copy it entirely. With all of it's inability to read, inability to conprehend what is read, to translate that into coherent thought, and finally, to write down all of that pure stupidity in the douchiest way possible. WHOA.
Brian writes plenty of stuff that reasonable people can criticize or disagree with. But people like you give those people a very tough road to hoe.
while the professional stuff is disgusting, free pizza, curly fries, the denard pic, molk's tattoo, kogernotkroger, are all good examples of successful marketing whose success is due to its sincerity rather than its focus group approved manufactured-ness.
a season like this season will never exist again. the burden of expectations will set in rather quickly. but this season and this group of guys makes me not care so much about the results on the field but more in the manner that these guys carry themselves and represent us.
Every thing I read by DFW screams to me that he has a mental illness. Unfortunately, that mental illness turned out to be terminal.
Some of the greatest artists in history had a mental illness.
Yep, and Infinite Jest especially. His writing viewed through that lens is so amazingly sad and once you start it's hard to get over it.
Still a fantastic writer I enjoy reading.
*28 more games. Don't forget the two Big Ten Championship wins.
I"m hoping for 28, but expecting 27
already in mid-season form!
I cannot wait for this season to begin.
Reading your season preview post has become an annual event I look forward to in a fuzzy curl-up-with-coffee-for-a-fireside-chat way. You encapsulate so much of what the fanbase is feeling so well.
Don't sweat your "we are ND" moments; when your writing is on, it's really fucking on.
Thanks for The Story once again. Here's to a great season.
I'm with you Brian about the stadium experience thing, however, I look forward to a cultural shift in the fan bases expectations because of our "3 year experiment".(this has been covered before in depth by Brian so stop reading if you don't care to hear another first-hand experience regarding GET OFF MY LAWN types) I am the least articulate guy on this board so try and hang with me.
I grew up going to games sitting in setion 37 about 320 rows up. My Grandpa had tickets from his Dr. friend(UofM alum) who lived in SC and couldn't make it up. My first game was Long Beach State. I was seven. I will never forget the lady behind us. NOTHING ever went right. It was either the coaches fault, QB's fault, or ushers(NTU) fault. I remember JM's long run and his shoe falling off, but I remember this angry, grumpy woman more. We would endure another 20 years of her. It made going to the stadium less fun. But it never really took away the joy of being there.
Our tickets were taken in 2007 because the Dr.'s kids had moved to the area and now used them. Luckily, I ran into a friend who wanted to split a set of two for the season and seasons to come starting in 2009. MUCH BETTER SEATS! The tickets we have are from a larger party that wanted to split their six. The guy who "owns" all six tickets is about 70 years old and sits on a seat cushion with his Members Only jacket, khaki slacks, gold rimmed glasses and binocs around his neck. And if I didn't know any better, I would say he was a former All-American and in the Football Coaches Hall of Fame. I think he might have reffed in the Super Bowl a few times too. Get my point? He thinks everything that happens should be the opposite and when it is the opposite it isn't good enough. Oh, and multiply that by 10 because RR is the coach.
At age 31, I really don't enjoy going to the games because I know all I'm going to hear is how bad things are. Last year during the MSU game I finally turned to the guy and asked him how he got up every morning with such a bad attitude. I then explained to him, without letting him answer, that there were about 31 freshman or walk-ons on the field and they all wanted to win the game more than him. I also told him that I was sure RR didn't want DR to throw interceptions...that wasn't in the playbook.
I told you I can't articulate. The point is that maybe the last three years were so bad in the eyes of the Old Lady and the Old Man that their expectations have finally dropped and they won't bitch the whole game. Unfortunately, I will have to drive three hours one-way and spend $200 to find out.*
*Please don't read this as me being ungrateful in regards to attending games. I am not taking the Michigan Stadium experience for granted. There is nothing like the entrance of the band.....my favorite part of the whole day.......maybe because that is one thing you can't bitch about! The drive there and the drive home with friends and family are what make the day an experience, oh, and moments like Penn State 2005.
particularly: "I also told him that I was sure RR didn't want DR to throw interceptions...that wasn't in the playbook.". +1. It has been frustrating the last few years, but you have to love the guys who go out there and lay it on the line everyday.
I've had a few moments like that as I'm sure we all have. The 1st thing the guy next to me said to his buddy last year when they sat down was "Well they wanted plain, they got plain"...I looked at my wife and told her I may have to move 'cause I'm going to explode - granted it was the 1st game and I was like a little kid jumping up and down waiting for the dedication..
Anyway, I hope the last few years will make people appreciate things a bit more. There will always be fans that are negative, but we have this board - I know the MGoCommunity has my back
Go blue and 5 more days...5 more days...