Punt/Counterpunt: Oregon State 2015

Submitted by Brian on September 12th, 2015 at 9:30 AM


[Eric Upchurch]


HeikoG_1147_thumb4_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]By Heiko Yang

Good morning, Ann Arbor. There’s a kiss of maize in the treetops, and the morning chill will soon be laced with the sweet smoke of charcoal and sizzling fat. At some point today a team called “Oregon State” will be playing our Wolverines. The “Oregon Staters” aren’t very good, which is a good thing because we aren’t that great either. But who cares? Football season is here, and boy does it feel great.

It’s hard to describe the excitement of getting up on a Football Saturday. A lot of you crazy tailgaters set alarms for ridiculous hours this morning, and I bet a lot of you didn’t need it. There are few things that can convince your brain that it would rather be awake at 4 a.m. than asleep. It doesn’t matter that the main event isn’t for another eight hours, because this is eight hours you get to savor.

Some of us have been planning for today for months. If you’re from out of town you probably called up a bunch of your friends over the summer – and the one guy you don’t really like but you put up with because he owns an RV – to plan everything from tablecloths to TV sets. If you’re a student you probably spent the last few weeks either trying to get a fake ID or trying to make friends with someone old enough to get a keg.

So when you got up this morning, you went to work. You put on the maize-est and blue-est outfit you could find out of your closet that is already entirely maize and blue. You made coffee while listening to “The Victors.” You pulled out your maize and blue cornhole boards from storage and got a few splinters that you won’t notice until later tonight when you watch Michigan State play Oregon. You nearly set your maize and blue outfit on fire because you tried squirting lighter fluid on charcoal that was already lit. You spent several minutes making sure a long plastic table was perfectly level. You got into an argument about which quarterback should start, which inspired you to grab the nearest football and yell “go deep!” to prove your point.

At this point you’re stuffed from having dinner food and beer for breakfast, your cheeks are stiff from smiling, your arm is sore from high-fiving, and there’s still an hour and a half before kickoff.

Right about now is when a fraction of you will decide to go home and take a nap. Which is a very bad, very shameful, I guess, but I get it.

If game day were stone soup, the game itself would be the stone. Yes, football is the main event, and it gives us a reason to wake up early, tailgate, and play drinking games with friends and family. But when it’s May and we’re pining for football season, we may not necessarily be pining for the sport itself. A lot of the nostalgia we associate with football doesn’t come from what happens inside the stadium so much as what happens around it. And I think that’s okay.

If it were just about the football I would still be sleeping.

Oregon State 9, Michigan 17


DSC00045_thumb6_thumb1_thumb134_thum_thumbby Nick RoUMel

I may be small, but I am slow.

My athletic prowess can be summed up by my experiences in elementary school gym, taught by the buzz-cutted Mr. Starz, who was rumored to live in a van. We were required to begin class by standing on spots painted on the floor, in order of height. I stood on the first spot, until fourth or fifth grade when I passed a girl or two. After jumping jacks and toe touches, we had to run laps around the schoolyard. I lagged so far behind everyone else that one day Mr. Starz ordered that no one was allowed to pass me. I think he hoped it would help my self-esteem, but with Danny Turner and Eric Wingard on my heels, dogging me to move faster, it didn’t work so well.

And dodge ball? Forget it. Couldn’t catch Danny, Eric and Scott Jewell, nor move fast enough to get out of the way.


Team sports were no better. My best season in Little League I hit .198. I was a fair second baseman but with no range. My most refined skill was picking up the balls the catcher threw back to our pitcher. This was because our pitcher, who wore Coke-bottle glasses and was suspected to be legally blind, was gifted with a blazing fastball – which only occasionally visited the strike zone. Batters cowered in the back of the batters’ box, hoping to wait out a walk or not get hit. Sort of like facing Dock Ellis.


But I loved sports. All of them. It wasn’t fair. I could recite statistics and lore ranging from baseball to horse racing. I just couldn’t play any of them.

My father kindly suggested that I be a sports writer. I began this “career” for my high school paper, covering the teams I couldn’t play for with the same sarcastic bent that serves me today. I found that I loved sports journalism, and thought about it as a career. My dad did give me one fair piece of advice, however: he suggested I get a day job, pointing out that Howard Cosell was a successful lawyer before finding his groove on Monday Night Football. Lawyering is my day job as well.

I am lucky enough to be in my 21st year as Counterpunt, with a few years of hiatus before MGoBlog resurrected this gig. Covered them all since Bo - from Mo to Llo, from R-Ro to B-Ho. Today Jim Harbaugh will run through that tunnel for the first time as a Michigan head coach. I cannot even imagine what it’s like to experience that, to burst into a giant stadium and have 110,000-plus cheering for you. Outside of my dad clapping for me at Little League, I have no idea.

Yet I have been blessed to watch from the sidelines, to learn the game, and be a fan. While I have never known what it’s like to experience success on the field, I have certainly experienced moments of great Michigan pride and elation, including the undefeated 1998 season. But I can tell you confidently, that my Michigan heart will swell bigger than it ever has when Coach Harbaugh leads the 2015 team through that tunnel.

Welcome home, Coach. We’ve missed you.




September 12th, 2015 at 1:28 PM ^

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September 14th, 2015 at 10:10 AM ^

Nick, I'm ashamed of you.  Dock Ellis to exemplify the wild, blind pitcher? I don't think so.  You should be old enough to remember Ryne Duren.  His obituary is available at the link below.  Growing up in New York City in the late '50s, I remember with glee how batters would literally shake in their cleats when he entered the game.  Read the obit and then edit your column.          http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/ryne-duren-yankee-pitcher-dead-81-100-mph-fastball-glasses-mound-article-1.150702


September 19th, 2015 at 8:40 PM ^

But thanks for posting that article. I hadn't realized how his career spiraled southward with his drinking.

I think he was the inspiration for "Wild Thing," Charlie Sheen's character in Major League.

So I did consider Duren, as well as "Wild Thing" for my cultural reference, before settling on Dock Ellis. I am sensitive to the average age of readers on this blog (in fact just saw Brian's survey in that regard, vast majority in their 20's, then 30's), and I was a small child for Ryne's career, so I went with something that would have more familiarity.

Not that a lot of my cultural references still aren't head scratchers. Today it was Fellini's movie "Amarcord."

Appreciate the feedback.