In a closet somewhere in my childhood home sits a ragged
plush football eaten away by time and tosses that should be long since
discarded. It was once a vibrant pattern of yellows and blues with
"MICHIGAN" printed elegantly on its thin fabric skin. The ball, many
unknown years older than I, has seen countless Michigan football games from
Michigan Stadium and a Washington, DC living room. The ball remains firmly and
invariably in the possession of either my father or me until Michigan scores a
touchdown, at which time we throw the ball back and forth as many times as we
can until Michigan kicks the extra point.
That ball has seen a lot, obviously. It's been hurled aimlessly in frustration and squeezed just a little too hard in terror and forgotten altogether in those wonderful moments of blissful pandemonium. It's also seen me. I've held it as a toddler without responsibilities, as a mushroom-haired adolescent trying to fart joke his way through middle school, as a skinny high schooler desperately waiting for the big envelope, and lately, as a suave, sophisticated student at the University of Michigan. The next time I hold that ball it will be because I'm living at home again, looking for a job. It will mean my time at Michigan has run out.
Everyone shipping off to college knows--in the logical part of his brain, anyway--that the ride doesn't last forever. It's certainly crossed my mind before. I knew that someday I would no longer be able to eat fourteen hard boiled eggs for breakfast or walk to Kroger twice in one day just to buy an apple and a pack of gum or wear shirts with pictures of pizza on them to class. I guess I just didn't know that someday would be so soon.
This is my last year here, and I'm going to miss it. During the past week I’ve watched a wave of freshmen pour into their dorm rooms and kiss their teary mothers goodbye and smile that dumb smile of which only a freshman is capable. I knew I was going to miss these people and the buildings through which we walked and talked and laughed together. And I thought I was going to miss Michigan Football above all other things. I thought I was never going to stand in the student section again or sing The Victors or get in fistfights with Michigan students who insist on booing Chad Henne when his shoulder is injured.
But I realize something now. The man with whom I’ve played that superstitious game of catch for 21 years graduated from Michigan 37 years ago. He doesn’t go to the Jug or Pizza Bob’s anymore. He hasn’t stepped inside Angell Hall since Richard Nixon was President. But he holds that ratty old ball just as tight and sings The Victors just as clearly and dances to touchdowns just as badly as when he was 20. Though his days in Ann Arbor are long behind him, my father has never left the University of Michigan.
To cheer for Michigan requires no admission process. It has no expiration date and no union dues. Everyone who comes to this website does so with the common interest of following Michigan athletics with bizarre precision in an effort to make ourselves better, more knowledgeable fans. There are Eastern Michigan graduates on this site. There are current Central Michigan students on this site. There are high schoolers on this site. But we're all here for the same reason.
I understand now that when I am a stiff, crotchety blue hair sitting slumped in a nursing home rocking chair because I’m too weak to sit in the 90th row of Michigan Stadium and poke the people in front of me with my cane, I’ll still be able to roar in approval and curse in dissatisfaction and throw broccoli at the Ohio State graduate sitting at the table next to mine, and I will feel just as excited, just as happy, just as good as I will tomorrow.
Certainly, the day upon which I pack my bags and leave Ann Arbor for good will be a sad one. But my joy for having been here at all far exceeds my sorrow for the necessity of my departure. I thank God every day for the blessings I’ve been given, chiefly among them the opportunity to grow up with the University of Michigan. I thank God for my parents and my friends who have grown and cheered right beside me even when there was no enthusiasm to be found. And I thank all of you for sharing this team with me for the past 21 years. The controversies that have plagued this team in the past nine months are scarcely worth consideration; our bond is unbreakable and our pride is only beginning to swell. This is my Michigan, this is your Michigan, this is our Michigan, now and forever.
Tomorrow's game can be said to be merely that: a game. An arbitrary contest of
physicality and luck and preparation and little scribbles in a playbook between
two schools. It can also, in a stretch, be said to be a dawn, a life preserver,
a battle for the survival of a good man's reputation. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in
Wherever its proper place may be, it drains the blood from our faces and punches us in our stomachs and leaves us wondering why we continue to pour our hearts into it. On Monday we'll all go back to work or class and maybe by Thursday we will have more pressing matters on our minds, but we’ll be back on Saturday. Maybe you’ll stand beside me in Michigan Stadium; maybe you’ll watch from your home somewhere in the vast American Midwest; maybe you’ll be watching on a ten-year-old computer at 4 am local time because you live in Singapore. But we’ll all be there together.
Go Blue. And whatever your dirty, beaten toy football talisman may be, hold it tight and hold it fast, and don’t ever let it go.
- Is this a uniquely awful revelation that casts doubt on the ability of Rich Rodriguez to properly evaluate character? Yes.
- Will this serve as ammunition for fans of our rival schools to taunt Michigan? Yes.
- Have crimes of this magnitude been perpetrated by student-athletes at a high-profile university before? Damn straight.
- Did that unfortunate event prove to be the program's undoing? Not even close.
But here's the thing: No matter how true you might think that is, it's still big fat tough titties for you. This could have happened just as easily under Les Miles or Jeff Tedford or literally any other coach in America, save perhaps Lane Kiffin, who would have found a way to sneak a 9-year-old transsexual sweatshop worker into the coke deal.
Even Lloyd, whom we would like to believe incapable of such an oversight, could only sit with folded hands as opposing fanbases across the country laughed at the dismissal of defensive tackle Larry Harrison, who was charged with four counts of sexual delinquency and suspected in 16 more. Harrison endangered fewer people than Feagin, certainly, but the fact remains that Rich Rodriguez does not stand alone among Michigan coaches who have seen a felonious embarassment take place on his watch.
This paragraph originally had a comment concerning the extent of Rich Rodriguez's duties as head coach of Michigan football; the original statement was roughly that Rodriguez's only obligation to the team is to coach them, and that any mentorship or emotional growth that a player might gain from his relationship with Rodriguez would simply be a lucky exception to the rule. That is inaccurate and frankly, pretty cold. What I should have said, and will say now, is that I simply don't know what to expect from Rich Rodriguez's relationship with his players. I formerly insisted that Rodriguez was a saint, beloved by all the pure-hearted cherubim on his roster; now, I can't say that. I don't think anyone can.
I've been trying hard not to compare the young Rodriguez era to the Lloyd Carr era for so many reasons: the small sample size of the current regime, the difference in personality (neither good nor bad, just evident), and the fact that a man deserves to be judged on his own merits.
If you want to claim that the mystique of the Michigan Man is waning, and that Rich Rodriguez has ushered in a new era of filth and depravity where there was once class and dignity, just remember that football will never be anything more than a sport. If you truly feel as though your own reputation is reflected in the record--on and off the field--of Michigan's football team, you are, unfortunately, projecting your own identity onto an inanimate, abstract concept, and you desperately need to reconstruct your priorities.
With that in mind, let us all load up with good defenses for the inevitable bombardment of insults from our peers in East Lansing, Columbus, and South Bend, and prepare ourselves for the upcoming season.
At 11:49 am on September 4, 2010, Carl Grapetine's voice will ring throughout Michigan Stadium as it has for the past 39 years. "Ladies and gentlemen," comes the purr of Bearded Grapentine. 100,000 boring old people and 400 sober students preoccupied with applying their 200 SPF sunscreen squint into the sun towards the Michigan Stadium press box. "At punter, number 71, Burt Chuckberry." The students look at one another. "Who?" they ask aloud. "Dude," vomits Broham Brosephton of Farmington Hills, 18, "I've never even heard of that fag." Brosephton's friend and seat partner, Screechy Tanfastic, does not reply. She sits on the metal bleachers, sobbing for no discernible reason, just as she and every other Kappa does every fall Saturday.
As for young Chuckberry, he will punt four times that day against Michigan's feeble opponent Boise State for a total of 27 yards; one of the four punts will be for -17 yards after poor Burt drops the ball out of nervousness and attempts to salvage the play with his face. Michigan will win 478-0 despite Chuckberry's incompetence. "Tonight," growls manly starting quarterback Jack Kennedy, who threw for 1100 yards and 18 touchdowns against Boise State, "I will personally fix the US economy. Because Trojan stock is going through the roof. I'm bringing America back to where it should be--we're on top of the world, and Jack Kennedy is full of venereal diseases!" That night, Jack Kennedy will reinvent AIDS.
At the post-game press conference, Burt Chuckberry will be nowhere to be found, mostly because he is a punter, but also because he is terrible. "OUTRAGEOUS!" booms Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez in between large mouthfuls of sandwich. "As you all know, I only talk about guys who play for Michigan. Therefore, I will not be answering any questions about our punter today, as he was clearly playing for Heroin State University. I've already cut him. Literally. I carved my name into his flesh; he will hereafter be forever branded with the mark of RICH ROD so that all the world may know of his shitty punting."
The following Wednesday, a drunk and malodorous Burt Chuckberry will stumble into the newly-finished BooBerry Oosterbaan Olestra House for a football practice at which he is most unwelcome. As he nears his position coach, however, his mouth will slowly fall open in drunken amazement at what he sees.
A nine-foot man with a 270-pound left leg stands next to a basket of footballs. He removes one and drops it with precision upon his waiting foot. The resultant kick knocks Burt off his feet and sends the ball soaring into the air, where it catches fire. The smoldering corpse of the football lands dully 100 yards away on Tony Dews' shoulder. "Ouch," he says softly before bursting into flames himself.
"My God," Burt Chuckberry whispers aloud. The nine-foot punter turns toward Burt and smiles. "HELLO," he booms. His voice is half Barry White, half Gheorge Muresan. As he greets Burt and helps him to his feet, the giant turns his head and sees a beautiful Michigan cheerleader. He smiles. A strange look comes over her face. Nine months later, she will give birth to an 8-pound Hugh Jackman.
"Who....what are you?" gasps Burt. "MY NAME POLTAN ZESKO," booms the giant. "DO YOU SEE THIS BALL I KICK IT LEBANESE FOOD IS BEST." Before Burt can reply, Poltan laughs. "YOU POLTAN KNOWS," he shouts. "YOU KILL PRESIDENT KENNEDY GIVE HIM APE SEX PLAGUE." "I...what?" Burt asks meekly. "POLTAN SAY THIS BECAUSE YOU ARE LIKE WOMAN WHEN YOU PUNT AND JACK KENNEDY SEXES THE WOMEN. PLEASE LEAVE SO POLTAN CAN FOCUS ON BALL KICK AND WOMAN PUMPING."
Defeated and humiliated, Burt Chuckberry leaves practice, leaves Ann Arbor, and leaves the state of Michigan, never to be heard from again. 38-year-old freshman sensation Poltan Zesko will lead the nation in punting and become the first illegal immigrant to win the Ray Guy.
MichFan1997's recent Facebook conversation with Ricardo Miller has rekindled the shouldn't-be-but-is awkward topic of how much access to high school athletes is necessary, appropriate, and/or healthy.
For the record, I am a 21-year-old junior at the University of Michigan; I am Facebook friends with many members of the football team, including William Campbell and Tate Forcier, who only recently arrived on campus. However, I have never made any attempt to communicate with them except Andre Criswell, who often asks his "friends" to guess his current weight. I have never posted on anyone's wall or added an optional "personal message" when I friend request them. I simply hit the friend request button and wait for a confirmation.
But isn't that counterintuitive? Am I not requesting this man's friendship because I want to be his friend? Because I want him to acknowledge me?
At the present apex of online activity and access, I would actually contend that such is not the case. I don't particularly care what Bryant Nowicki is up to or what kind of music Dann O'Neill likes. Adding a football player as a Facebook friend is simply the current generation's trading card. There is nothing in the friend request transaction that belies sincerity; the athlete in question never has to look at my name again and most likely never will. He simply hits "accept" and I get the satisfaction of listing Johnny Sears, Jr. as one of my "friends." That's where it ends. Or at least should end.
But unfortunately, it doesn't end there, because high schoolers with no obligations or commitments to a university also have Facebook accounts, and it is in these situations that the creepiness escalates.
In the comments section of the Ricardo Miller diary entry, chitownblue said:
"Every time I hear about an (adult?) fan having facebook and myspace conversations with 17-year-old kids, I get completely and utterly skeeved out, and worried for these kids. Not because you're a rapist (you're probably not), but because these kids naively let hundreds of people gain access to their lives, and the second they decommit, or drop a pass, or get arrested with weed, or anything, they have hundreds of strangers whom they've 'disappointed' with access to give them a piece of their mind."
This is a legitimate concern; I looked through the "previous posts" on William Campbell's wall and found these comments, dated December 29th, 2008--the height of his decommitment.
"Wow, bro...All I gotta say is what ever happened to loyalty?? UR not a true Michigan man, get the hell out and stay out!!!!"
-Brandon Coot Kusz of Kalamazoo Valley Community College (a true Michigan man if there ever was one)
Obviously that kind of message is despicable and Mr. Coot Kusz is an irredeemable pile of shit, but, as rude as that post was, I found the resultant comments way "creepier."
"Dude, Brandon. STFU, Big Will hasn't even made his mind up yet. Dude, Coot get a life."
"Dude So What. He shouldn't be bitched at for changing his mind."
"hey brandon get a fucking life you fucking loser"
"it unreal that u guys make these comment on here. its reall uncalled for i mean im crushed too that he prolly wont be donning the maize and blue, which by the way u would look really good in big will, but i mean hes still just a kid. tone it down with all the criticizum. Hey Big Will if u change ur mind Michigans here. Youd start right away ya no" (spelling unchanged)
Keep in mind that all of these comments were posted on William Campbell's wall, not Mr. Coot Kusz's. Campbell's "defenders" didn't want Campbell to feel better, and they didn't really care if Mr. Coot Kusz regretted his asshole comment. They believed that Kusz's comment cost Michigan ten Recruit Points and they wanted the glory of restoring them. "Gosh," Campbell said in their minds, "that Kusz guy is a total dick who makes me want to eschew Michigan for LSU, but thanks to Jordan and Dylan's reaffirming pep talks, my faith in the Wolverines is restored to an amount identical to the moment immediately preceding Kusz's comment."
These are the creepers. Anyone who friends a high school football or basketball player is doing so with the warped and fictional assumption that he can actually recruit the kid simply with the power of the internet. These are the same people who start groups like "Bring Jelani Jenkins to Michigan" and actually accrue enormous memberships.
Facebook friendships with enrolled college football players is not inherently creepy because there is no recruiting fantasy involved. They're already there; there's nothing to sell.