So I'm in Canada and I'm shopping for food and we're in the dairy isle and my friend laughs and says "no way." But yes, yes way. There is a margarine they are selling called Memories Of Butter.
This is an acceptable name for something only if dairy cows have been obliterated by whichever flavor of apocalypse comes home to roost. In between shifts at the sludge plant you smear Memories of Butter on your protein cube and weep silently when the child who doesn't know any better asks you what it was like during the Before Time.
In a world where there is butter, this is literally the worst possible marketing. The butter is three feet away. Once moved to action by the memory of butter, you can reach out and acquire butter. Our operative theory was that it was badly mistranslated from French, or at least there was something lost in translation. What that could possibly be we do not know.
And so: Michigan football. There is no quote more Memories Of Butter than this Gerry DiNardo exclamation about Michigan finally getting rid of that Denard Robinson guy:
"When I saw them in the spring it was like a war at the line of scrimmage. It was what you imagine it looks like at Alabama and all the downhill teams. It changes your entire program. Just like the spread makes your defense soft, the West Coast offense makes your defense tough."
That comes from a Mark "Stretchgate" Snyder article that is almost as embarrassing as the article that will follow him around until he dies:
Every spring and fall, the network analysts would attend a practice, try to absorb the flavor and make nice about the impact of an offense they knew didn't fit.
Then they strolled into Ann Arbor this spring and had to check their GPS — or their mirror to see if they rolled back a decade.
This was Michigan playing smashmouth football, the game's nastiest, purest form.
Michigan finished 11th in the Big Ten in sack-adjusted rushing, ahead of only Purdue, and was last nationally in TFLs allowed. A tub of margarine may well have made the two-deep on Michigan's "smashmouth" offensive line. It would clearly be the Free Press's best reporter.
Michigan football is a white tub proclaiming to be a memory of a feeling. It is on the shelf next to things that still provide dat mouthfeel tho. For everyone reading this Michigan basketball has provided the craved-for combinations of hope, joy, and even eventual, forgivable disappointment. For myself and a goodly hunk of the people reading this, USA soccer has also filled that void. But when we cleared the NBA draft and the World Cup, the cliff loomed ahead.
The dread was palpable. Dread. Unprecedented, but true.
How did we get here? Every year the fact that I declared 2005 the "Year Of Infinite Pain" becomes yet more ridiculous as we explore new avenues in not feeling real good about football, but I submit that 2013 was the worst football season I have ever experienced. 2005 just isn't even in the ballpark anymore; 2008 had an obvious explanation and novelty; 2010 was GERGtastic but man I can't get that mad at a season containing the 2010 Notre Dame game.
Why was 2013 the nadir? We've learned that it's worse—so much worse—to know that you have absolutely no chance to score points than to have absolutely no chance to prevent them. Ludicrous pointfests like 2010 Illinois and 2013 Ohio State are full of explosions, at the very least. Farting out a three-point loss with under 200 yards of offense is death on a field. There are tense, well-played defensive battles that are the football equivalent of pitcher's duels, and then there's 2013 Michigan: Don Kelly, the football team. (Except when they weren't.)
I kind of lost it as a result. By the end of the year I was giving up on UFRing anything and proclaiming that I was going to go bowling because the Big Lebowksi taught me how to sportsfan my best…
The movie is a series of unfortunate events culminating in the death of Donny thanks to the bullheaded stupidity of Walter, who doesn't want to give up his fifteen dollars to some nihilists. That Donny dies as an indirect effect of that decision is the capper: your desires and actions are futile; you are subject to the random capricious whim of a universe that doesn't care about anything and if it was going to care about something it absolutely wouldn't be you. I don't have to spell the rest out for you. Sports!
…and I remember watching the bowl game in this state of obligation. Worthless, stupid obligation. We had gone from infatuation to a bad 30-year-old marriage that will never end because no one can think of anything better to do.
In retrospect, all of that seems… on-point, actually. Semi-quitting and having public conniption fits at the folks who defended Borges looks like eminently defensible behavior, and that's coming from a guy who occasionally remembers certain actions in high school and has to quickly think of something else lest the eyerolling self-shame overwhelm.
This is where we are: when I got around to doing the Iowa UFR at the last possible moment, most people just asked "WHY?"
How do we get away from here?
Many of you aren't going to like my answer to this. It is: hold on to what we have and hope like hell. Transitions are awful. Michigan has suffered through two consecutive botched ones that left the roster in a state of strip-mined mid-majordom for the better part of a decade. The next one will either be run by Dave Brandon or an unknown person who has just arrived. With nothing approximating a terrific idea out there after Texas snapped up Charlie Strong, with zero reasonable, available Michigan Man™ options out there, the move appears to be to sit tight and hope.
And Brady Hoke does provide a good deal of hope. Seriously! His recruiting is bulletproof. He is the real William Carlos Williams. Michigan can suffer through the least tolerable season since the 1960s; he can lose three top-100 commits; Michigan State can win the Rose Bowl. None of this prevents him from locking down a class of consensus four-stars minus a kicker and an OL legacy. Save for the rare Skeeps suckerpunch or microfracture surgery, all of these players will arrive qualified and stick around until they've been definitively passed on the depth chart… and possibly beyond.
If these are the kind of positives that seem beneath This Is Michigan, well, yeah. This Is Michigan is fiction. This Is Michigan has rarely meant anything better than 9-3 since the 80s ended, and the program is now 1-5 against MSU and 2-11 against OSU since [insert year here]. They haven't had anything approximating a complete roster since 2006, and even that team was so desperately short on cornerbacks that Chris Graham spent much of Football Armageddon trying to cover a future first round pick WR.
This is were we're at: trying to figure out exactly which things we took for granted for 40 years are real assets and which are replaceable. For me, keeping guys around until they're good is not replacement-level performance—as much as I wish it was. And even if I think Hoke is set on 1997 Michigan as the endpoint of football as the sport mutates at breakneck speed around him, there are teams that make it work.
I just want something to work now. I just want something to sit on my tongue and dissolve into a salty heaven, like my father told me about in the long long ago. I may be of the mines and forever from the mines as we try to keep the engine that keeps us all alive running, but by God even a man of the mines has heard about grass, and the possibility of moving forward upon it for upwards of three yards at a time.
Let's find a cow. Let's punch it until it excretes butter. We may later find out that punching a cow until it leaks is not the optimal way to do these things, but that's for later. Now is for building a society like idiots who have only read about it in books.